Many people regard fat as an adversary to their good health. It is true that excessive intake of certain fats can result in serious medical problems. However, not all fats are the same. In fact, your body requires certain fatty acids – a major component of fats – to maintain health and prevent disease. Fats are also an important source of energy and help your body perform a variety of functions. Recognizing the difference between “good” and “bad” fats is crucial as you strive to achieve optimal health.
There are several different types of fats. Saturated fats are “bad” fats because they can raise cholesterol levels and cause unhealthy weight gain. They are primarily found in foods that come from animals, including fatty meats (such as beef and pork) and dairy products (such as whole milk and butter), and are usually solids at room temperature.
Unsaturated fats primarily come from vegetable foods and tend to be liquids at room temperature. They consist of polyunsaturated fats and monounsatured fats, both of which are “good” fats. Polyunsaturated fats, which are found in corn, soybean, and safflower oils, can positively affect your body by lowering your LDL (bad) cholesterol. However, they can also lower your HDL (good) cholesterol. Monounsaturated fats, on the other hand, lower LDL cholesterol but do not affect HDL cholesterol. Yet, the impact made on LDL cholesterol is usually minor. Monousaturated fats are found in olive oil and canola oil.
Production of most fatty acids occurs within your body from the breakdown of fat molecules, but there are two important polyunsaturated fatty acids – omega-3 and omega-6 that cannot be manufactured in your body and must be provided through diet or taken as supplements. Therefore, although certain low-fat diets can be healthier than diet high in fat, a major shift in food consumption to a low-fat diet may deprive your body of these essential nutrients. These two “good” fats are termed essential fatty acids (EFAs).
Trans fatty acids are another type of unsaturated fat. In nature, they occur only in small dosages that don’t have negative effects on your body. However, the food industry has started producing this type of fatty to help food stay fresh longer. Manufactured trans fatty acids are very unhealthy “bad” fats. There are even mandates against their use in Europe – but in the United States, they can be found in baked goods, breads, candies, chocolate, frozen dinners, and processed meats.
It is also important to continue your intake of the vitamins and minerals. Your body requires vitamin A, the B vitamins, vitamin C, biotin, magnesium, niacin, zinc, and other nutrients to convert fatty acids into usable hormones. Protein is necessary as well. Proper intake of these nutrients as well as good fats will contribute to your good health.
However, alcohol, stress, and certain medications can cause your body to use these fatty acids incorrectly. At the same time, intake of fatty acids may change the amount of medication you need. For example, increased fatty acid intake may result in your needing less Prozac or insulin. Your healthcare provider can provide you with the knowledge you need to make this decision. Similarly, consult your doctor about your fatty acid consumption if you are taking a blood thinner. Some fatty acids have major effects on your blood’s ability to clot.
Instead of the complete elimination of fat from your diet, you need to eat less “bad” fats while adding more “good” fats to your eating and nutrient supplementation programs.
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance that is found in your bloodstream and carried through your body in lipoprotein particles. It is both made by your body and consumed in animal foods. Although needed by your body, the intake of too much cholesterol can clog your arteries, resulting in your heart receiving less blood and oxygen. This can cause serious cardiovascular problems.
There are two types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). LDL is known as the “bad” (or “lousy”) cholesterol because it can form as plaque along your arteries and increase your risk of heart disease. HDL, on the other hand, is the “good” (or “happy”) cholesterol. Its main job is to collect, breakdown, and excrete the LDL that is already in your body.
Therefore, your goal for optimal health should include a low LDL count and a high HDL count. Your doctor will be able to test your cholesterol levels from a blood sample. Ideally, your total cholesterol (LDL plus HDL) should be under 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) and your HDL should be over 40 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). If it is not, your doctor may need to run further tests.
If your cholesterol is high or has a sudden increase, you may wish to change your dietary habits. Although a portion of your cholesterol levels is due to heredity, limiting your intake of “bad” cholesterol while increasing exercise to elevate “good” cholesterol are important steps you can take to lower your risk for heart disease. There are suggestions of vitamins and other nutrients that can help improve your cholesterol levels from health professionals.
Soy protein, with intact genistein and daidzein, significantly decreased LDL cholesterol 30% to 40% and significantly increased HDL cholesterol to LDL cholesterol ratios by 15%.