Your body needs some fats

Last week, I told you about a study that gave us some pretty shocking news about “low-fat” diets. Turns out, men and women with a certain genetic susceptibility who follow low-fat diets increase their stroke risk by 300 percent. But following the Mediterranean Diet, together with extra healthy fats from olive oil or mixed nuts, eliminated this stroke risk. And it put these men and women on an even playing field with those who have “normal” genes.

Actually, this study shouldn’t shock you very much if you’ve been following my articles over the past year. I regularly report on the benefits of healthy fats.

Your body uses healthy fats to construct the membranes of all the cells in your body. They also insulate brain and nerve cells so they function and signal properly. In addition, without some fat in your diet, you cannot absorb the critical fat-soluble vitamins–A, D, E, and K–from your foods. Or even from supplements.

So a healthy diet absolutely must include some fats. But you need to be careful about which kinds you choose. And how much you eat.

For health purposes, we can separate dietary fats into three categories: saturated, unsaturated, and “trans” fats.

You find saturated fats primarily in meats, such as beef and poultry. These foods are also good sources of protein. In fact, the best sources of protein also have some saturated fats. You also find saturated fats in eggs and full-fat, natural dairy products. A few vegetable oils, such as palm oil are high in saturated fat.

The body needs some saturated fats–but not in large amounts. Still, on a strictly vegetarian diet it may be difficult to get sufficient saturated fats.

But eating a meal that is too high in saturated fats can cause problems too. It temporarily causes triglyceride levels to rise. And over time, high triglycerides may increase your risk of high blood pressure, Type II diabetes, and heart problems.

Here’s a good guideline to follow, when it comes to saturated fat…

Roughly 10 percent of your daily calories should come from saturated fats. Since fats have about twice as many calories as non-fat nutrients, a smaller amount goes further. So go ahead and have a medium-sized steak for dinner. But pick a leaner cut, such as a flank steak from grass-fed beef. And trim the visible fat before eating it. And if you have a few eggs for breakfast, you can opt for fish instead of steak for dinner.

Unsaturated fats are also appropriate in a heart-healthy diet. There are two types of unsaturated fat: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. You find high concentrations of monounsaturated fats in almonds, canola oil, hazelnuts, olive oil, peanuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds.

Corn oil, fish, flaxseeds, soybean oil and sunflower oil contain polyunsaturated fats. Omega-3s are another type of polyunsaturated fat. Oily fish like herring and salmon are high in omega-3s. So are some plants, such as canola oil, flaxseed, soybean oil, and walnuts.

Trans fats actually start out as unsaturated fats. But most unsaturated fats are liquid oils at room temperature. To make them solid, and less “oily,” food manufacturers add extra hydrogen molecules. This makes them “hydrogenated” and turns them into what we commonly refer to as “trans fats.” You find trans fats in baked goods, margarine, and in some animal products. And they may taste great, but they also cause a lot of harm.

As I reported last winter, food manufacturers successfully marketed margarine as a healthy substitute for butter for nearly 50 years.

Now, research shows that this indigestible, unpalatable pseudo-food is anything but “heart healthy.” It’s actually worse for your heart than butter. Far worse. In fact, a recent study found that replacing butter with margarine may actually increase your risk of dying from heart disease by more than 50 percent!

And so, all those poor men and women who “patted” themselves on the back for using margarine instead of butter have lived to regret it. Or in too many cases, not lived to regret it!

Many food manufacturers now cut out trans fats from their processed snack foods. But you should still always check the label. Avoid anything that says it contains trans fat or hyrdrogenated fat. Or better yet, avoid processed foods altogether.

Restaurants, especially fast food restaurants, still sneak trans fats into their foods. So be especially careful when eating out.

The fact is, trans fats cause more heart problems than saturated fats. When it comes to trans fats, no amount is “essential” or healthy. You don’t need them in any amount. And you’re better off avoiding them altogether.

But you should strive to get healthy fats in your diet every day, including unsaturated fats and some saturated fats. To do this, eat more fish, nuts, and healthy vegetable oils such as olive oil.

Eating these foods improves lipid levels, lowers blood pressure, and reduces your risk of heart and cardiovascular diseases. This will also help decrease your so-called “bad cholesterol” without using statin drugs. And increase your “good cholesterol” at the same time.