Fats: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly
|Fats: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly||Darrell Miller||06/14/05|
June 14, 2005 11:18 AM
Author: Darrell Miller (email@example.com)
Subject: Fats: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly
Fats: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly by Thomas Sherman Energy Times, October 15, 2004
We need fat to absorb vitamins, to keep our brains sharp, to survive. But not all fats are our friends. Find out which ones are the heroes and the villains in your diet.
In a lot of cases health fads don't live up to their hype. But the case for consuming more good fats-the omega-3 fatty acids found primarily in fish, flax and hemp oils-is strong and growing stronger. As a nation we eat too little of these good fats, and our health would improve greatly if we relied a little less on the bad saturated fat in burgers, skipped the ugly trans fats in fries and indulged in more salmon and other seafoods.
Fish and the Heart
Need proof? A wealth of research supports fish oil's desirable effects, especially on heart health. While many people believe that heart disease is primarily a problem for men, women who have passed through menopause are just as susceptible to heart problems.
" [Our] findings suggest that all women, and most likely men, would benefit from regular fish intake," says Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts University in Boston. "A tuna fish sandwich counts, as does almost any other type of fish that is baked, broiled, grilled, or poached." But she points out that fried fish, which is often cooked in hydrogenated oils, is not helpful.
In research on more than 200 women, performed at the Jean Mayer US Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts, scientists found that the arterial blockages among women who dined on fish were less (and impeded blood flow less) than in women who hardly ever ate seafood. Fish was especially helpful for women who had diabetes, a disease that makes you more prone to heart and circulation problems (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 9/04).
These effects are important: Heart disease is the number one cause of death for women, and older women who suffer from diabetes are particularly susceptible. The number of people with diabetes has been increasing of late, mainly due to the fact that Americans are overweight. Right now about 18 million people have diabetes and another 20 million are expected to suffer this condition in the next four decades.
" This study shows that following the current guidelines of eating at least two servings of any type of fish per week slows down the progression of heart disease in women with coronary artery disease (CAD), especially those who were also diabetic," says Dr. Lichtenstein, coauthor of the study. "We further found that eating one or more servings per week of fish that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as tuna or other dark-fleshed fish, is equally effective."
Dangerous disruptions in heartbeat, known as arrhythmias, may also be affected by fish oil. "[E]xperiments show that fatty acids from omega-3 fish oils are stored in the cell membranes of heart cells and can prevent sudden cardiac death or fatal arrhythmias," notes Alexander Leaf, MD, medical researcher and professor at Harvard University.
Fat for Your Brain
The right kind of fat is also crucial for the function of your nerves and brain tissue, which is 60% to 70% fat. Incorporating omega-3 fatty acids into those cells can help keep your brain firing on all synapses. It may lower your risk of Alzheimer's disease, an irreversible form of mental deterioration that kills 100,000 Americans a year. About a thousand people a day in the US are found to have Alzheimer's, and experts believe that over the next 40 years 14 million of us will be doomed to being enveloped by the mental fog this condition produces.
Research indicates that our brains probably need omega-3 fats for protection against the kind of damage that causes our mental capacities to slip. Once Alzheimer's starts, deterioration accelerates because brain cells start losing these fats.
In experiments performed at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA (Neuron 9/2/04), scientists looked at how a lack of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, one of the omega-3 fats found in fish), affected the cellular processes that lead to Alzheimer's. They found that the part of brain cells that receive signals from other brain cells, the receptors, are vulnerable to damage from chemical reactions that take place inside the cells. However, DHA offers antioxidant protection against this destruction.
When brain cells were denied DHA, the cells' receptors suffered extra harm. But when fish oil was present, brain cells were protected. In addition, animals that received extra omega-3s were better able to learn and find their way through mazes.
Greg Cole, PhD, senior researcher on this study and a professor of neurology at Geffen, says, "We saw that a diet rich in DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, dramatically reduces the impact of the Alzheimer's gene [which made the animals more susceptible to Alzheimer's]. Consuming more DHA is something the average person can easily control. Anyone can buy DHA in its purified form, fish-oil capsules, high-fat fish or DHA-supplemented eggs." Fishes rich in omega-3s include salmon, halibut, mackerel, sardines and herring.
Protecting Kids from Asthma
A surprising benefit of omega-3s has been found in pregnant women and their newborns: Pregnant women with asthma who eat fish rich in omega-3s during their pregnancy lower their children's risk of asthma.
Not just any fish will do. The study (American Thoracic Society International Conference 5/25/04) discovered that mothers who ate fish sticks during pregnancy doubled the asthma risk in their kids. " Fish sticks are deep-fried, and they contain omega-6 fatty acids, which encourage inflammation of the airways," says study co-author Frank Gilliland, MD, PhD, professor at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. "Oily fish [like salmon and trout] contain omega-3 fatty acids, which appear to be anti-inflammatory, and lead to the reduced potential for developing asthma and allergies."
The USC investigation showed that when women with asthma ate oil-bearing fish during pregnancy, the risk of asthma for their children dropped more than 70%. The more fish that mom consumed, the less likely her baby was to develop asthma. Unfortunately, the study did not find the same benefit in women without asthma.
" A family history of asthma is a very strong risk factor for a child developing asthma," Dr. Gilliland says. "It appears that oily fish interacts with the genes involved in the predisposition to develop asthma, and somehow reduces the risk."
Although most of us try to avoid accumulating unsightly fat around our hips, the right kind of fat plays an integral part in the functioning of our bodies and may even keep us alive. Fats don't get much better than that.