July 17--A little fat isn't necessarily a bad thing -- the problem comes in
choosing the right kind. With terms such as "saturated" and "partially
hydrogenated" crowding up labels, it can be confusing for consumers to make
healthy fat choices.
Whitney Tew, M.D. of family medicine at St. Vincent's Hospital in Birmingham,
said fats are essential for the body to absorb necessary fat-soluble vitamins
and function normally.
"Considering the risks of unhealthy, and the possible benefits of the healthy
fats, it's better to choose unsaturated fats on multiple levels," Tew said.
Unsaturated fats are typically considered healthier than saturated fats. The
difference between them is in the number and shape of bonds between the fatty
acids that make up the molecule.
When trying to make healthy fat choices, Tew said to look at the fat content on
the nutrition label, which compares the total fat grams to the grams of
saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats are normally solid at room temperature
and can be found in high-fat cheese, high-fat cuts of meat, whole milk and ice
"The higher the ratio of total fat to these types of fats, the more healthy
(unsaturated) fats the product has," she said.
Tew said a diet high in unhealthy fats greatly increases the risk of
cardiovascular disease by increasing LDL -- low density lipoprotein, or bad
cholesterol -- and decreasing HDL -- high density lipoprotein, or good
She added that trans fats have been found to increase inflammation in the body,
which can cause direct damage to blood vessels, even without the cholesterol
effects. Saturated fat intake actually has a much stronger effect on cholesterol
levels than dietary cholesterol intake itself.
"Animal foods are notorious for being high in saturated fats, such as red meats,
milk and full-fat cheeses," Tew said. "Trans fat can occur in animal foods as
well, but our largest intake is from foods made with partially hydrogenated
oils. Often high contents are found in baked goods, highly processed foods,
margarines, and one sneaky source is peanut butter not labeled as 'natural.'
Many restaurants still use oils containing trans fats for frying foods."
Beth Kitchin, a registered dietitian and assistant professor in the department
of nutrition and sciences at the University of Alabama Birmingham, agrees with
Tew that trans fats are the fats to avoid. When cooking with oils, Kitchin
suggested substituting animal fats with vegetable oils.
"Right now, almost any liquid oil at room temperature is pretty good," Kitchin
She recommends replacing unhealthy fats with olive oil because it's unsaturated
and can also help lower cholesterol LDL.
"In situations where you can use olive oil and you like it, then I suggest it,"
For baking or cooking on higher heat settings "like cake or frying things,"
Kitchin recommends canola oil.
"It has a higher content of omega-3 fatty acids in comparisons to other oils,"
Kitchin explained. "It's also inexpensive."
Tew said healthy fats have the opposite effect as unhealthy fats. They improve a
person's cholesterol profile by increasing HDL while decreasing inflammation and
the risk for cardiovascular disease.
They have also been touted as beneficial in other areas such as improving dry
skin and aiding in appetite control for weight loss, she said. Tew suggested
fatty fish, nuts and seeds, avocados and vegetable oils as healthy fat sources.
AVOCADO TUNA BOATS
3-4 ripe avocados
4 cans tuna packed in water
3 green onions
3 celery stalks
1 palmful dried dill
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
Grape tomatoes, halved
OLIVE OIL MAYO
1 1/2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
Pinch of sea salt
Few shakes of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
1 cup olive oil
Cut avocados in half lengthwise and remove the stone, leaving the peel on. In a
large bowl, mix together tuna, celery, onions and spices. In a food processor
process for 5 seconds egg, vinegar, mustard, cayenne pepper and sea salt. Slowly
add olive oil and blend for another 5 seconds until it makes mayonnaise.
Add the mayo mixture to the tuna and mix well. Scoop onto halved avocados and
top with tomatoes.
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