Joan Wilder: Journalist, Writer, Editor

The Skinny on Fats

Cover of Living Well.

The Patriot Ledger's Living Well Magazine

It’s official: You can eat more fat. The American Heart Association has increased the amount of total fat it considers optimal in a heart-healthy diet.

Total fat can now be 35 percent of your daily calories, rather than 30 percent.

But before you reach for the ice cream, it’s important to know that the guidelines now differentiate between “good” and “bad” fats and recommend increasing the good and decreasing the bad.

To decode the guidelines and learn the difference between good and bad fats, Brockton Hospital is offering an educational seminar at 7 p.m. Feb. 21 at the hospital (Call 508-941-7979). The event is scheduled to coincide with National Heart Month.

“You should strive to eat most of your fat from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated sources like the fatty fishes salmon and tuna,” said Karen Rice, clinical nutrition manager at Brockton Hospital.

“Vegetable oils – especially olive and canola – are great sources and so are nuts, peanut butter and tofu.”

Saturated, or “bad,” fats include cholesterol and are most found in whole dairy products, meat, fried foods, and commercial baked goods.

The recommendation to further decrease saturated fat comes as no surprise to a public well-exposed to the idea that non-fat and low- fat labels equal good health.

What is surprising is the guidelines’ recognition of how important good fat is for promoting health.

According to health professionals, consuming good fat increases HDL cholesterol in the blood, also known as “good cholesterol,” while consuming bad fat increases LDL cholesterol, also known as “bad cholesterol.”

Among its other effects, LDL is responsible for clogging arteries and causing heart disease.

HDL, on the other hand, emulsifies LDL, flushing it from artery walls and promoting a smooth flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart.

Experts report that HDL and good fats, also known as essential fatty acids, boost health in a number of other ways, too, including insulating cells, regulating inflammation and increasing immune response.

Basically, the new recommendations are aimed at increasing good fats and decreasing bad, to increase HDL and decrease LDL.
Total blood cholesterol levels remain the same in the new recommendations.

What has changed is the ratio between LDL and HDL levels: HDL counts should be higher and LDL lower.

The guidelines for consumption are given either in grams, which is fairly easy, or in percentages of total calories consumed, which is harder to grasp.

Even if you don’t learn the math for devising the perfect diet, just think “good fat, good fat” and eat more of the following: Whole grains, including brown rice, whole wheat breads and oatmeal; legumes, such as pea soup, black beans and soy bean products, including tofu and soymilk; fruits, vegetables and nuts; salmon and tuna; and good quality, cold-pressed canola and olive oils.

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