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With the whole low fat craze showing no sign of letting up, you need to know why fats are so important for your health. Let’s start with the role of fat in your body. When we think of fat our first instinct is to look at our butt or belly as confirmation that we are getting too much in our diet. The truth is some fats do indeed pile the pounds on while others serve a very important function in your body. The importance is to know the difference when eating fats.

Many of you have heard of the detrimental effects of trans fats on the health of your organs, glands and system, but few have a clear understanding of what and where they are. Trans fats can be better labeled as partially hydrogenated and hydrogenated oils. They are found in commercially prepared foods particularly the creamy or baked goods. When you buy prepackaged foods, don’t rely on the front of the package or side panel for nutritional information which can be misleading. Instead of taking the boldly printed “0% Trans fats” on the front of the package at face value, read the ingredients and invariably you will find these modified fats and oils clearly listed. Food manufacturers are permitted to label a food 0% trans fats if it contains less than .5mg per serving. Unfortunately in many instances, the serving may be 5 potato chips or 1 cookie, do you eat just that? Most don’t.

So what are hydrogenated fats and why are they so bad? Hydrogenated fats are made when hydrogen is forced through a liquid oil at high temperatures which in turn causes it to solidify and form a soft paste. This preparation is then deodorized, colored and seasoned with an array of chemicals to give it the appearance and texture of spreadable butter. It is then sold as an oleo or added to prepared and processed foods for flavor and density or moisture.

One of the worst and potentially dangerous repercussions of excess trans fats in the diet is the inability of our bodies to clear them efficiently. Unlike animal fats which clear the system in 18 days, trans fats actually have a half life of 51 days. What this means is that if you eat a meal with trans fats today, it will take upwards of one year to clear it out. Why is that such a problem? Our bodies require essential fats to make anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. These biological chemicals reduce inflammation and accompanying pain. They also are necessary for a healthy nervous system and cell wall integrity among other things. Excess trans fats in the diet displace essential fats in your body and disrupt these body functions.

What can you do to protect yourself? Avoid prepared foods especially baked goods which are generally made with hydrogenated oils. Margarine is not heart healthy no matter what the advertising pundits say. Butter on the other hand is. Adding extra virgin olive oil from reputable sources and small amounts of butter in your diet will go long way in keeping you healthy. Coconut oil, another healthy oil, is rich in mid-chain triglycerides AKA “MCT”, a fat which is so important for healthy brain function that a certain drug company has made “medical food” out of it. Children in particular should never be given fat free or low fat foods, the same MCTs that are in coconut milk are also present in whole milk and dairy products. Healthy fats don’t make you fat, trans fats and rancid fats do. Choose wisely, stay well.

Dr. Nadia R. Malek, DC, DACBN

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