A Little Fat Can Go a Long Way
Let's face it: Too many of us eat too much fat, and when we do, it's usually the bad kind, not the good. What are good fats? We're talking monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, and research demonstrates moderate consumption of these fats confer a number of health benefits. Yes, a little fat can go a long, long way, for better or worse; let's learn more about the healthy variety and why they're so important for your health.
As of 2008, an estimated 205 million men and 297 million adult women were obese; that's more than half a billion adults worldwide. The United States is the biggest (no pun intended) offender, with the highest collective body-mass index (greater than 28 kg/m2) among high-income countries. In fact, from 1980-2008, BMI rose the most in the U.S., increasing by more than 1 BMI point per decade.
While there are many causes of obesity, excess intake of fat – particularly saturated fat – is a major contributing factor. Fortunately, not all fat is bad in moderation. Replacing some of that saturated fat intake with small amounts of healthier fats can not only help you avoid the health conditions listed above, but also provide a variety of other health benefits.
Try Mono/Polyunsaturated Fats
Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature. Most oils are high in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, and low in saturated fats. Oils from plant sources (vegetable and nut oils) do not contain any cholesterol. Common cooking oils include canola oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, olive oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil. Additionally, walnut and sesame oil are often used for their full-body flavors. (Coconut oil and palm kernel oil, however, are high in saturated fats and for nutritional purposes should be considered solid fats.)
Canola Oil - Rich in omega-3 alpha-linoleic acids, canola oil may counteract elevated levels of fibrinogen, a blood clotting factor that, at elevated levels, is associated with increased risks of inflammation and inflammatory processes including coronary heart disease. Researchers from the University of Helsinki (Finland) investigated whether consumption of canola (rapeseed) oil, rich in omega-3 alpha-linoleic acids, could counteract elevated levels of fibrinogen. The researchers evaluated the effects of canola-type rapeseed oil on serum lipids, plasma fibrinogen, and fatty acids in 42 men and women with elevated fibrinogen and cholesterol. Study participants replaced one-quarter of their dietary fats with canola oil. During the six-week study period, canola oil doubled the intake of alpha-linoleic acids, while fibrinogen levels were reduced by 30 percent. The alpha-linoleic acids also helped to decrease plasma omega-6s and increase docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) levels.
Olive Oil and its phenolic compounds, oleuropein and cafeic acid, exert beneficial effects on fat oxidation and cardiac energy metabolism. In that previous studies suggest anti-diabetic, anti-atherosclerotic and anti-inflammatory effects, Geovana Ebaid, from Sao Paulo State University (Brazil), and colleagues investigated the effects of olive oil and its compounds on calorimetric parameters, myocardial oxidative stress and energy metabolism in heart tissue.
Walnuts / Walnut Oil is rich in polyunsaturated fats, walnuts and walnut oil may help the body to better respond during times of stress. Sheila G. West, from Penn State University, and colleagues studied 22 healthy adults with elevated LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, supplying each subject with meal and snack foods during three diet periods of six weeks each in duration. The first diet period consisted of an "average" American diet: a diet without nuts that reflects what the typical person in the U.S. consumes each day; the second diet included 1.3 ounces of walnuts and a tablespoon of walnut oil substituted for some of the fat and protein in the average American diet; and the third diet was comprised of walnuts, walnut oil and 1.5 tablespoons of flaxseed oil.
More Healthy Fat Means Less Fat on You
Being overweight or obese can lead to serious health consequences, and fat is a major culprit. In short, we consume too much fat, and when we do, it's often the saturated variety, the kind that contributes to high cholesterol, heart disease and other major issues. Now don't get us wrong; "healthier" fats, the mono/polyunsaturated fats and fats containing omega-3 fatty acids, are still fats; but evidence suggests that in moderation, they can actually improve our health in many ways, rather than the other way around. Now that's some good news. Talk to your doctor to learn more.