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A Little Fat Can Go a Long Way

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A Little Fat Can Go a Long Way

By Drs. Ronald Klatz and Robert Goldman

Let's face it: Too many of us eat too much fat, and when we do, it's usually the bad kind, not the good. What are good fats? We're talking monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, and research demonstrates moderate consumption of these fats confer a number of health benefits. Yes, a little fat can go a long, long way, for better or worse; let's learn more about the healthy variety and why they're so important for your health.

As of 2008, an estimated 205 million men and 297 million adult women were obese; that's more than half a billion adults worldwide. The United States is the biggest (no pun intended) offender, with the highest collective body-mass index (greater than 28 kg/m

2) among high-income countries. In fact, from 1980-2008, BMI rose the most in the U.S., increasing by more than 1 BMI point per decade.Indeed, being overweight or obese is associated with a wide variety of life-robbing health conditions. As you pack on the pounds and flirt with BMI reaching overweight / obese levels, your risk of developing one (or more) of the following conditions markedly increases:

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Coronary heart disease

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Type 2 diabetes

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Cancers (endometrial, breast and colon)

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Hypertension (high blood pressure)

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Dyslipidemia (e.g., high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides)

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Stroke

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Liver and gallbladder disease

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Sleep apnea and respiratory problems

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Osteoarthritis (degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint)

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Gynecological problems (abnormal menses, infertility)

While there are many causes of obesity, excess intake of fat – particularly saturated fat – is a major contributing factor. Fortunately, not all fat is bad in moderation. Replacing some of that saturated fat intake with small amounts of healthier fats can not only help you avoid the health conditions listed above, but also provide a variety of other health benefits.

Mono/Polyunsaturated Fats

Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature. Most oils are high in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, and low in saturated fats. Oils from plant sources (vegetable and nut oils) do not contain any cholesterol. Common cooking oils include canola oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, olive oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil. Additionally, walnut and sesame oil are often used for their full-body flavors. (Coconut oil and palm kernel oil, however, are high in saturated fats and for nutritional purposes should be considered solid fats.)

Canola Oil:

Rich in omega-3 alpha-linoleic acids, canola oil may counteract elevated levels of fibrinogen, a blood clotting factor that, at elevated levels, is associated with increased risks of inflammation and inflammatory processes including coronary heart disease. Researchers from the University of Helsinki (Finland) investigated whether consumption of canola (rapeseed) oil, rich in omega-3 alpha-linoleic acids, could counteract elevated levels of fibrinogen. The researchers evaluated the effects of canola-type rapeseed oil on serum lipids, plasma fibrinogen, and fatty acids in 42 men and women with elevated fibrinogen and cholesterol.Study participants replaced one-quarter of their dietary fats with canola oil. During the six-week study period, canola oil doubled the intake of alpha-linoleic acids, while fibrinogen levels were reduced by 30 percent.

The alpha-linoleic acids also helped to decrease plasma omega-6s and increase docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) levels.

Olive Oil

and its phenolic compounds, oleuropein and cafeic acid, exert beneficial effects on fat oxidation and cardiac energy metabolism. In that previous studies suggest anti-diabetic, anti-atherosclerotic and anti-inflammatory effects, Geovana Ebaid, from Sao Paulo State University (Brazil), and colleagues investigated the effects of olive oil and its compounds on calorimetric parameters, myocardial oxidative stress and energy metabolism in heart tissue. Obese rats supplemented with olive oil, oleuropein, and cafeic acid had higher oxygen consumption, increased fat oxidation, and lower carbon dioxide production than non-supplemented obese rats. As well, antioxidant enzymes were unaffected by olive oil and its compounds in the obese rats, but increased in non-obese rats supplemented with olive oil and oleuropein. After 42 days, researchers found that energy expenditure, oxygen consumption, and fat oxidation were lower in obese rats compared to the non-obese rat control group.

Walnuts / Walnut Oil

: Rich in polyunsaturated fats, walnuts and walnut oil may help the body to better respond during times of stress. Sheila G. West, from Penn State University, and colleagues studied 22 healthy adults with elevated LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, supplying each subject with meal and snack foods during three diet periods of six weeks each in duration. The first diet period consisted of an "average" American diet: a diet without nuts that reflects what the typical person in the U.S. consumes each day; the second diet included 1.3 ounces of walnuts and a tablespoon of walnut oil substituted for some of the fat and protein in the average American diet; and the third diet was comprised of walnuts, walnut oil and 1.5 tablespoons of flaxseed oil. The researchers discovered that including walnuts and walnut oil in the diet lowered both resting blood pressure and blood pressure responses to stress in the laboratory. Results also showed that average diastolic blood pressure was significantly reduced during the diets containing walnuts and walnut oil. The researchers concluded: "This is the first study to show that walnuts and walnut oil reduce blood pressure during stress. This is important because we can't avoid all of the stressors in our daily lives. This study shows that a dietary change could help our bodies better respond to stress."

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

With our society's current emphasis on low-fat foods, it's important to remember that the body needs a certain amount of some kinds of fat. Natural fats provide a concentrated form of energy and create the environment in which fat-soluble vitamins, such as A and E, can be digested. They also provide the essential fatty acids (EFAs) the body uses to maintain its cellular structure. A primary type of EFAs are omega-3 fatty acids. Regarded as essential to normal growth and health since the 1930s, awareness of the health benefits of EFAs has dramatically increased in the past few years.