Protein and Fat

Carb counting focuses on the foods you eat that contain carbohydrate. It’s true that the protein and fat in foods, when you eat them in recommended amounts, have little effect on blood glucose levels. However, you cannot ignore foods that contain protein and fat. Here are the reasons why:

1. Protein and fat contain calories, and all calories count. Protein and fat might not affect your blood glucose levels much, but if you eat too much of them, they can add to your waistline.
2. Too much protein, especially animal protein, and too much fat, especially saturated fat and tans fat, are not healthy for anyone – but especially for people with diabetes.
3. The fat and protein in your meals may slow down the rise in blood glucose. When you eat a meal that is higher in protein than usual – for example, an 8-ounce steak or prime rib – your blood glucose might rise more slowly than you expect. In addition, when you eat a meal that is higher in fat than usual – for example, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and gravy followed by a piece of cheesecake for desert – your blood glucose might rise more slowly and peak later than you expect. You need to know about these differences and account for them while you manage your blood glucose levels.

The Need for Protein and Fat

Our bodies need some protein to build muscles. Protein is made up of amino acids that the body needs in order to work properly. Our bodies also need some fat, to carry the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K; cushion the body’s vital organs; and provide insulation to keep us warm. But most people consume more protein and fat than the body needs to conduct its business, and many people choose to eat less-healthy protein and fat sources.

Which Foods Contain Protein?

Many people would answer “red meat, poultry, and seafood”, which is correct. But actually, protein turns up in other foods, too. Many of these other sources contain a combination of protein and carbohydrate or protein and fat. For example, dried beans and peas contain protein and carbohydrate. Nuts contain protein and fat. There are also a variety of soy-based proteins on the market, which are usually lower in fat than meat, but also contain carbohydrate.

Which Foods Contain Fat?

Some foods are just about 100% fat, such as butter, margarine, oil, or regular salad dressing. These foods are often added to other foods to make them taste better – that’s why we call them “added fats”. On average, one serving of these types of foods contains about 5 grams of fat and 45 calories. Other foods, such as meats, cheese, nuts, whole-milk dairy foods, and most desserts, get some (but not all) of their calories from fat. You might call these “attached fats”, where fat is naturally part of the food. In fat-containing foods, the fat is made up of varying amounts of three types of fat – saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated. (There is also a fourth type, trans fatty acids, or trans fats, found mostly in processed foods, which are also a type of saturated fat. Here is some information on the different fats, how they act in the body, and example of food sources of each.

Monounsaturated Fats

Actions: lower total cholesterol and LDL and HDL cholesterol
Sources: Oils (liquid canola, olive, peanut)

Polyunsaturated Fats

There are two types of polyunsaturated fats – omega-3s and omega-6s.

Actions of omega-3: Lower risk for heart disease by decreasing stickiness of blood platelets and lowering triglyceride levels.

• Fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines, herring, and albacore tuna
• Flax (ground) and flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil
• Walnuts

Actions of omega-6: Lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. They also lower HDL (good) cholesterol, which isn’t a benefit.

Sources: Oils (liquid corn, safflower, soybean)

Saturated Fats

Action: Raise total and LDL cholesterol

• Beef, pork, poultry
• Butter
• Cream cheese
• Whole-milk dairy foods

Trans Fats Defined

A small amount of trans fats are found naturally in foods, such as meats and dairy foods. But most trans fats are created through a manufacturing process called partial hydrogenation. Partial hydrogenation takes an unsaturated fat and makes it more saturated – or solid. Think of a margarine made form liquid corn oil and formed into a stick. Food manufacturers use partial hydrogenation to create the more solid form of fat that increases the shelf life of products. Research shows that even small amounts of trans fats raise LDL or “bad” cholesterol and lower HDL or “good” cholesterol.

Health authorities have worked hard to raise awareness of trans fats in recent years, and many food manufacturers have responded by removing or reducing the amount of trans fats in their foods. Still, it’s a good idea to be on the lookout for trans fats and to take steps to limit your intake as much as possible. Here are some steps you can take to reduce the amount of trans fats in your eating plan:

• Limit your intake of foods with partially hydrogenated fat, such as margarine, cookies, crackers, fried snack foods, frozen convenience foods, and fried restaurant foods.
• Take advantage of new foods that do not contain trans fats, such as newer margarines and salad dressings.
• Lower your intake of total fat and saturated fat. This will automatically reduce your intake of trans fat.

Watch the Nutrition Facts label, too. Food manufacturers are required to provide data about trans fats under the fat information heading on the label. However, foods that contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving can be labeled “trans fats free”. Double check the ingredients list for things like hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils to ensure that you’re keeping your trans fat intake as low as possible.

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