This series of articles deals with nutrition. We’ve all heard the old saying ‘you are what you eat’, so let’s take a good long look at what we’re putting in our bodies.
Most of us WANT to eat healthier, but sometimes it seems that forces are working against us. Fast food is just so tempting. Sally at the office brought donuts to share again. Our schedule is so busy we don’t have time to cook healthy food. Finally, it’s true that junk food is often less expensive than healthy food. How fair is that?
Today’s topic is fat. Not all fat is bad! As a matter of fact, some fats are downright good for you. The key is understanding the difference between the two.
Over the years, Americans have been fed different stories about choosing the right foods for optimum health. When researchers warned that too much fat in your diet leads to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and a host of other health problems, Americans jumped on the low fat, no fat bandwagon with little success.
New studies reveal that we must have some fat in our diet for good health and reduction of disease. The omega-3 fatty acids are said to be ‘essential’ because they can not be produced by the body and must be obtained through our food sources.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids can come from either plant or marine sources. They can be found in fish and fish oil, unrefined vegetable oils, raw nuts, seeds and beans. Linolenic acid, the marine source, can be found in certain fatty fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon. These fish and fish oil supplements contain bioavailable docosahexaenoic (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic (EPA) acid, the two kinds of omega-3 essential fatty acids crucial to good health.
The plant based omega-3 essential fatty acid is alpha linolenic acid (alpha meaning plant) and can be found in omega-3 rich oils such as flaxseed, canola, soybean and walnut oils. These plant sourced omega-3 EFAs don’t metabolize in the body like fish oil. They need to be broken down by the body’s enzymatic system into DHA and EPA before the body can reap its powerful benefits. Flaxseed oil, the plant source highest in omega-3s, is a great alternative for vegetarians and those who can’t tolerate fish or fish oil capsules.
The worst kinds of fat are trans fats and saturated fats.
“Trans-fatty acids are bad for hearts and arteries. They drive up production of cholesterol like saturated-fatty acids [i.e. like butter, animal fat, etc.], and promote atherosclerosis… I am certain that TFA’s will eventually be found to be detrimental to health in many other ways as a result of their effect on membrane and hormone function. I believe they promote the development of cancer and degenerative disease, increase inflammation, accelerate aging, and obstruct immunity and healing. Therefore, I make a scrupulous attempt to keep them out of my diet, and I urge you to do the same. In practice that means avoiding margarine, vegetable shortening, and all products made with them or with partially hydrogenated oils of any kind.” [Dr. Andrew Weil from his book: Eating Well for Optimum Health” pp. 90-93:]
How do you spot transfatty acids? Look for “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” in the list of ingredients. They’re all over the place.
It is possible to eat more healthy fats without breaking the bank. Yes, fish is fairly expensive when compared to other meats, but a healthier diet doesn’t have to be expensive.
Some money-saving ideas on this topic:
1) Buy fish on sale.
2) Many grocers sell flash-frozen fillets which taste almost as good as fresh, but cost a whole lot less.
3) Ask the butcher when fish is ‘cheapest’. Prices can vary widely throughout the year. Stock up when the price is right.
4) Shop the ads. Buy fish only when it’s on sale, even if you have to visit a store other than your favorite.
5) Buy the ‘whole fish’, which is always less expensive than buying fillets or fish steaks.
6) Be very careful to shop price when looking for flax seed. Bulk flax seed at the local supermarket typically sells for 89 cents per pound. The exact same flax seed at a national health food store sells for $ 9.99 per pound. Sure, the health food store sells it in a pretty gold bag – but $ 9.99 per pound? Who are they kidding?
7) If you can’t stand the taste of fish, consider fish oil or flax seed oil supplements. Affordable and easy to swallow, these are a great alternative.
8) Walnuts are an excellent source of good fats. Buy in bulk to save money. Even better, stock up during the holidays when they’re on sale.
9) Don’t be afraid to use coupons. Check your Sunday newspaper for coupon inserts.
10) Finally, look for a ‘sell by’ sale. Fish (and other perishable items) are required by law to state a ‘sell by’ date. This is the day by which the retailer must sell that product. Often times, a grocer will dramatically reduce the price of fish (or other items) on the ‘sell by date’…..they either sell it below cost or lose all their money the next day (it is a health code violation to sell perishable items past their sell by date).
We’ve barely scratched the surface of this topic: good fat vs. bad fat. It would be a good idea for each of us to do some more research on fats and how they can impact our health.