Fats, cholesterol…what is good and what’s bad for our health?

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Saturated fats found mainly in animal food sources might help decrease cholesterol? Sun flower oils(even the virgin ones) can really be one of the worst fats for our health? Can coconut oil really be healthy?.. “Eat a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet”.. “Saturated Fat is Not Your Heart’s Enemy”..I know I’ve made your thoughts really twisted now! So what is good and what is bad when it comes to fats? The truth is no one knows these things entirely for sure, there’s been so much controversy brewing over the past decade on this subject, mainly about saturated and polyunsaturated fats. Different studies showing conflicting results, but still we are flooded from everywhere with all kinds of dietary habits we should follow or avoid.



There is one simple thing I used to know about fats.
That there are 3 types:
• unsaturated – totally good, eat as much as you like just make sure you don’t get fat,
• saturated – bad, avoid as much as possible,
• trans – don’t even think about it!


Well.. these things are not entirely true, they are a little more complex than this.


So lets make things a little more clear. There are 4 types of fats:
unsaturated fats – the monounsaturated ones(that are know to rise the good cholesterol – HDL in our blood, and the ones that are know to dissolve the bad cholesterol – LDL) – these are found mainly in olive oil
unsaturated fats – the polyunsaturated ones(that also include the omega3 and omega6)(that are know to dissolve the bad cholesterol – LDL but also some might lower the good cholesterol – HDL at the same time) – sunflower oil has one of the largest amount from these oils, but also walnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame Seeds, Chia Seeds, fish, green leafs, soy etc.
saturated fats (that are thought..or maybe not(recently debated) to increase the bad cholesterol – named LDL) – found mainly in animal sources
trans fats (these are your worst enemy, found especially in margarine and other artificially transformed – hydrogenated oils, these fats raises your LDL, lowering the HDL at the same time).


Saturated fats are usually found in animal products while the unsaturated ones come from plants. There are exceptions of course, like the saturated fats found in the coconut, or the fish oil that has also unsaturated fats. Now just to make it clear, almost all of the oils have saturated and unsaturated fats, more or less so it’s just the percentage that is different. So as I told you, there is a lot of controversy around this subject, these things are not entirely understood unfortunately nowadays. For eg. some studies show that a whole(the un-skimmed) milk, that contains unsaturated fats tends to lower your cholesterol levels more than the skimmed milk, now this would be a conflicting fact,as it should be the other way around. Or about the coconut oil that that has a huge 92% of saturated fats, some studies say it’s still beneficial for us. So whom and what to believe?


At least 2 things are for sure:




monounsaturated that is mainly found in olive oil, but also in canola oil, avocado, peanuts, and even in red meat or milk, are known to be the best for our health, increasing the HDL and decreasing the LDL.

and..
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trans artificial fats(like margarine and the products made with it like almost all pastry or the fast food) are as bad as it can get, there is nothing good in them, as I said, they increase bad cholesterol – LDL, while lowering the good one – HDL). So they are to be avoided!

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So where do we stand when it comes to the other 2: saturated fats and polyunsaturated ones?



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Saturated fats found mainly in animal food sources but also in coconut, have been blamed for a long time now, but recent studies suggested that they might not be as bad as we thought! Some studies made over 20 years of research suggested there were no relevant results and that there is no proof that the saturated fats rises our bad cholesterol – LDL, moreover other studies suggested that these fats are powerful antioxidants that even our body are producing them to protect us against heart diseases or cancers. It’s said that the stearic acid found in meat and chocolate is even partly transformed by our body in the beneficial monosaturated fats(found in olive oil for eg.). Some studies also showed that drinking up to 2 cups of whole milk is more beneficial for our health than the skimmed milk! But what about the long-blamed coconut milk very high in saturated fats? Coconut milk has a medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which the body processes differently than other saturated fats. MCFAs may help promote weight maintenance without raising cholesterol levels. Other important notice is that given the fact that saturated fats are very stable, they are not prone to oxidation, therefor butter, coconut butter or oil and palm oils are best for cooking! So as you can see when it comes to saturated fats, things stand a little different than what we used to think. Of course these are all just some recent studies from many others and this doesn’t mean you should now rash in the kitchen, eating large amounts of butter, creams, milk or meats thinking they are good for you(and they might not even be good at all)… but when it comes to saturated fats I rather think, moderation is the key! I think one glass of whole milk/day, 3 eggs/week, a slice of bread greased with butter/day, or a cup of coconut ice-cream(I had one last evening..yummm!) is ok.


But how about the polyunsaturated fats that also includes the well known essential oils that are vital for our health and that can not be produced by our bodies: omega-3, omega-6, that are found in sunflower seeds, walnuts, fish(salmon, sardines), green leafs? Some of the studies suggest that some omega-6 and other polyunsaturated, are the true enemies of our cardiovascular system. But hey, aren’t omega’s promoted for a healthy diet everywhere, nowadays?!! Yes they are good, but in the right proportions and quality!



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You see omega-3 are not naturally so widely spread as omega-6, they are mainly found in the fat of cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, trout, black cod, and bluefish. There are two critical omega-3 fatty acids, (eicosapentaenoic acid, called EPA and docosahexaenoic or DHA), that the body needs. Vegetarian sources (such as raw walnuts and flaxseeds and their oils, Grains, Spirulin, Brazil Nuts, Hempseed Oil, Mustard Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, Chia Seed Oil, Wheat Germ Oil, Canola Oil (Rapeseed), Green Leafy Vegetables) contain a precursor of omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid called ALA) that the body must convert to EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are the building blocks for hormones that control immune function, blood clotting, and cell growth as well as components of cell membranes.


By contrast, sources of omega-6 fatty acids are numerous in modern diets. They are found in Raw Nuts & Seeds in certain raw vegetable oils( Soy, Olive Oil, Sesame Oil, Hempseed Oil, Chia Seed Oil, Safflower Oil, Sunflower Oil, Cottonseed Oil, grapeseed oil), but also in grains and green leafy vegetables, like lettuce, broccoli, purslane and kale, Wheatgerm, Grapeseeds, Pistachios, Pumpkin Seeds. Care should be taken to use raw cold pressed vegetable oils because cooking destroys the benefits of the fatty acids. But refined vegetable oils, such as soy oil, are used in most of the snack foods, cookies, crackers, and sweets in the American diet as well as in fast food. Soybean oil alone representing an astounding 20 percent of the calories in the American diet are estimated to come from this single source.


The body also constructs hormones from omega 6 fatty acids. In general, hormones derived from the two classes of essential fatty acids have opposite effects. Those from omega-6 fatty acids tend to increase inflammation (an important component of the immune response), blood clotting, and cell proliferation, while those from omega-3 fatty acids decrease those functions. Both families of hormones must be in balance to maintain optimum health.


Many nutrition experts believe that before we relied so heavily on processed foods, humans consumed omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in roughly equal amounts. The right balance would be somewhere near 2(omega 6):1(omega 3) proportion. But to our great detriment, most North Americans and Europeans now get far too much(9 times more) of the omega-6s and not enough of the omega-3s. This dietary imbalance may explain the rise of such diseases as asthma, coronary heart disease, many forms of cancer, autoimmunity and neurodegenerative diseases, all of which are believed to stem from inflammation in the body.

In general, however, you can cut down on omega-6 levels by reducing consumption of processed and fast foods and polyunsaturated vegetable oils (corn, sunflower, safflower, soy, and cottonseed, for example). At home, use extra virgin olive oil for cooking and in salad dressings. Eat more oily fish or take fish oil supplements, walnuts, flax seeds..


Omega 3 and omega 6, if present in the right proportions in our bodies can produce the non-essential omega 9(monounsaturated fat). You remember the benefits of the monounsaturated fats I told you about, above? But if these two essential fatty acids are not found in the right proportion, you should get omega 9 from your diet. This fatty acid plays a role in preventing heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels. Other benefits of omega 9 are that it reduces hardening of the arteries and improves immune function. Omega-9 fatty acids are also found naturally in: avocados, pecans, cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts, chia seed oil, olives & olive oil.



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And then there is another issue ricing with the oils that contain polyunsaturated fats. One of the problems with cooking with these polyunsaturated vegetable oils is that the unsaturated fatty acids are susceptible to breaking down and forming “free radicals” which can be very toxic to cells. Here’s what happens: when the polyunsaturated fats are reused again and again (for example, as they are in fast foods that repeatedly fry foods in the same oil numerous times), they begin to break down, making them even more dangerous. The more they start to break down, the more oxidative damage there is, forming more free radicals. Even if you purchase these oils cold pressed and you use them uncooked, they are still highly sensitive to light, temperature, humidity and air and are prone to oxidation. You know the rancid taste of the old oils? Well those oils are clearly doing a lot of damage to your body. The problem is that this process starts way earlier than it starts changing it’s taste, so it’s really hard to tell if an cold pressed oil is still good. I always keep it in the freezer, that way I keep them out from light and high temperatures, and I only take out small bottles in the fridge for use. The rancidity of the oils is far more worse than you would think! The free radicals make their way through the body making damage on everything from cell membranes, to DNA/RNA strands, to blood vessels (which can then lead to plaque accumulation). The harm adds up over time in the organs and systems of the body and can cause significant impact, including premature aging and skin disease, liver damage, immune dysfunction, and even cancer!


I know this might be a lot of information for many of you that don’t mind about so many details, so just to simplify things you should keep in mind to:
• use monousaturated fats like uncooked virgin olive oil or canola oil, fish(like salmon and sardines), avocado and fresh seeds like walnuts flax seeds and Cashews, etc. as much as possible
• be cautious with the polyunsaturated fats from sunflower, soy and other oils. These are the most prone to oxidation, and used them only cold pressed and carefully cared, keeping them in cold, dark places or in the freezer. Keep the right approximate ratio of 2:1 between omega 6 and omega 3, keeping in mind that omega 3 is rare, found only in small number of natural sources like salmon, sardines, herring, walnuts, algae, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and flax seeds, while list omega 6 is plentifully found in the modern diet!
• use saturated(animal) fats with moderation
• use saturated fats such as butter, coconut or palm oil, for cooking. These are the most stable therefore more resistant to the oxidation harmful process.




And just to make it even more easier, I’ve prepared a list with foods that we should purchase more often, with those to use moderate and those to be forgotten forever.


So I will definitely have more of the:
• olives and virgin olive oil
• avocado
• flax seeds
• walnuts
• salmon
• trout
• sardines
• herring
• algae
• pumpkin seeds
• chia seeds


I’ll use, but moderately:
• virgin sun flower oil
• coconut milk and oil
• butter
• whole milk
• cheese
• eggs


I’ll avoid eating:
• refined sun flower oil
• margarine
• pastry
• fast food


I’ll avoid cooking with:
• any type, virgin or not of sunflower oil(I say this because sunflower oil is largely used in my country, but it’s the same thing for any other polyunsaturated fat oils(soy, corn, etc..))


I’ll try to use for cooking one of the following, preferably in this order:
• coconut oil
• palm oil
• butter




I think this should be very clear for you guys. Hope this helps.. Stay healthy!

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