The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly: Here's the Skinny on Dietary Fat March 07, 2013 00:00

BAD FAT 

While a fat-free or even low-fat diet is not the healthiest choice, there are certainly some types of fat that you'll want to do your best to avoid or limit.  These are the fats that are detrimental to your health, especially when consumed in large quantities.

Saturated fat comes from animal sources.  When you eat a burger with bacon and cheese, the saturated fats from the meat and dairy raise your total and LDL blood cholesterol levels. This is not good. High LDL cholesterol dramatically increases your risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Trans fats are naturally occurring in some animal products, but most trans fats are the product of partial hydrogenation.   The process of hydrogenation takes healthy unsaturated fats and turns them into fats that are more shelf-stable and easier to cook with.  These fats are usually solid at room temperature, .like lard, butter, margarine, and shortening.  They are often referred to as synthetic fats, and are found in a lot of the processed and prepacked food that fills most American grocery stores.

Many restaurants and food manufacturers now advertise the fact that their products are trans fat free.  Be careful of tricky labeling... just because a doughnut is trans fat free doesn't mean it is good for you.  It's likely to be high in sodium, sucrose (the bad sugar), or heavy in saturated fats.  Your best bet is to read the label, including the little box that tells you all the vitamins and minerals (or lack thereof). 

Remember, food is fuel.  If you are filling up with empty calories (that's food that is basically void of any nutritional value), you won't be able to run very long before you crash.

GOOD FAT

The term “good fat” is not an oxymoron.  Fats are the building blocks of the brain and are absolutely essential for proper body function, but you must be able to differentiate between the good, the bad, and the ugly... or at least the good and the bad.

Monounsaturated fat is found primarily in oils (like olive oil), nuts, sunflower seeds, and avocados.  This type of good fat reduces the risk of cardiac disease and stroke, because it helps regulate LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream.

That's not all, though. A diet rich in monounsaturated fats verses one that is comprised of “bad fats” and carbohydrates often results in weight loss, decreased symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, prevention of type 2 diabetes, and reduced belly fat.

Polyunsaturated fat is found in plant-based foods, oils, and some types of fatty fish.  One especially beneficial type of polyunsaturated fat is Omega-3 fatty acid, found in some types of fatty fish, nut oils, and flax seeds.  According to the University of Maryland Medical Center,  Omega-3 fatty acids are a necessary component of a healthy brain, including memory and behavioral function.  In fact, infants who have not received enough of this polyunsaturated fat in utero can suffer from vision and nerve problems.

Balanced consumption of Omega-3's is also associated with reduced risk of inflammatory diseases like cancer, heart attack, stroke, and arthritis. 

WHAT CAN GOOD FAT DO FOR ME?

According to information published by the Franklin Institute for Science Learning, fat literally builds your brain.  Fatty acids from the food you consume are the substance your body uses to build the specialized cells which allow you to think and feel.

Good Fats Build Neuron Membranes

Neurons are the specialized cells that the brain uses to communicate with the rest of the body.  The membranes of these cells are comprised of the same fatty acids that you consume in your foods.  The process of digestion breaks the dietary fat into molecules of different lengths.  These molecules become the building blocks of the fats used in the formation of brain cell membranes.

Good Fats Protect Your Brain

Myelin is the sheath that protects the neurons of your brain.  It's composed of 30% protein and 70% fatty acid.  Oleic acid, the most abundant acid in human breast milk, is one of the most common fatty acids found in the brain's myelin.  Excellent dietary sources of monounsaturated oleic acid are avocados, olive oil, and oils from peanuts, macadamias, almonds and pecans.

Good Fats Aid Digestion

Believe it or not, that slippery looking margarine is hard to digest.  Why?  The shape of a trans fat molecule is not barbed, which means lots of those molecules can clump together nice and tight.  On the other hand, a mono or poly unsaturated fat molecule is barbed, which means they are loosely packed and can be picked apart by the body and put to good use.  These fats are more readily absorbed and distributed to the cells that need them.  Whereas the bad fats, in essence, plug you up. 

WHAT CAN GOOD FAT DO FOR MY BABY?

A pregnant mama supplies two specific types of fatty acids, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and AA (arachidonic acid), to her growing baby.  These fatty acids are crucial to the baby's brain and vision health. Studies have shown that a deficiency in DHA and AA can lead to impairment of the baby's central nervous system and cognitive development. 

After the baby is born, the mother will continue to provide these necessary building blocks through her breast milk.  Since Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are essential nutrients, they can not be manufactured by the body.  They must be built from the foods that we consume.  A diet high in nuts and cold pressed oils will help ensure that a nursing mother produces the most nutritious breast milk for her baby's growing brain and body.

HOW MUCH GOOD FAT DO I NEED?

The United States Department of Agriculture's Dietary guidelines are based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet.  Within that framework, you should consume about 44 to 78 grams of fat per day, most of which should be unsaturated fatty acids. 

Remember, even good fats are high in calories.  For a nursing mom who needs to consume a few more calories, this is no problem.  But it's best not to go overboard.  Start by replacing a couple of beef dinners a week with fresh water fish.  Snack on nuts, or non-hydrogenated nut butters on celery, instead of chips and crackers.  Whip up a free-range egg white omelet for breakfast.  Go for a snack bar that is full of flax, almonds, or macadamia nuts instead one that is really a glorified candy bar.


By making these simple dietary changes, you can provide your beautiful baby with the most nutrient rich breast milk possible.  Not to mention that your own mental and physical health will benefit right alongside your baby's.  Healthy mama.  Healthy family.  It's a no-brainer.

RESOURCES:

Mayo Clinic.  Nutrition and Healthy Eating.  Dietary Fats:  Know Which Types to Choose.

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fat/nu00262/nsectiongroup=2

The Franklin Institute:  Resources for Scientific Learning.  Nourish- Fats.

http://www.fi.edu/learn/brain/fats.html

University of Maryland Medical Center, Omega-3 Fatty Acids.

http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/omega-3-000316.htm

United States Department of Agriculture:  Dietary Guidelines.  2010.

http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/DietaryGuidelines.htm