Archive for the tag - saturated fat

Which Fats Are Good And Bad?

mens_fitness_18793A decade or two ago, low fat diets were popular. If you’re looking to drop body fat, cutting dietary fat would seem logical. But that’s not really how things work. Through science, we’ve come to realize that things are a bit more complex than that – and that we still have a lot to learn.

If you read the nutritional labels (and I hope you do!) of the foods you eat, you’ll notice that there’s total fat, saturated fat and trans fat. Here’s what they all mean.

  • Total fat: The cumulative fat content in a serving, displayed in grams and as a percentage of your recommended intake. Keep in mind these percentages are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your actual caloric needs may be different. Total fat doesn’t seem to have an effect on health. Instead, it’s the type of fat consumed that has an impact.
  • Saturated fat: Until recently, nutritionists have warned against saturated fats because they raise the type of cholesterol that clogs your arteries. However, researchers have been unable to establish a correlation between saturated fat and the risk of heart attack or stroke. As such, saturated fats may actually be neutral. But that’s not a free pass to eat a pound of bacon.
  • Unsaturated fat: These are the heart-healthy fats found in fish, olive oil, etc., that appear to have a protective effect on your health. Of course, unsaturated fats are still calorie-dense – so continue to eat these fats according to recommendations.
  • Trans fat: These are the bad guys, and are most often found in processed foods. Trans fats simultaneously raise bad cholesterol while lowering good cholesterol. As such, the American Heart Association recommends minimizing trans fats in your diet by not exceeding more than 1% of your total caloric intake. Based on a 2,000 calorie diet, that’s 2 grams of trans fat per day. You can find trans fats in many cakes, fries, doughnuts and baked goods. Though many manufacturers are moving away from trans fats, it’s important to check nutrition information.

The truth is, all of us need essential fats to survive; cutting all fat out of your diet would be a very bad thing. Instead, be mindful of the type of fat you eat – with an emphasis on heart-healthy unsaturated fats.

P.S. If you want to cut body fat, there’s no better way to do it than by downloading Davey Wavey’s Bootcamp Program. Through a strategy called high intensity interval training, you’ll incinerate excess body fat while preserving muscle.

Is Saturated Fat Good For You?

ButterFor decades, we’ve been told that unsaturated fats are healthy – and that unsaturated fats should be minimized. In the 1960s, studies showed that unsaturated fats raised LDL cholesterol levels. LDL is the bad type of cholesterol that clogs your arteries. Because saturated fat raises LDL cholesterol, the assumption was that this type of fat must increased the risk of heart disease.

However, research is showing that this assumption might not be true. The link between heart disease and cholesterol is, according to researchers, much more complicated.

Over the past 40 or 50 years, researchers have tracked saturated fat intake and followed individuals to examine their risk of heart attack or stroke. After all these years, researchers haven’t been able to prove a clear correlation between the two.

The latest theory holds that an individual’s ratio of good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol) to bad cholesterol is a clearer indicator. In terms of heart disease risk, saturated fats may actually be neutral.

Of course, this isn’t a free pass to load up on bacon and ice cream. Indeed, many products high in unsaturated fat are calorie dense and often lack other important nutrients. But this latest finding does illuminate a broader, more complicated approach to nutrition that doesn’t focus on just one nutrient.

When dieters focused on low fat foods in the 1980s and 1990s, for example, we got even larger than ever. A reductionist approach to nutrition just doesn’t seem to work.

Instead of focusing just on fat or just on calories or just on carbohydrates or so on, a wiser approaching is to eat a balanced and colorful diet that focuses on whole foods like vegetables, nuts, fruits and some lean meats like fish or chicken.

 

 

The Worst Fast Food Salad…

One of the big advantages to cooking at home is that you know exactly what goes into your food. There’s no guesswork or clever marketing involved. And the same is true for our salads.

Though grabbing a salad sounds healthy, the reality is that many fast food salads are actually less healthy than the obviously unhealthy alternatives – like a Big Mac. With 550 calories and 30 grams of fat, there’s no question that the Big Mac is a gut-busting and unhealthy choice. But even the Big Mac doesn’t have anything on these salads.

Drum roll please… Some of the worst fast food salads include:

Applebee’s Oriental Chicken Salad

While the name sounds both innocent and slightly offensive (didn’t we stop using the term “Oriental” a long time ago?), this massive calorie bomb of a salad is no laughing matter. With 1,390 calories and 98 grams of total fat, you are not doing your body any favors with this meal choice. This salad contains 15 grams of unhealthy saturated fat. For most people, that’s an entire day’s worth.

Crispy_Chicken_SaladBut wait, things get worse…

IHOP’s Crispy Chicken Salad

As soon as you see the word “crispy,” run the other way! It’s code for fried. With a mind-blowing 1,400 calories, 88 grams of total fat and 26 grams of saturated fat, this is a terrible salad choice.  Bizarrely, with 28 grams of sugar, it has almost as much sugar as a can of coke. Yikes.

And then for the worst salad of them all…

Chili’s Quesadilla Explosion Salad

With 1430 calories, 96 grams of total fat and 28 grams of saturated fat, this salad is truly an explosion of everything your body doesn’t need. It’s about the equivalent of two and half Big Macs. Don’t do it. Just don’t.

The bottom line: Salad isn’t synonymous with healthy. Play it safe and smart by preparing your salad at home. If you must grab a salad on the go, make sure you Google the nutrition information – even if the salad sounds like a healthy choice. Opt for grilled over fried, ask for no cheese and no bacon and select a dressing that isn’t creamy.

What to Look for on Nutrition Labels.

nutritionlabelDeciding whether a food product is healthy can feel overwhelming. Fortunately, nutrition labels make things easier and give you an even playing field. You just need to know what to look for.

When doing my grocery shopping, there are five major nutrition label elements to which I pay attention.

  1. Saturated and trans fat. Fat gets a bad rap. But the truth is, not all fats are created equal. And your body does need some essential, good fats to function properly – and that’s why some fats like olive oil can be part of a healthy diet. It’s the saturated and trans fats that you’ll want to limit or avoid. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fats to 7% of total daily calories. If you need 2,000 calories a day, that means 140 calories from saturated fats – which translates to about 16 grams per day. Trans fats should be limited to less than 1% of total daily calories. Based on a 2,000 calorie diet, that’s about 20 calories from trans fats or about 2 grams of trans fats per day. Consuming excessive amounts of these bad fats can increase your bad cholesterol, decrease good cholesterol, increase stroke, heart disease and type II diabetes risk.
  2. Calories. When it comes to calories, the first thing to understand is your daily caloric requirement. Based on the Harris Benedict Calculator, most people will find that they need between 2,000 and 2,5000 calories a day to stay in a neutral state. Once you know how many calories you need, it’s easier to make smarter choices. Many seemingly innocuous foods and beverages are packed with calories but totally devoid of nutrients. Spend your calories wisely!
  3. Sugar. Many sugary foods are labeled as fat-free. Marshmallows, for example, are marketed as a fat-free food. And while they don’t contain any fat, they will still make you fat thanks to a very high sugar count. I like to limit sugar to less than 10 grams per portion, especially when it comes to breakfast cereals and smoothies – both of which can be secret sugar bombs. Sugar consumption has been associated with higher levels of bad cholesterol, type II diabetes, weight gain and even aging of the skin.
  4. Ingredients. Read the ingredients. If you find things that aren’t in your grandmother’s pantry, view it as a red flag. As a general rule, it’s wise to go with food that’s actually food – and not something that’s highly processed and loaded with chemicals. If you can’t even pronounce it, do you really want to eat it? Also, know that there are many ingredients that are really just sugar in disguise (here are 45 other names for sugar). If sugar is high on the ingredient list, opt for something else.
  5. Serving size. Last but not least, look at the serving size. Marketers are clever; a food may seem healthier because the serving size is ridiculously small. Ice cream servings, for example, are often listed at one half of a cup. When was the last time you ever saw someone eat half a cup of ice cream? You’ll need to adjust the nutrition information depending on the size of the portion you’ll actually eat.

Of course, there are other important aspects of the nutrition label – like fiber content or vitamins and minerals – but these five elements are a great place to start. They’ll set you on a smarter path and help you make some easy upgrades to your diet.

What do you look for on nutrition labels? Let me know in the comments below!

Olive Oil Vs. Vegetable Oil: Which is Healthier?

A trip to the grocery store will reveal more oil choices than I have pairs of underwear. And that’s saying a lot. So it’s no wonder that there’s lots of confusion about which oils are healthiest.

In general, the choice generally comes down to either extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil.

Extra virgin olive oil is a very natural oil that is pressed from olives. Even when pressed in factories, olive oil is still minimally processed. Though olive oil is a fat, and therefore something to be consumed in moderation, it’s rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (called MUFAs).

According to the Mayo Clinic, a diet high in MUFAs – and low in unhealthy saturated fats – may lower your risk of heart disease. MUFAs may lower total cholesterol and normalize blood clotting. In addition, MUFAs may even help control blood sugar levels.

However, relative to other oils, extra virgin olive oil has a lower smoking point. Once an oil reaches its smoking point, it starts to breakdown and the health benefits quickly deteriorate. You’ll want to use olive oil for lower temperature recipes with cooking temperatures under 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Virgin olive oil, as compared to the extra virgin variety, has a slightly higher smoke point and is a good alternative for cooking.

It’s important to note that light, air and storage temperature can also affect the stability of olive oil. Keep olive oil in a room-temperature cupboard, and use within six months of opening.

Vegetable oil is an umbrella term that usually involves the industrial solvent extraction of oil from plants. Most commonly, a petroleum-derived chemical called hexane is used to quickly and cheaply extract the oils for high yields. Soybean oil is the most popular, but other vegetable oils include palm, rapeseed and sunflower.

While many vegetable oils are also high in MUFAs, the industrialized processing of these oils makes them a less desirable choice for health-conscious consumers. Nonetheless, refined soybean oil has a smoke point of 460 degrees Fahrenheit making it a better option for high temperature recipes. Moreover, some consumers prefer vegetable oils because they don’t transfer as much taste and flavor during the cooking process.

The bottom line: Olive oil is the clear winner from a healthy perspective – but it really depends on the recipe and cooking temperature!

How Much Fat Should I Eat Per Day?

Eating the right amount – and the right type – of fat is crucial in supporting a healthy lifestyle. The easiest way to monitor fat intake is to track the number of grams consumed per day.

The dietary guidelines for healthy adults advise a total fat intake of no more than 20% – 35% of total daily calories. To get that number in grams, follow these simple steps:

  1. Calculate your calorie intake. If you’d like to know how many calories you should eat in a day, use this simple formula to determine your recommended caloric intake. My number is 2,840 calories.
  2. Multiply your caloric intake by .20. I get 568 calories.
  3. Then, multiply your caloric intake by .35. I get 994 calories.
    These two numbers give you a recommended calorie range for daily fat intake. In other words, the number of calories from fat that I eat should not exceed 568 – 994 calories per day.
  4. Since there are 9 calories in a gram of fat, simply divide the number of fat calories by 9. For me, the resulting numbers are 63 and 110.

Based on these calculations, my daily fat intake should not exceed 63 – 110 grams. It might sound like a lot, but it’s not. At a whopping 64 grams of fat, for example, it’s the equivalent of eating a foot-long chipotle steak and cheese sandwich from Subway.

Moreover, keep in mind that this number represents total fat. While we’re advised to limit our calories from fat to 20% – 35% of our total calorie intake, experts recommend that less than 7% of our calories come from saturated fats. To that end, ensure that your eating primarily heart-healthy fats, like those found in avocados, nuts and olive oil.

Once you have your daily recommended fat limit, keep track of the fat grams in the foods you eat. Monitoring your fat intake and sticking to the recommended range will help you realize your health, nutrition and fitness goals.

Using the above formula, what’s your daily recommended fat limit in grams? Let me know in the comments below.

Is Coconut Oil Good for You?

Virgin coconut oil is a popular fad diet food - but is it good for you?

The other day, I was cooking dinner with a friend who is on the paleo diet. The diet tries to emulate that of our paleolithic ancestors by including fish, grass-fed or free-range meats, vegetables, nuts, fruits, vegetables and the like – but excludes grains, beans, dairy, salt, sugar and processed oils.

While critiquing the paleo diet is beyond the scope of this article, I was surprised when my friend wanted to cook our meal with coconut oil. Like any health conscious individual, I immediately looked at the nutrition information – and was surprised to see a saturated fat content that is 6x higher than that of heart-healthy olive oil. In fact, a single tablespoon of coconut oil has more than 60% of you daily value of saturated fat. That’s more saturated fat than butter.

So, if coconut oil has so much saturated fat, why has it become a popular fad diet food? Coconut oil supporters point to the health and longevity of tropical populations that have been cooking with and consuming large quantities of coconut oil for hundreds of years. These coconut oil advocates don’t think the nutrition information tells the whole story. And they may have a point. For example, some of the fats in coconut oil are known as MCTs (short for medium-chain triglycerides), and they are metabolized quickly by the liver and less likely to be stored as body fat.

But it really comes down to the facts. And, according to the Food and Drug Administration, consumers should avoid coconut oil. Though there is some evidence that coconut oil may have beneficial properties, these studies haven’t yet met the FDA’s standards. Some of the studies are not extensive enough or adequately controlled enough to be scientifically valid or conclusive.

Of course, all that could change as coconut oil gains popularity and is subjected to additional research. And, it’s worth noting, both sides agree that processed or partially hydrogenated coconut oil (as opposed to virgin coconut oil) is unhealthy. When coconut oil is hydrogenated, it becomes a trans fat – something all of us should avoid.

In the meantime, I’m sticking with olive oil for my fat consumption needs. Just be sure to keep olive oil under 405 degrees Fahrenheit and use within six months of opening.

Myth: Cooking Olive Oil Destroys Its Benefits.

Not all fats are created equal.

Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat, and like other unsaturated fats, it offers some great health benefits and is generally considered to be a “good” fat. According to the Mayo Clinic, unsaturated fats:

  • Lower risk of heart disease by improving related risk factors
  • Lower total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels
  • Normalize blood clotting
  • Benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control

Of course, even unsaturated fats are rich in calories – and though they are healthier than saturated fats, they should still be consumed sparingly.

For years, I’ve heard the rumor that the benefits of healthy oils – and olive oils in particular – are destroyed when heated. It’s simply untrue; research shows that olive oil can take the heat. The plant-based compounds are actually very stable up until the oil’s smoking point at around 375 degrees Fahrenheit. If you use virgin olive oil, as opposed to extra virgin, you’ll get a few extra degrees.

More important is how you store the oil. Keep olive oil in a room-temperature cupboard, and use within six months of opening. Light, air and atypical storage temperatures have a dramatic effect on the oil’s stability.