Knowing about fats in food is important because a high fat diet can raise the blood cholesterol and triglycerides, which increases the risk of contracting cardiovascular diseases. To lower the risk of contracting these diseases, you should eat less of saturated and trans-fats. At the same time, one can protect their heart by eating more mono and polyunsaturated fats. Fat is very high in calories compared to proteins and carbohydrates. While one gram of carbohydrates or proteins is equivalent to 4 calories, one gram of fat is equivalent to more than double the amount of calories – 9 calories. For this reason, it is important to watch portion sizes when having any type of fats in your diet.
The body makes 80% of the cholesterol in the liver and the other 20% comes from the foods we eat. We have good cholesterol (high density lipoprotein – HDL) and bad cholesterol (low density lipoprotein-LDL). Our aim is to have more of the good cholesterol that protects against heart disease, and less of the bad cholesterol that acts as a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Cholesterol from the food you eat may increase your blood cholesterol. Foods from animals are sources of dietary cholesterol; we aim to consume less than 200 mg of cholesterol per day. Good cholesterol (HDL) absorbs excess cholesterol from the arteries and carries it back to the liver, and the liver flushes it out of the body. LDL on the other hand carries cholesterol from the liver to the where it is needed, e.g. synthesizing hormones like Testosterone. When LDL is in excess it is deposited where it is not needed, in the arteries, increasing the risk of diabetic complications and heart disease. The aim is to increase HDL and reduce LDL by increasing physical activity and eating foods low in saturated fats, cholesterol and high in fibre, mono and polyunsaturated fats. The sources of cholesterol include:
- Egg yolks
- Liver and other organ meats
- High-fat meat and poultry skin
- High-fat dairy products (whole or 2% milk, cream, ice cream, full-fat cheese)
Fats to limit (Saturated & Trans Fats)
Increased intake of saturated fat has been shown to raise the levels of bad cholesterol in the blood (Low Density Lipoprotein) . Increase in this LDL-Cholesterol is a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. People with diabetes are at high risk for cardiovascular diseases; limiting intake of saturated fat can help to lower the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Less than 7% of total calories should come from saturated fat. Saturated fats are mainly in animal products and some in processed products.
Foods containing saturated fat include:
- Lard – fat from a pig
- High-fat meats like regular ground beef, hot dogs, sausage, bacon and spareribs
- High-fat dairy products such as full-fat cheese, cream, ice cream, whole milk, 2% milk and sour cream.
- Cream sauces
- Palm oil and palm kernel oil
- Coconut and coconut oil
- Poultry (chicken and turkey) skin
Trans fats are naturally found in the gut of some animals and their products. Worse than saturated fat, trans fat increases blood levels of Bad cholesterol (Low Density Lipoprotein) by a greater magnitude! It is important to eat as little trans-fat as possible by avoiding all foods that contain it.
The artificial trans fats are produced when liquid oil is made into a solid fat. This process is called hydrogenation. Increased intake of this fats does not result in any changes in sugar level, or insulin /triglycerides concentration, but can increase the level of total LDL cholesterol (bad) and decrease in HDL cholesterol (good) in the body. Minimize intake of trans fats to <1% of total calories.
Sources of trans fat include:
Processed foods like snacks (crackers and crisps) and baked goods (muffins, cookies and cakes) with hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil.
- Stick margarines
- Shortening – Solid fat
- Some fast food items such as French fries
- Frozen pies
- Baked goods – pastries, pie crust, cookies and biscuits
- Frozen pizza
- Ready to use frostings
- Stick margarines
Healthy fats – mono and poly unsaturated fats, Omega 3&6
Monounsaturated fats are called “good” fats because they can lower the bad cholesterol (LDL) and increases the good cholesterol (HDL). Diets rich in monounsaturated fats have been linked to improved blood sugar level and reduced incidences of cardiovascular diseases. Monounsaturated fats come from plant sources (all except coconut and palm oil), these include:
- Canola oil and seeds
- Rice bran
- Nuts like almonds, cashews, macadamia, pecans, and peanuts
- Olive oil and olives
- Rapeseed oil
- Peanut butter and peanut oil
- Sesame seeds
Polyunsaturated fats are also “good” fats that reduce total cholesterol and bad (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. The sources of polyunsaturated fats include:
- Sea Food
- Corn oil
- Cottonseed oil
- Safflower oil
- Soybean oil
- Sunflower oil
- Pumpkin or sunflower seeds
Omega-3 and Omega – 6 fatty acids – polyunsaturated
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids that help prevent clogging of the arteries. Some types of fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty fish is highly recommended; you can eat it 2 or 3 times a week, try not to fry it. Sources of omega 3 and 6 include:
- Tofu and other soybean product
- Flaxseed and flaxseed oil
- Canola oil
You should eat more of Omega 3 fatty acids than Omega 6 fatty acids in your body. Having too much of Omega 6 might place the body at a state of chronic inflammation. Some vegetable oils contain very high amounts of omega 6 fatty acids; so, limit your use of vegetable oils while cooking.