Polyunsaturated Fats

Polyunsaturated fats are essential fats the body can’t make and needs to obtain from the diet. They are usually in liquid form at room temperature or when refrigerated.

The two main categories of polyunsaturated fats found in foods are omega-6 fats and omega-3 fats.

Omega-6 fats provide readily available energy to the body as well as essential fats the body needs but cannot create. Three main types of omega-6 fats are found in foods: linoleic acid (LA), arachidonic acid (AA), and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).

Linoleic acid is the key source of polyunsaturated fats in the diet and is found in the food supply in sunflower, safflower, corn, cottonseed, and soybean oils. Arachidonic acid is found in small amounts in meats, poultry, and egg yolk, and conjugated linoleic acid is found in butterfat and meat.

Omega-3 fats also provide our bodies with energy and essential fats. They’re also linked with heart health and other benefits.

Three different types of omega-3 fats are found in foods: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosapaentanoic acid (DHA) are long-chain omega-3 fats found in fish, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is a short-chain fatty acid found in plant foods. Here are some common food sources of each:

• EPA and DHA: Cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, herring, and oysters
• ALA: Soybean oil, canola oil, flaxseed oil, flaxseeds, walnuts, and tofu

In the body, very small amounts of ALA can be converted to EPA and DHA. Several foods and beverages, including ready-to-eat cereals and dairy foods, are also fortified with EPA, DHA, and/or ALA, although the amounts contained in such products are often small.

Foods rich in polyunsaturated fats provide energy to the diet. Many foods rich in polyunsaturated fats also provide other key nutrients. For example, vegetable oils are good sources of vitamin E, and fish and shellfish are rich in high-quality protein and the following vitamins and minerals:

Vitamin D – Salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna (canned)
• Potassium – Halibut, haddock, salmon (sockeye), and clams
• Iron – Clams, oysters, and sardines
• Magnesium – Halibut and Pollock
• Calcium – Sardines, pink salmon, ocean perch (Atlantic), blue crab, clam, and rainbow trout

Several studies show that replacing saturate fats with foods rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats without increasing total calories can lower bad LDL cholesterol levels and help prevent heart disease and stroke.

Omega-3 fats have been found to confer some important health benefits. EPA and DHA, the omega-3 fats found in fish, support important functions in the brain, blood vessels, and the immune system. Studies suggest that EPA and DHA might reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and prostate cancer. There’s evidence that consuming about 1 gram of EPA or DHA from supplements or fish can decrease the risk of death from cardiac events in people who have heart disease.

EPA and DHA can also protect your eyes from macular degeneration, support visual and neurological development in infants (the omega-6 fat arachidonic acid is also believed to play a role in this), and protect against preterm birth.

Some countries recommend lowering intakes of linoleic acid (an omega 6 fat) because they believe that high intakes can negate the benefits of EPA and DHA and increase the risk of inflammatory, immune, or other disease and conditions. Americans currently consume more than 10 times as much omega-6 fats as omega-3 fats. Although no expert recommendation to reduce linoleic acid has been made in the United States, it’s prudent to follow the healthy eating guidelines as outlined by MyPyramid, and to increase omega-3 fats by consuming more fish to boost nutrient intake and improve the overall quality of the diet. As with all fat (no matter what types of fatty acids they contain), too much can contribute to excess calorie intake and increase the risk for obesity or being overweight and related diseases and conditions.

Macular degeneration is the progressive deterioration of the macula (the back part of the retina) that can cause blindness.

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Monounsaturated Fats

Monounsaturated fats, like all dietary fats, provide the body with an efficient energy source. These fats are in liquid form at room temperature but can become more solid when refrigerated. The two types of monounsaturated fats found in the diet are oleic acid and palmitoleic acid.

Oleic acid is the main source of monounsaturated fats found in foods. Key food sources for these fats include

• Vegetable oils (olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, mid-oleic sunflower oil, and other mid- and high-oleic vegetable oils)
• Nuts and seeds (including almonds, cashews, pistachios, and peanuts)
• Olives
• Avocados

Palmitoleic acid is found in macadamia nuts, some fish oils, and beef fat.

Many foods that are rich in monounsaturated fats are also good or excellent sources of other key nutrients (for example, vegetable oils are rich sources of vitamin E, and nuts and seeds provide plant protein, fiber, and some vitamins and minerals).

Studies have shown that replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (although keeping calories consistent) can lower bad low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. This can protect cholesterol from accumulating in the linings of arteries that lead to the heart or the brain and can cause a heart attack or stroke, respectively.

A recent review of several studies found that those who consumed a high-ft diet with 22-23 percent energy from monounsaturated fats lowered their total blood cholesterol, very low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and blood triglycerides more than those who consumed a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet.

Too much of any fat – even healthful monounsaturated fat – can lead to excess calorie intake and contribute to the development of being overweight or obesity. That can increase the risk of diet-related diseases including heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.

Medicinal Properties of Cinnamon

Cinnamon has a lot to offer: it is a potent antifungal and antibacterial agent; it helps reduce blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes; it lowers cholesterol. And this is only a partial list of cinnamon’s potential health benefits.

Provides Help for Diabetics

Cinnamon’s ability to reduce blood sugar in diabetics was discovered by accident when researchers included apple pie (which is typically spiced with cinnamon) in a study on the effects of common foods on blood sugar. “We expected it to be bad”, said Richard Anderson of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s human Nutrition Research Center, “but it helped”.

Diabetes is a disease in which the body is unable to produce or properly use insulin, the hormone that moves glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream to places throughout the body where it can be used as fuel for muscles, the brain and other body systems. In people with type 2 diabetes, the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to control blood glucose levels. High blood sugar levels can cause serious damage to the eyes, kidneys and nerves and increase the risk of heart disease and other health problems.

In 2003, Dr. Alam Khan and his colleagues conducted a study using 60 volunteers with type 2 diabetes. The researchers divided the volunteers into two groups of 30. Members of the experimental group received one, three or six grams of cinnamon powder per day for 40 days. Members of the control group received a placebo. After 40 days, blood sugar levels had decreased significantly in the members of all three groups receiving cinnamon. Blood sugar levels did not decrease in the control group.

As it turns out, cinnamon contains a chemical compound that mimics insulin, activating insulin receptors and augmenting insulin’s effects in cells. The compound is a water-soluble polyphenol called MHCP, and its effects can also benefit non-diabetics who have blood sugar problems.

Lowers Cholesterol

Blood triglyceride levels are partially controlled by insulin, which may explain why volunteers in Dr. Khan’s study also experienced decreased blood levels of triglycerides and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.

By the end of the 40-day trial, triglyceride levels had decreased in all the volunteers who took cinnamon. The improvement was greatest in the group that took the most cinnamon (six grams). Although cinnamon lowered total cholesterol levels and LDL cholesterol levels, its effects on HDL (“good”) cholesterol were insignificant.

Reports from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) show that patients who took less than half a teaspoon of cinnamon daily experienced up to a 20 percent decrease in cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Reduces High Blood Pressure

The USDA is currently conducting three ongoing studies on the effects of cinnamon on hypertension. Current evidence of cinnamon’s antihypertensive properties is mostly anecdotal, so people are anxiously awaiting the results of those tests.

Kills Bacteria and Fungi

Traditionally used as a preservative for meat, cinnamon has recently been studied for its antimicrobial properties. It has been proved to prevent the growth of most bacteria and fungi, including the stubborn yeast Candida albicans.

In 1996, researchers from the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Brooklyn reported that topical applications of cinnamon oil had improved oral Candida infections (thrush) in three out of five patients in a small preliminary trial. In 1999, Israeli researchers reported that cinnamon inhibits the growth of Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that causes ulcers. Cinnamon oil has also been used to treat fungal infection such as athlete’s foot.

Because of its powerful antimicrobial properties, scientists are studying cinnamon as a natural food preservative for modern use. In one study, two researchers from Spain added a few drops of cinnamon oil to 100 milliliters of carrot broth and then refrigerated the broth. In broth not treated with cinnamon oil, the pathogenic bacterium Bacillus cereus flourished, whereas cinnamon oil prevented bacterial growth in the broth for up to 60 days.

Relieves Intestinal Distress

Cinnamon has traditionally been used to relieve gas and cramps in cases of flatulent dyspepsia, intestinal colic, diarrhea and nausea, and it has been approved by German health authorities to treat milk gastrointestinal spasms and appetite loss. The tannin components of cinnamon bark are thought to be responsible for cinnamon’s effectiveness as an antidiarrheal agent.

Prevent Colds and the Flu

The Chinese have used cinnamon as a remedy for influenza and colds for centuries, drinking a cinnamon and ginger tea at the onset of a cold. Chinese people would also swallow a small pinch of powdered cinnamon to warm cold hands and feet, especially at night.

Prevent Blood Clots

Platelets are cells in the blood that clump together to stop bleeding at the site of trauma or physical injury. But if the platelets clot too much, they can obstruct blood flow and may cause a heart attack or a stroke. This is especially common in the elderly.

Studies show that cinnamaldehyde, a component of cinnamon, has an effect on platelets and may prevent excessive clotting. Because cinnamaldehyde inhibits the release of arachidonic acid – an inflammatory fatty acid in platelet membranes – cinnamon may also have anti-inflammatory properties.

Boosts Brain Function

In a study on the effects of odor on cognitive processing abilities, participants performed a computerized assessment of cognitive function while exposed to peppermint odor, jasmine odor, cinnamon odor and no odor. Cinnamon was found to improve attention and memory (as was peppermint).

The results of this study have lead researchers to study the effects of cinnamon on cognitive abilities in elderly patients, patients with diseases such as Alzheimer’s and people who suffer from test anxiety.

Cinnamon essential oil is very powerful; use no more than a few drops at a time for a period no longer than several days. Store powdered cinnamon and cinnamon sticks in airtight glass containers in a cool, dry and dark place. Fresh cinnamon has a sweet smell; once that smell is gone, it’s probably time to replace your cinnamon.

Side Effects and Contraindications

Cinnamon has been used in cooking for thousands of years without any discernible harm or side effects. It is not a common allergen, but people with allergies to cinnamon, cassia or Peruvian blossom should avoid it.

Heavy, sustained cinnamon use may cause oral sensitivity, tongue inflammation, skin irritation and increased perspiration. Cinnamon can also irritate the GI tract and increase intestinal activity.

For safety, begin using cinnamon in small amounts, increasing the dose as necessary. Supplemental cinnamon in amounts beyond those normally found in food is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women. As always, consult with a physician before using cinnamon as part of a daily supplement regimen.

The Bottom Line

The incidence of obesity, diabetes, and pre-diabetic metabolic syndrome is growing at record rates in the United States. Fortunately, cinnamon, with its potential to lower blood sugar levels, may provide a natural solution to these problems. In addition, cinnamon may lower blood cholesterol levels, relieve intestinal distress, prevent colds and flu, prevent dangerous blood clots and boost brain function. Cinnamon may not be the newest, most exciting supplement available, but it may be one of the most useful.

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Function of Fats

Fats provide the body with a key source of energy. Although glucose is the main source of energy for the brain and nervous system, muscle tissues prefer fats for energy. During exercise, muscles rely on fats for energy after glucose and glycogen (stored glucose) have been depleted.

Fats also insulate and protect our bodies and vital organs, including the brain. About 15-30 percent of our total body weight comes from stored fat. The two main types of fat in our bodies are visceral fat and subcutaneous fat.

Visceral fat is buried below the body’s muscle tissue. It surrounds vital organs to cushion and protect them. Women usually have more body visceral fat than men and tend to store more in their breasts, hips, and thighs as a way of protecting organs involved in reproduction. Having excess visceral fat in the lower part of the body appears to be less harmful than having it in the abdominal area, where men tend to accumulate it. Visceral fat in the abdominal area is believed to secrete powerful chemicals that can increase the risk for diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, and breathing problems.

Subcutaneous fat is the fat you can see; it lies just beneath the skin. This fat also protects and insulates the body.

Fats also carry some important vitamins (including vitamins A, D, E, and K), carotenoids, and other substances that dissolve in fat to help them be better absorbed and used by the body. Fats are also used to create and maintain cell membranes (the outer layer or cells that protect them) and help maintain healthy skin and nails.

Dietary fats, also known as dietary triglycerides, are found in a variety of foods from both animal and plant sources. They are more than twice as energy-dense as the other macronutrients: carbohydrate and protein. Fat provides 9 calories per gram, although carbohydrate and protein each contain only 4 calories per gram. (Incidentally, alcohol, not a nutrient but still a source of calories, falls somewhere in between and provides 7 calories per gram).

Fats also promote satiety, or the feeling of fullness. Fats in foods add a lot to their taste, texture, smell, and mouth feel. Fats in foods are versatile, can be heated to high temperatures without degrading, and can be used in countless cooking methods to create highly palatable foods.

If you consume too much dietary fat, your body can efficiently store it as body fat. This stored fat can be easily accessed when your calorie needs increase – for example, during periods of growth (such as in pregnancy or childhood), during illness or after an injury, or during a natural disaster or at times when food is scarce. In normal circumstances, too much dietary fat can put you at risk for being overweight or for obesity, and too much of certain types of fats (including saturated and trans fats) can contribute to the development of heart disease and other diet-related diseases and conditions.

If you consume too little dietary fat, your body fat stores can become depleted. If you’re a woman, you might stop menstruating and have reproductive problems. Your skin might deteriorate, you might fell cold (because you have less body fat to warm you), and your organs and tissues might be at more risk for injury. This can be a problem, especially for older people who might have a chronic disease. Children who don’t consume enough fat (it’s rare, but can happen) won’t get enough essential fats that they need to get from the diet. If they don’t consume enough calories, they don’t’ accumulate / have enough body fat (everybody needs some body fat), and they can literally stop growing. A deficiency is rare especially in the United States, but still kids need enough fat to grow optimally.

Carotenoids are a group of yellow, oranges and red pigments found in plant foods (most often in fruits and vegetables). They act as antioxidants to protect body cells against damage caused by free radicals (harmful substances found in the body and environment).

Triglycerides are made of three fatty acids jointed to a glycerol unit (an alcohol that forms the backbone of triglycerides). Triglycerides are found in fats and oils and foods made with tem as well s in meats, dairy products, nuts, and seeds.

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Dietary Fiber

Fiber is classified as complex carbohydrates (more than two sugar units linked together). In 2002, the Institute of Medicine created the following definitions for fiber, separating it into three components: dietary fiber, functional fiber, and total fiber:

• Dietary fiber – Includes isolated, manufactured, or synthetic oligosaccharides (complex carbohydrates that contain 3-10 sugar or glucose units) that our bodies cannot digest or absorb and that have beneficial health effects (for example, it can improve regularity, improve blood sugar and dietary cholesterol levels, and reduce disease risk).
• Total fiber – Is the sum of dietary fiber and functional fiber.

Nutrition Facts Labels on food packages currently list dietary fiber under total carbohydrates and further distinguish dietary fiber as soluble or insoluble fiber. According to the Institute of Medicine, the scientific support for using solubility to determine beneficial health effects is inconsistent, and recent studies suggest that other characteristics of fiber – including fermentability and viscosity – can be important to consider. Because of this, the Institute of Medicine recommends that the terms soluble and insoluble no longer be used.

Fiber is found in a variety of plant foods. Legumes (beans and peas), grains (especially whole grains), fruits, and vegetables all contribute fiber to the diet.

Resistant Starch

Resistant starch is a type of dietary fiber. Resistant starch is defined as the sum of starch and products of starch degradation (breakdown of starch) that’s not absorbed in the small intestine of a healthy individual.

Resistant starch is found naturally in a variety of plant foods or it is added to processed foods. The four main dietary sources of resistant starch include

• Whole-grain foods (whole or partly milled grains and seeds)
• Raw potatoes, unripe bananas, some legumes, and in high-amylose starches such as those obtained from high-amylose corn
• Cooked and cooled foods, such as potatoes, bread, and cornflakes
• Processed foods made with resistant starches

The amount of resistant starch in foods varies widely; our estimated daily intake ranges from about 3 grams to about 8 grams per day. Studies suggest that consuming 6-12 grams of resistant starch at a meal can benefit glucose and insulin levels after the meal; consuming 20 grams per day has also been shown to bulk up feces and benefit digestive health.

Fiber Supplements

Fiber supplements are often sold as bran tablets or purified cellulose or in the form of laxatives (stool softeners). Whether in pill, powder, or drink form, fiber supplements can help some people consume adequate amounts of fiber. But taking fiber supplements (or eating fiber-fortified foods) makes overconsuming fiber easy, and too much can cause gastrointestinal symptoms. Fiber supplements do not replace a diet rich in plant foods that naturally contain fiber along with other key nutrients and substances that benefit health.

Studies have shown that people who consume more dietary fiber also tend to weigh less. That’s no surprise because many high-fiber foods, especially those that contain a lot of water such as fruits, vegetables, and cooked grains, are very filling. Eating a lot of fiber-rich foods such as legumes; whole grains; and other fiber-rich grains, fruits, and vegetables can help you lower your total daily calorie intake.

Consuming a fiber-rich diet can also help you steady your blood sugar levels and keep you energized throughout the day. It can also help you manage, lower your risk of, or treat obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer as well as gastrointestinal conditions such as constipation.

Too much dietary fiber can reduce the absorption of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and energy. It can also cause symptoms such as abdominal pain, flatulence, bloating, and diarrhea if consumed in excessive amounts. To minimize these symptoms, as people incorporate more fiber into their diet to meet current recommendations, they should also take in more water and other fluids to ease the passage of fiber throughout the body.

Soluble fiber is not digested by the human body; it absorbs and retains water and forms a gel- like substance.

Insoluble fiber is not digested by the human body; it does not absorb and retain water like soluble fiber but stays intact as it passes through the body.

Cellulose is a straight-chain polysaccharide (more than two units of glucose joined together); it is the main component of plant cell walls and is not digested in the human body.

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Starch

Some of the starch derived from complex carbohydrate-rich foods in the diet is stored in the human body.

Glycogen

Glycogen, also known as animal starch, is the term given to stored glucose in the body reserved for future use as energy. When your body makes or has more glucose than it needs for immediate energy, some of it is converted to glycogen and stored in two places: in the liver and in the muscles.

The glycogen stored in the liver can be used to keep blood glucose or blood sugar levels steady, and the glycogen stored in muscle tissue can be used as an energy source during strenuous exercise or physical activity.

Because your body can’t store unlimited amounts of glycogen – only about 200-500 grams of glycogen, or up to half a day’s worth – it’s critical to consume a variety of carbohydrate-rich foods throughout the day and enough total calories to meet your daily glucose needs.

In the Diet

Starch is made up of many units of glucose strung together to form a polysaccharide (a complex carbohydrate). Like sugars, most starches are digested, absorbed, and used for short-term energy or stored. Starch is found naturally in plants. Glucose is stored in the starch and used to help plants grow well and reproduce.

Sources

Starch is naturally found in plant foods including grains (such as wheat, rice, corn, oats, millet, and barley), legumes (beans, peas, lentils, lima beans, black-eye peas, and pinto beans), and tubers (potatoes, yams, and cassava).

Starch is found in foods in two main forms: amylopectin and amylase.

In most starchy foods, about 70-80 percent of the starch comes from amylopectin and the remaining 20-30 percent from amylase. In some foods, such as barley, corn, and rice, the ratio of amylopectin to amylase can vary. And some foods, like waxy barley and rice, contain almost all amylopectin, while some foods, like wheat flour have more amylase than amylopectin. Of both types of starch, amylase is thought to be less digestible than amylopectin.

Although the body can easily digest most starches, some remain trapped in plant cells and cannot be digested in the small intestine. These starches, known as resistant starches, fall into the category of fiber and can have similar health benefits. Although some resistant starches are naturally found in foods, manufacturers are increasingly making resistant starches from corn, wheat, and potatoes and adding as a form of fiber to a variety of foods including breads, cereals, pasta, crackers, and other carbohydrate-rich foods.

Modified Starch

Modified starch is a food additive created by degrading starch using several methods. It’s commonly used to moisten, thicken, stabilize, or emulsify foods including frozen products, salad dressing, batter, and jellybeans (forms the outer shell). Modified starches are also sometimes found in medications.

Amylopectin is one of two main components of starch (the other is amylase); it is made up of branched chains of polysaccharides (long chains that contain more than 10 glucose units).

Amylase is one of two main components of starch (the other is amylopectin); it is made up of straight chains of polysaccharides (long chains that contain more than 10 glucose units).

Resistant starches are a type of fiber; they include starches and products of the breakdown of starch that are not absorbed in the small intestines of healthy individuals.

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