The Skinny on Fats
Understanding more about the fats in your body and in your diet.
It used to be so easy to understand the reigning dogma on healthy eating: Fat makes you fat. We knew which were "fattening" foods and tried to avoid them. But scientists kept probing to find out more on how diet affects health and, sure enough, things turned out to be not as simple as previously thought.
Today, most people know that saturated fat has been linked to higher levels of LDL cholesterol, and that high LDL levels seem to be linked to an increased risk for heart disease. Because people with diabetes are automatically in a higher-risk group when it comes to heart disease, most watch their saturated fat intake — skipping the butter, limiting red meat and cheeses, using skim milk, etc. However, our knowledge about dietary fat and its health effects has changed and expanded so much in recent years that all of us, regardless of specific disease risk, can benefit from knowing more about all the different kinds of fats we put into our mouths.
The Bad Fats
In the context of a typical American diet, too much saturated fat can raise total cholesterol levels, because it raises both the "bad" LDL and the "good" HDL cholesterol. It is generally believed that its negative effects outweigh its positive effects, which is why the number-one mandate in all nutritional advice is to limit your intake of animal fats as well as palm, palm kernel, and coconut oils. The decades-long focus on low-fat eating, however, appears to have backfired. Some experts are questioning whether restricting natural fats is necessary at all. One thing is clear: Trans fats, which you undoubtedly have heard a lot about, are the worst offenders: They raise LDL and lower HDL. Thanks to the new awareness — and trans fats being listed on the Nutrition Facts panel — most manufacturers have dropped these "frankenfats." But look closely at what is listed on the ingredients label. Sometimes, what they put in to replace the trans fat may be equally bad.
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