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The Truth about Fats and Oils

Some fats and oils are killing us, some actually make us healthier. Which ones are you eating?

| February/March 2005

  • Cooking Oils
    The lighter-flavored vegetable oils such as canola, corn and sunflower are good all- purpose cooking and baking oils. Sesame and peanut oils can be used in anything from salads to stir-fry dishes. As for storage, most vegetable oils store for several months in the pantry. Flaxseed, sesame and walnut require refrigeration.
    Photo courtesy Scott Hollis
  • Trans Fats
    A chart that separates the good fats from the bad.
    Photo courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
  • Oils
    Different oils have differing amounts of fats in them.
    Photo courtesy Scott Hollis
  • Fats
    Many of the fats contained in these items are fats to avoid.
    Photo courtesy Matthew Stallbaumer

  • Cooking Oils
  • Trans Fats
  • Oils
  • Fats
“Butter (high in saturated fat) is bad for you; use margarine instead.” That’s the message most of us have been hearing for the last several decades. But now scientists have discovered that the hydrogenation process used to make margarine and shortening produces trans fats that are actually twice as bad for our hearts as saturated fats. Butter, it turns out, is a healthier choice than many brands of margarine and shortening. Small wonder that we’ve been so confused all this time.

It’s still true that fats and oils are high in calories. And it’s still true that most of us eat too much fat and more total calories than we need, causing us to gain weight. But fats and oils are an essential part of a healthy diet, and some are more healthful and taste better than others. To help you make the best choices, here’s a rundown of the health and flavor aspects of fats and oils:

The Basics

Fats, carbohydrates and proteins are the major components of all foods. Fats give us energy; help regulate our blood pressure, heart rate, blood flow and nervous systems; and carry fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) throughout our bodies. Fats also make us feel satisfied, thus helping us eat fewer calories. A recent study from Oxford, England, shows that eating fat ignites certain pleasure sensors in the brain — the same areas that light up at the sensation of a caress, the scent of a seductive perfume or upon winning money.

Fats are dense in calories — twice as much as carbohydrates and proteins — which is why we need to watch how much of them we eat.

They come in four basic types: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated and trans fats, all of which you can quickly learn to tell apart. The good fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats; in addition to olive and canola oils, other mono oils easy to find in the grocery store are peanut and avocado. Polyunsaturated fats that are widely available in grocery stores include safflower, corn, sunflower, soy and cottonseed oils.

Saturated fat, primarily found in meat, chocolate and full-fat dairy products, has both good and bad effects on our health. Trans fats are formed when oils are partially hydrogenated so they resemble saturated fats in texture and consistency. Many brands of margarine and shortening contain significant amounts of trans fats. Scientific research now shows that many trans fats contribute more to heart disease than the saturated fats.

Different types of fats directly impact the cholesterol levels in our bodies. So, the trick to a heart-healthy diet is knowing the ways cholesterol is affected by different types of fat. Cholesterol moves back and forth from our livers to our tissues in two basic forms: LDL (low density lipoprotein particles or “bad” cholesterol) and HDL (high-density lipoproteins or “good” cholesterol). The LDL shuttles fat and cholesterol from the liver to cells that need it, but fat can build up inside the walls of our arteries in the process (doctors call this “plaque build-up”). The HDL returns cholesterol to the liver and doesn’t build up plaque at all.

9/24/2012 2:11:54 PM

I know we've all had a BIT of time since '05 to get a deeper understanding :), but for those who might be new to it the health benefits of Omega-3's, I just wanted to mention that we should also be paying attention to Omega-6's as well. In my mind, they kinda seem like fuel and oil in an engine ... one without the other can be pretty limited in its benefit (even to the point of doing a bit-o-harm) ;) .... and ... while I've got "the floor", I'd also like to point out that LDL and HDL are NOT cholesterol. They are cholesterol *Transporters*. Knowing how our bodies work is the lock that safeguards our good health, and _Accurate_ information is the Key to that lock. -- Best wishes

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