Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Lesson in Fats

We have all been told to stay away from fats. Then we hear that there are some fats that are good for us, but we still need to be wary of them. I found this article on Redbook that helps breakdown good and bad fats, giving a better idea of what is okay to eat a little more of and what we should try not to eat. I'll divide this up so that the posts aren't super long.

Good Fats, Bad Fats

By Rachel Johnson, Ph.D, M.P.H., R.D.,January/February 2009


“All saturated fats are bad.”

It’s easy just to lump all saturated fats into one “heart-threatening” group, but the reality is that there are many different kinds of saturated fats in foods. Some research suggests that certain types are more harmful than others. For example, a handful of studies show that while coconut oil, rich in lauric acid, raises blood levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, it also raises HDL (“good”) cholesterol slightly. Stearic acid, a type of saturated fat that makes up about half the fat in dark chocolate and accounts for 15 percent of the fat in beef, doesn’t raise LDL at all. Experts consider stearic acid “neutral” when it comes to cardiovascular risk: it doesn’t help, but it doesn’t hurt either.

On the flip side, some saturated fats appear more likely than others to cause the buildup of fatty plaque in arteries. Palmitic acid, which is the main fat in palm oil and another saturated fat present in beef, is one such fat. But the fact that beef contains both “bad” palmitic acid and “neutral” stearic acid underscores the point that foods rich in saturated fats contain a mixture of different types.

And, of course, despite a widespread trend to eliminate trans fats from our food supply, many packaged snacks still contain these man-made fats that act like saturated fats. And trans fats, or “partially hydrogenated” fats, are the unhealthiest of all: they increase (“bad”) LDL and decrease (“good”) HDL.

Bottom Line: Saturated fats are not all created equal. Foods contain a variety of saturated fats, and a “neutral” one won’t negate the impact of a “bad” one. To minimize intake of “bad” saturated fats, choose lean sources of protein and low-fat or nonfat dairy products. Read labels on packaged foods, such as cookies, crackers and microwave popcorn, to avoid palm and coconut oils and trans fats. (While coconut oil may be marginally better than palm, you’re still better off avoiding both.)