Good Fats, Bad Fats
The real issue is which fat is better, and which one should be avoided? The fat that comes naturally with plant foods such as avocado, olives, and nuts is healthy fat. But what should one choose from the many salad oils and spreads available?
Corn oil, soy oil, and sunflower seed oil are all rich in polyunsaturated fat that lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease. Extra virgin olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fat and various health- promoting polyphenolics that lower heart disease and cancer risk, and is a favorite for use in salad dressings. Flaxseed, like walnut oil, is rich in omega-3 fat that helps lower triglycerides and the risk of blood clots.
Canola oil, an oil rich in omega-3 and monounsaturated fat, is both safe and effective at reducing elevated cholesterol levels. A widely circulated internet message falsely claims that canola oil causes glaucoma, shortens your lifespan, and has other detrimental effects.
Fast foods such as fries and various bakery products are made with hydrogenated vegetable oils which are unhealthful due to their significant content of trans fat and saturated fat. Both of these fats have an adverse effect on your blood lipids.
Recently, there has been a lot of internet activity promoting the so-called miraculous healing properties of coconut oil. In his book, Bruce Fife claims that coconut oil prevents bacterial, viral, and fungal infections, helps to control diabetes, does not raise cholesterol levels or promote blood clots, and helps promote weight loss due to its rich content of medium-chain fats. While none of these health claims have been experimentally proven, research has shown that coconut does raise cholesterol levels and increases the risk of clot formation.
People often ask which is more healthful - butter or margarine? Soft tub margarines made from liquid vegetable oils have no cholesterol and contain only one-third as much saturated fat as butter, and are known to lower cholesterol levels. Trans fat content of margarines is of less concern now that the food industry has started to use a new process of random interesterification of oils. However, one should limit the use of the hard stick margarines as they do contain significant levels of trans fat.
The American Heart Association recommends that we use those margarines that contain no more than 2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon. One should be careful not to use too much fat. A tablespoon of margarine or oil represents about 20 to 30% of your daily fat needs.
Author: Winston Craig, MPH, PhD, RD.
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