Our cells must constantly contend with nasty substances called free radicals.
They can damage DNA, the inside or artery walls, proteins in the eye--just about
any substance or tissue imaginable. Some free radicals are made inside the body,
inevitable byproducts of turning food into energy. Others come from the air we
breathe and the food we eat.
We aren't defenseless against free radicals. We extract free-radical
fighters, called antioxidants, from food. Fruits, vegetables, and other
plant-based foods deliver dozens, if not hundreds, of antioxidants. The most
common are vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene and related carotenoids. Food
also supplies minerals such as selenium and manganese, which are needed by
enzymes that destroy free radicals.
During the 1990s, the term antioxidants became a huge nutritional buzz word.
Antioxidants were promoted as wonder agents that could prevent heart disease,
cancer, cataracts, memory loss, and a host of other conditions.
It's true that the package of antioxidants, minerals, fiber, and other
substances found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains help prevent a variety
of chronic diseases. Whether high doses vitamin C, vitamin E, or other
antioxidants can accomplish the same feat is an open question.
The evidence accumulated so far isn't promising. Randomized trials of vitamin
C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene haven't revealed much in the way of protection
from heart disease, cancer, or aging-related eye diseases. Ongoing trials of
other antioxidants, such as lutein and zeaxanthin for macular degeneration and
lycopene for prostate cancer, are underway.
Vitamin A keeps your skin smooth and
the linings of your mouth, nose, throat, lungs, and intestines healthy. Vitamin
A is also needed for healthy eyes. It forms the part of the eye that helps you
to see in dim light. People who do not get enough vitamin A may have a hard time
seeing at night. This is called night blindness. Vitamin A may also help prevent
certain types of cancer.
You can get vitamin A from both plant
foods and animal foods. It is found in the fats and oils of these foods and is
stored in the fat cells in your body. Dark orange and green vegetables and
fruits like carrots, kale, turnip greens and other dark greens, broccoli, red
and green peppers, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, winter squash, cantaloupe and
peaches are all good sources of this vitamin. Animal foods, such as egg yolks,
milk, cheese and liver are good sources, too.
There are many different B vitamins,
including thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine (B6), and cobalamin (B12). The
B vitamins work together to help your body use the energy you get from food.
Some B vitamins are also important in helping the body use protein from the diet
to build new cells and tissues.
You can get enough of the B vitamins
by eating a variety of foods from different food groups. Animal products like
pork, liver, kidney, poultry, eggs and fish are the best sources of vitamin B6.
Many plant foods like whole grain foods (brown rice, whole wheat bread and
oatmeal) are good sources of pyridoxine. Some legumes and nuts like soy beans,
peanuts and walnuts are other plant sources of this B vitamin.
Vitamin B12 is needed for healthy
blood. It is found only in animal products. If you are a vegetarian and do not
eat any animal foods like eggs, milk or cheese, you may need to take a
supplement for this vitamin.
The 3 Bs: Vitamin B6, Vitamin
B12, and Folic Acid
One of the advances that changed the way we look at vitamins was the
discovery that too little folic acid, one of the eight B vitamins, is linked to
birth defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly. Fifty years ago, no one knew
what caused these birth defects, which occur when the early development of
tissues that eventually become the spinal cord, the tissues that surround it, or
the brain goes awry. Twenty five years ago, British researchers found that
mothers of children with spina bifida had low vitamin levels.Eventually, two
large trials in which women were randomly assigned to take folic acid or a
placebo showed that getting too little folic acid increased a woman's chances of
having a baby with spina bifida or anencephaly and that getting enough folic
acid could prevent these birth defects.
Enough folic acid, at least 400 micrograms a day, isn't always easy to get
from food. That's why women of childbearing age are urged to take extra folic
acid. It's also why the US Food and Drug Administration now requires that folic
acid be added to most enriched breads, flour, cornmeal, pastas, rice, and other
grain products, along with the iron and other micronutrients that have been
added for years.
The other exciting discovery about folic acid and two other B vitamins is
that they may help fight heart disease and some types of cancer. It's too early
to tell if there's merely an association between increased intake of
folic acid and other B vitamins and heart disease or cancer, or if high intakes
prevent these chronic diseases.
The current recommended intake for folic acid is 400 micrograms per day. There
are many excellent sources of folic acid, including prepared breakfast cereals,
beans, and fortified grains.
A healthy diet should include 1.3 to 1.7 milligrams of vitamin B6. Higher
doses have been tested as a treatment for conditions ranging from premenstrual
syndrome to attention deficit disorder and carpal tunnel syndrome. To date,
there is little evidence that it works.
The current recommended intake for vitamin B12 is 6 micrograms per day.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can be caused by pernicious anemia, due to a lack of
"intrinsic factor" (a substance secreted by gastric cells that binds
to vitamin B12 and enables its absorption). A more common cause of deficiency is
often diagnosed in older people who have difficulty absorbing vitamin B12 from
unfortified foods; such people can typically absorb vitamin B12 from fortified
foods or supplements, however, providing yet another reason to take a
multivitamin. Symptoms of B12 deficiency include memory loss, disorientation,
hallucinations, and tingling in the arms and legs. Some people diagnosed with
dementia or Alzheimer's disease are actually suffering from the more reversible
vitamin B12 deficiency.
Vitamin C has been in the public eye for a long time. Even before its
discovery in 1932, nutrition experts recognized that something in citrus
fruits could prevent scurvy, a disease that killed as many as 2 million sailors
between 1500 and 1800. More recently, Nobel laureate Linus Pauling promoted
daily megadoses of vitamin C (the amount in 12 to 24 oranges) as a way to
prevent colds and protect the body from other chronic diseases.
There's no question that vitamin C plays a role in controlling infections.
It's also a powerful antioxidant that can neutralize harmful free radicals, and
it helps make collagen, a tissue needed for healthy bones, teeth, gums, and
blood vessels. The question is, do you need lots of vitamin C to keep you
No. Vitamin C's cold-fighting potential certainly hasn't panned out. Small
trials suggest that the amount of vitamin C in a typical multivitamin taken at
the start of a cold might ease symptoms, but there's no evidence that megadoses
make a difference, or that they prevent colds. Studies of vitamin C and heart
disease, cancer, and eye diseases such as cataract and macular degeneration also
show no clear patterns.
If you live north of the line connecting San Francisco to Philadelphia, odds
are you don't get enough vitamin D. The same holds true if you don't, or can't,
get outside for at least a 15-minute daily walk in the sun. African-Americans
and others with dark skin tend to have much lower levels of vitamin D, due to
less formation of the vitamin from the action of sunlight on skin. A study of
people admitted to a Boston hospital, for example, showed that 57% were
deficient in vitamin D.
Vitamin D helps ensure that the body absorbs and retains calcium and
phosphorus, both critical for building bone. Laboratory studies also show that
vitamin D keeps cancer cells from growing and dividing.
Some preliminary studies indicate that insufficient intake of vitamin D is
associated with an increased risk of fractures, and that vitamin D
supplementation may prevent them. It may also help prevent falls, a common
problem that leads to substantial disability and death in older people. Other
early studies suggest an association between low vitamin D intake and increased
risks of prostate, breast, colon, and other cancers.
For a time, vitamin E supplements looked like an easy way to prevent heart
disease. Promising observational studies, including the Nurses' Health Study and
Health Professionals Follow-up Study, suggested 20% to 40% reductions in
coronary heart disease risk among individuals who took vitamin E supplements
(usually containing 400 IU or more) for least two years.
The results of several randomized trials have dampened enthusiasm for vitamin
E's ability to prevent heart attacks or deaths from heart disease among
individuals with heart disease or those at high risk for it. In the GISSI
Prevention Trial, the results were mixed but mostly showed no preventive effects
after more than three years of treatment with vitamin E among 11,000 heart
attack survivors. Results from the Heart Outcomes Prevention Evaluation (HOPE)
trial also showed no benefit of four years worth of vitamin E supplementation
among more than 9,500 men and women already diagnosed with heart disease or at
high risk for it. Based on these and other studies, the American Heart
Association has concluded that "the scientific data do not justify the use
of antioxidant vitamin supplements [such as vitamin E] for CVD risk
A recent scientific analysis raised questions about whether high doses of
vitamin E supplements might increase the risk of dying. The authors gathered and
re-analyzed data from 19 clinical trials of vitamin E, including the GISSI and
HOPE studies; they found a higher rate of death in trials where patients
consumed more than 400 IU of supplements per day. While this meta-analysis drew
headlines when it was released online in November 2004, there are limitations to
the conclusions that can be drawn from it. Some of the findings are based on
very small studies; furthermore, many of the high-dose trials of Vitamin E
included in the analysis were done on people who had chronic diseases, such as
heart disease or Alzheimer's disease. So it is not clear that these findings
would apply to healthy people.
It's entirely possible that in secondary prevention trials, the use of drugs
such as aspirin, beta blockers, and ACE inhibitors mask a modest effect of
vitamin E, and that it may have benefits among healthier people.But large
randomized controlled trials of vitamin E supplementation in healthy people have
yielded mixed results.
In the Women's Health Study, which followed 40,000 women for 10 years,
vitamin E supplements of 600 IU every other day did not significantly reduce the
risk of so-called "major cardiac events" (non fatal heart attack,
non-fatal stroke, or cardiovascular death); when these major cardiac events were
analyzed separately, however, vitamin E supplementation was linked to a 24
percent lower risk of cardiovascular death. And among women ages 65 and older,
vitamin E supplementation reduced the risk of major cardiac event by 26 percent.
The SU.VI.MAX trial, meanwhile, found that seven years of low-dose vitamin E
supplementation (as part of a daily antioxidant pill) reduced the risk of cancer
and the risk of dying from any cause in men, but did not show these beneficial
effects in women; the supplements did not offer any protection against heart
disease in men or women. Over the coming years, the ongoing Physicians' Health
Study II may shed more light on the potential benefits and risks of vitamin E
supplementation in healthy men.
Vitamin K helps make six of the 13 proteins needed for blood clotting. Its
role in maintaining the clotting cascade is so important that people who take
anticoagulants such as warfarin (Coumadin) must be careful to keep their vitamin
K intake stable.
Lately, researchers have demonstrated that vitamin K is also involved in
building bone. Low levels of circulating vitamin K have been linked with low
bone density, and supplementation with vitamin K shows improvements in
biochemical measures of bone health. A report from the Nurses' Health Study
suggests that women who get at least 110 micrograms of vitamin K a day are 30%
less likely to break a hip as women who get less than that. Among the nurses,
eating a serving of lettuce or other green leafy vegetable a day cut the risk of
hip fracture in half when compared with eating one serving a week. Data from the
Framingham Heart Study also shows an association between high vitamin K intake
and reduced risk of hip fracture.
Optimal Intake: The recommended daily intake for vitamin K is
80 micrograms for men and 65 for women. Because this vitamin is found in so many
foods, especially green leafy vegetables and commonly used cooking oils, most
adults get enough of it. According to a 1996 survey, though, a substantial
number of Americans, particularly children and young adults, aren't getting the
vitamin K they need.
Thiamin is one of a group of vitamins
called the "B vitamins." Another name for thiamin is vitamin B1.
Thiamin works with other B vitamins to help your body use the energy it gets
Thiamin is found in many whole grain
foods, such as brown rice, grits and whole wheat bread. White breads, pastas,
ready-to-eat cereals and many other baked products are "enriched" by
the manufacturer with B vitamins like thiamin. Baked beans, black beans,
black-eyed peas, and peanuts are good sources of thiamin, too. Nuts, seeds and
other vegetables, and fruits supply a small amount of this B vitamin. Lean pork
is one of the best sources of thiamin. Organ meats such as liver, heart or
kidney, are considered to be other good animal sources of thiamin.
Thiamin is easily lost when foods are
cooked or processed. When you cook vegetables some of the B vitamins go into the
water. If you cook vegetables in a small amount of water and keep the lid on the
pan, thiamin and the other B vitamins will not be lost. When you rinse rice or
pastas, you rinse off some of these vitamins. So to keep the thiamin you need
from these foods, it is important not to rinse the rice or pasta after you have
Riboflavin is one of a group of
vitamins called "B vitamins." Another name for riboflavin is vitamin
B2. Riboflavin works with other B vitamins to help your body use the energy you
get from food. It also helps the body to use protein in food to build new cells
Animal products, like milk, cheese,
yogurt, beef and poultry, are good sources of riboflavin. Some green vegetables
such as broccoli, turnip greens and spinach are good too. "Enriched"
breads, rice, cereals and other baked products are also sources of riboflavin.
Like other B vitamins, riboflavin is
easily lost when foods are cooked or processed. When you cook rice or pasta,
some of the riboflavin goes into the water. When you rinse rice or pastas you
rinse off some of this vitamin. So to keep the riboflavin you need from these
foods, it is important not to rinse the rice or pasta after you have cooked it.
When you cook vegetables, use only a small amount of water and keep the lid on
the pan so that riboflavin and the other B vitamins are not lost. When you shop,
look for breads, cereals and other baked products that are "enriched"
with B vitamins like riboflavin.
Carbohydrates are the body's main
source of energy. There are three different kinds of carbohydrates. They include
starch, sugar, and fiber. Starch is made from chains of small sugars. When these
chains are broken down during digestion, we get energy. We get 4 calories from
each gram of starch (or sugar). We do not get calories from fiber because our
bodies do not break fiber down during digestion.
Plant foods like cereals, bread, rice,
pasta, potatoes, plantains and corn are good sources of starch. They give us the
energy we need to do daily activities. These starchy foods give us important
vitamins and minerals, too.
Because carbohydrate-rich foods are
usually low in calories, they can help us keep a healthy weight. When we add fat
(like butter, sour cream or gravies) at the table or when we cook , we add extra
calories and may gain weight. Try using less mayonnaise, butter or margarine on
breads and muffins. Use less gravy or sour cream on potatoes. When we shop we
can get the carbohydrates we need without added fat by reading food labels.
Compare crackers and bread products and try the ones with less fat. Use more
vegetables without fatty sauces.
For optimal health, get your
grains intact from foods such as whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole-grain
pasta, and other possibly unfamiliar grains like quinoa, whole oats, and bulgur.
Not only will these foods help protect you against a range of chronic diseases,
they can also please your palate and your eyes.
Until recently, you could only get
whole-grain products in organic or non-traditional stores. Today they are
popping up in more and more mainstream grocery stores. Here are some suggestions
for adding more whole grains to your diet:
Start the day with whole
grains. If you're
partial to hot cereals, try old-fashioned or steel-cut oats. If you're a
cold cereal person, look for one that lists whole wheat, oats, barley, or
other grain first on the ingredient list.
Use whole-grain breads
for lunch or snacks. Check the label to make sure that whole wheat
or other whole grain is the first ingredient listed.
Bag the potatoes. Instead,
try brown rice or even "newer" grains like bulgur, wheat berries,
millet, or hulled barley with your dinner.
Pick up some whole wheat
pasta. If the
whole-grain products are too chewy for you, look for those that are made
with half whole-wheat flour and half white flour.
in Your Diet
Sugar is a type of carbohydrate. It is
the smallest form of carbohydrates that our bodies use for energy. Like starch,
sugar provides 4 calories for every gram. Some sugars are found naturally in
foods like most fruits (berries, oranges, apples) and their juices. There are
sugars in milk. When we eat these foods we are getting the calories from sugar
along with many important vitamins and minerals.
Many of the sugars that we eat are
mostly calories. They contain few or no other nutrients. Some of these sugars we
add at home. They include table sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, honey, syrup,
jams and jellies. Some sugars are added when foods are manufactured. You may see
names like dextrose, fructose, maltose, and lactose on food labels. They are all
types of sugars. They make foods taste sweet. We also get a lot of added sugar
from soft drinks and other sweetened beverages, candies, and sweet bakery
Eating a lot of sugary foods can cause
tooth decay. If we eat sweet foods, it's best to eat them as part of a meal.
It's also important that sugary foods don't replace foods like fruits and
vegetables at snacks and meals.
When we shop we can look at food
labels and see how many different sugars have been added to a cereal or baked
product. If fresh or frozen fruits are too expensive, we can try canned fruits
that are packed in juice instead of heavy syrup. The syrup can be drained from
canned fruits too, so we don't get the extra sugar.
Fiber is one kind of carbohydrate. It
is sometimes called roughage or bulk. Fiber is the part of plant foods that our
bodies do not break down during digestion. Because fiber isn't digested, it
doesn't give us calories. Foods that contain a lot of fiber may also contain
other types of carbohydrates like starch or sugar. While we do not get calories
from the fiber in these foods, we do get calories from the sugars and starches
Fiber is important for keeping the
digestive tract working smoothly. Since we do not digest it, the fiber in food
passes into the intestine and absorbs water. The undigested fiber creates
"bulk" so the muscles in the intestine can push waste out of the body.
Eating enough fiber helps prevent constipation. It may also reduce the risk of
getting colon cancer. Some fibers can help lower blood cholesterol.
Dried peas and beans like lentils,
black-eyed peas, chickpeas and kidney beans are the best sources of fiber. The
skins and seeds in fresh fruits and vegetables are good sources, too.
Whole-grain cereals and breads like oatmeal, brown rice, grits and whole-wheat
bread are all naturally high in fiber.
Often the fiber in plant foods (like
skins, bran or seeds) is removed when the food is cooked by us or processed by
the manufacturer. We get more fiber when we eat whole fruits and vegetables with
the peels and seeds than we do when we eat foods like applesauce or instant
mashed potatoes. When we shop we can look on food labels to find products that
say "100%" whole grain. We can also compare the Nutrition Facts to
find foods with more fiber.
Soluble fiber partially dissolves in water. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve
in water. These differences are important when it comes to fiber's effect on
your risk of developing certain diseases.
nuts and seeds
(for more information on whole grains, click
whole wheat breads
whole-grain breakfast cereals
Most all the parts of our bodies are
made from protein: hair, skin, blood, organs, and muscles. It is needed for
cells to grow. It also repairs or replaces healthy cells and tissues. Protein in
food gives us calories - 4 calories in one gram. If we do not get enough
calories from fat and carbohydrates we may use protein for energy. Most
Americans, even athletes, get the protein they need without using special foods,
powders or shakes.
Protein is made of chains of amino
acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Our bodies can make most
amino acids. There are a few amino acids that we cannot make; so, we must get
them from the foods we eat. They are known as "essential amino acids."
Most foods that come from animals, such as fish, chicken, beef, pork, eggs,
milk, cheese, and yogurt contain all of the essential amino acids. They are
known as "complete" proteins. Plant foods, such as rice, dried beans,
peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, wheat, oats, corn, may be low or lacking in one or
more of the amino acids. They are considered to be incomplete proteins.
Incomplete proteins can be mixed together to make a complete protein.
Plant foods are considered incomplete
proteins because they are low or lacking in one or more of the amino acids we
need to build cells.
Incomplete proteins found in plant
foods can be mixed together to make a complete protein. As a general rule,
grains, cereals, nuts, or seeds can be eaten together with dried beans, dried
peas, lentils, peanuts or peanut butter. Examples of these combinations include
peanut butter on wheat bread, rice and beans, and split pea soup with corn
bread. Incomplete proteins found in plant foods can also be combined with small
amounts of animal foods to make a complete protein. Examples include macaroni
and cheese, and tuna noodle casserole.
Folic acid is important for making
blood and building cells. It is also called folate or folacin. Folic acid is
found in many food groups in the Food Guide Pyramid. Plant foods like leafy
greens, broccoli, corn and whole grains are good sources of folacin. Cowpeas,
lentils, kidney and navy beans are good sources, too. Some meat and milk
products like eggs, liver, nuts, cheese, and milk are also ways to get this
The need for folic acid increases
during pregnancy because the fetus is constantly growing. If a pregnant woman
does not get all the folic acid she and her baby need early in her pregnancy,
the fetus will not develop properly. These babies may become deformed.
Supplements with folic acid are usually given to pregnant women. Women who use
oral contraceptives may also need extra folate.
Cholesterol is needed by our bodies
for our cells, nerves and brain. It is also important in forming hormones and
enzymes. We make all the cholesterol we need in our livers. We get cholesterol
from the foods we eat, too. Since every animal has a liver, when we eat foods
made from animal products (fish, eggs,chicken, milk, beef or cheese) we eat
cholesterol. If we make too much cholesterol or eat too many foods that contain
cholesterol or saturated fat, the level of cholesterol in the blood increases.
The higher our blood cholesterol, the higher our chances of developing heart
disease. Eating less fat, less saturated fat, and less cholesterol will all help
lower blood cholesterol.
Cutting the amount of cholesterol we
eat may only have a small effect on blood cholesterol. To cut down on
cholesterol, we can eat more plant foods as sources of protein instead of meat.
Eat legumes like black beans, lentils, black-eyed peas and kidney beans instead
of meat and poultry.
The Cholesterol--Heart Disease
Cholesterol is a wax-like substance. The liver makes it and links it to
carrier proteins called lipoproteins that let it dissolve in blood and be
transported to all parts of the body. Why? Cholesterol plays essential roles in
the formation of cell membranes, some hormones, and vitamin D.
Too much cholesterol in the blood, though, can lead to problems. In the 1960s
and 70s, scientists established a link between high blood cholesterol levels and
heart disease. Deposits of cholesterol can build up inside arteries. These
deposits, called plaque, can narrow an artery enough to slow or block blood
flow. This narrowing process, called atherosclerosis, commonly occurs in
arteries that nourish the heart (the coronary arteries). When one or more
sections of heart muscle fail to get enough blood, and thus the oxygen and
nutrients they need, the result may be the chest pain known as angina. In
addition, plaque can rupture, causing blood clots that may lead to heart attack,
stroke, or sudden death. Fortunately, the buildup of cholesterol can be slowed,
stopped, and even reversed.
Cholesterol-carrying lipoproteins play central roles in the development of
atherosclerotic plaque and cardiovascular disease. The two main types of
lipoproteins basically work in opposite directions.
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) carry cholesterol from the liver to the rest
of the body. When there is too much LDL cholesterol in the blood, it can be
deposited on the walls of the coronary arteries. Because of this, LDL
cholesterol is often referred to as the "bad" cholesterol.
High-density lipoproteins (HDL) carry cholesterol from the blood back to the
liver, which processes the cholesterol for elimination from the body. HDL makes
it less likely that excess cholesterol in the blood will be deposited in the
coronary arteries, which is why HDL cholesterol is often referred to as the
In general, the higher your LDL and the lower your HDL, the greater your risk
for atherosclerosis and heart disease.
For adults age 20 years or over, the latest guidelines from the National
Cholesterol Education Program recommend the following optimal levels:
Total cholesterol less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl)
HDL cholesterol levels greater than 40 mg/dl
LDL cholesterol levels less than 100 mg/dl
Fat is a nutrient that is an important
source of calories. One gram of fat supplies 9 calories - more than twice the
amount we get from carbohydrates or protein. Fat also is needed to carry and
store essential fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamins A and D. There are two basic
types of fat. They are grouped by their chemical structure. Each type of fat is
used differently in our bodies and has a different effect on our health.
When we eat a lot of high fat foods,
we get a lot of calories. With too many calories, we may gain weight. Eating too
much fat may also increase the risk of getting diseases like cancer, heart
disease, high blood pressure or stroke. Health experts recommend that we should
get no more than 30% of our calories from fat to reduce our risk of getting
Fat is found in many foods. Some of
the fat that we eat comes from the fat we add in cooking or spread on breads,
vegetables or other foods. A lot of fat is hidden in foods that we eat as
snacks, pastries or prepared meals.
We can reduce the amount of fat we eat
by cutting down on the fat that we add in cooking or spread on foods. We can eat
skim milk and low fat cheeses instead of whole milk and cheese. We can also use
less fat, oil, butter, and margarine. Another way to cut down on fat is to drain
and trim meats and take the skin off poultry. We can also read labels and
compare the amount of fat in foods to make lower fat choices.
Saturated fats are found in meats and
whole dairy products like milk, cheese, cream and ice cream. Some saturated fats
are also found in plant foods like tropical oils (coconut or palm kernel oil).
When margarine or vegetable shortening is made from corn oil, soybean oil or
other vegetable oils, hydrogen atoms are added making some of the fat molecules
"saturated". This also makes the fat solid at room temperature. It's
important to read food labels to see how much saturated fat is in the food
When we eat too much saturated fat, it
increases our chances of getting heart disease. When we reduce the amount of
saturated fats in our diets, it may reduce the blood cholesterol level and
reduce our chances of developing heart disease.
We can reduce the saturated fats in
our diets by using skim milk and low fat cheeses instead of whole milk and
cheese. We can also use less fat, oil, butter, and margarine. At the table, use
tub margarine instead of butter. Another way to cut down on fat is to drain and
trim meats and take the skin off poultry. Simply reducing the total amount of
fat we eat goes a long way toward reducing saturated fats.
and Monounsaturated The
Some fats are good because they can improve blood cholesterol levels.
Unsaturated fats are usually liquid at
room temperature. They are found in most vegetable products and oils. An
exception is a group of tropical oils like coconut or palm kernel oil which are
highly saturated. Using foods containing "polyunsaturated" and
"monounsaturated" fats does not increase our risk of heart disease.
However, like all fats, unsaturated fats give us 9 calories for every gram. So
eating too much of these types of fat may also make us gain weight.
We can reduce the fat and unsaturated
fats in our diets by using less fat, oil, and margarine. We can also eat more
low-fat foods like vegetables, fruits, breads, rice, pasta and cereals. Read and
compare food labels to find foods that have less total fat.
Unsaturated fats are found in products derived from plant sources, such as
vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. There are two main categories: polyunsaturated
fats (which are found in high concentrations in sunflower, corn, and soybean
oils) and monounsaturated fats (which are found in high concentrations in
canola, peanut, and olive oils). In studies in which polyunsaturated and
monounsaturated fats were eaten in place of carbohydrates, these good fats
decreased LDL levels and increased HDL levels.
Trans fatty acids are fats produced by heating liquid vegetable oils in the
presence of hydrogen. This process is known as hydrogenation. The more
hydrogenated an oil is, the harder it will be at room temperature. For example,
a spreadable tub margarine is less hydrogenated and so has fewer trans fats than
a stick margarine.
Most of the trans fats in the American diet are found in commercially
prepared baked goods, margarines, snack foods, and processed foods. Commercially
prepared fried foods, like French fries and onion rings, also contain a good
deal of trans fat.
Trans fats are even worse for cholesterol levels than saturated fats because
they raise bad LDL and lower good HDL. They also fire inflammation, an
overactivity of the immune system that has been implicated in heart disease,
stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. While you should limit your
intake of saturated fats, it is important to eliminate trans fats from partially
hydrogenated oils from your diet. (Manufacturers must now list trans fats on the
food label, right beneath saturated fats.)