FAT – Friend or Foe – for Heart Health and Weight Loss

The decades old recommendations that “fat” is bad for your heart and is the main culprit for obesity still lingers today with some of my new clients. They are still “fat phobic” even after all these years.

Some still continue behaviors like removing the skin from their chicken before cooking, avoiding red meats except three times a week, and using “egg beaters” instead of real eggs.  They still think that processed low-fat, low calorie foods like rice cakes, crackers and pretzels will help them lose weight.

I have to remind them of the results of avoiding all fat – that low-fat diets have been tied to increasingly poor health outcomes and actually increasing obesity and diabetes rates for Americans.

The truth – fat is necessary, useful and efficient, but how much do you need? The answer depends on what type of fat you are talking about.

Your body stores or makes fat because your body needs fat to function and fat is a form of storage fuel for your body in case you ever need it. Fat cells fill up by siphoning free floating dietary fats directly out of the bloodstream, but they also are capable of manufacturing fat directly from excess glucose (too much carbohydrate) in the blood. That is why the old low-fat, high carb foods like Snack-Well products probably increased the rates of obesity.

Types of fat – fats come from plants, animals and test tubes. Plant fats generally come from seeds, nuts, vegetables and even fruits. A mango contains omega-3 fatty acids (that are truly good for the heart) just like tuna does. Animal fats come from the adipose tissue of dietary meats. Dairy such as cheese and milk are animal by-products. Artificial fats (trans-fats) are produced in factories and have more in common with petroleum than with biology. They are not natural but man made.

All fats are defined as either saturated or un-saturated, a scientific classification based on the chemical structure of the fat molecules.  At room temperature, saturated fats are soft solids, while unsaturated fats are liquids.

Most experts no longer consider saturated fats the evil they were once thought to be. It used to be believed these fats would raise bad cholesterol because saturated fat triggers cholesterol production by the liver, but research is challenging that long held belief. Saturated fats are needed for the construction of cell membranes, organ padding and nerve sheathes. They also play an important role in hormone production and are required for the proper absorption of some minerals and fat-soluble vitamins including A, D, E, and K.

Unsaturated fats boost artery-cleaning good cholesterol (HDL), lower triglycerides, regulate blood clotting, help maintain a healthy blood pressure and are key players in proper brain function. Some examples of unsaturated fats that are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and good for your heart health:  Salmon, Herring, Mackerel, Halibut, Tuna, Cod, wheat germ oil, walnuts, flax meal, olive oil and mango.

There is still one bad fat! There is one fat that the body apparently does not need – a special subset of saturated fats called trans-fat and you should avoid it! Trans-fats are the test tube fats.  They have been strongly linked to an increase in heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Trans-fat wipes out healthy cholesterol (HDL) and greatly increases the bad cholesterol (LDL).  A trans-fat is manufactured by taking a healthy unsaturated fat and forcing hydrogen atoms into its molecules using heat and heavy metals such as palladium, therefore transforming the liquid into a solid. And where is it found? Mostly, in processed bready carbohydrates which causes weight gain if taken in excess of needs.

A question I get asked sometimes when I recommend a lower-carb, higher fat diet (minus trans-fats), “Won’t increasing my fat intake increase my cholesterol?”  I tell the client that it has been my experience through seeing cholesterol lab profiles improve, that for the most part eating less carb (especially processed carb) and increasing fat (especially good fats) lowers the bad cholesterol and increases the good cholesterol. This reduces risk factors for heart disease.

A research study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) compared a low-fat diet to a low carb, high-fat diet and the results showed that the group eating more fat and fewer carbs lost more weight.  Even more the low carb, high-fat diet followers lowered their risk factors for heart disease by improving their cholesterol profile even though they ate more than 40% of their total daily calories from fat!

So how much fat do you need?  None of the trans-fats, avoid them!  You should put the product back down on the shelf at the store if it has the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredient list. Saturated fat and un-saturated fat are an important part of a healthy diet and needs should be assessed individually.

A real food diet with fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, and high omega-3 sources such as olive oil, fish and nuts and an individualized exercise program is the way to go for your future heart health. For weight loss use the real food diet as your base and follow a lower carb meal plan based on your individualized needs.  You don’t have to be on an Atkins diet with extremely low daily carb amounts to lose weight, but just get your individualized carb number for weight loss determined by a licensed credentialed Registered Dietitian.

Come learn the essentials for successful weight loss and get your individualized carb number for weight loss determined at Integrated Optimal Health, Choice Center for Diabetes and Weight Loss, www.integratedoptimalhealth.com or choicecenterfordiabetes.com, call 603-770-4856.

At Choice Center for Diabetes and Weight Loss we provide programs that help you reach your “Optimal Health” such as individual and group weight loss programs for accountability and support, movement camps that help improve flexibility, balance, core strength and stress reduction,  diabetes self-management programs (DSME) that are covered by most insurance.  We have been an AADE accredited Diabetes Center since September 2014! Most insurance accepted!