Archive for the tag - trans 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.

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!

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.

Butter Vs. Margarine: Which is Better?

I couldn't resist...

When it comes to butter vs. margarine, many consumers are confused by the differences and are unsure which might be a healthier choice.

Butter has two issues working against it.

For one, since it’s made from animal fat, butter contains dietary cholesterol; margarine, which is made from plant fats, contains none. Many individuals can process dietary cholesterol with minimal effects on their blood cholesterol levels, but other individuals – especially those with existing cholesterol issues – may see much larger impacts on blood cholesterol levels. In general, it’s recommended that we eat less than 200 milligrams of cholesterol a day. Butter contains 33 milligrams per tablespoon.

Second, butter has high levels of saturated fats. Saturated fat raises both “good” and “bad” cholesterol levels (but it doesn’t raise the so-called “good” cholesterol levels enough to justify consuming it). Saturated fat intake increases the risk of heart disease. Most people are advised to eat less than 15 grams of saturated fat per day – and yet a single tablespoon of butter contains 7 grams.

Margarine isn’t a walk in the park, either.

The issue with margarine is trans fat. Trans fats have been shown to raise “bad” cholesterol and lower “good” cholesterol. It’s not a good combination. Trans fats have been linked to coronary heart disease and possibly a number of other effects like Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and depression. Of course, not all margarines are created equal – and many manufactures are producing low-trans fat options. In general, liquid or tub margarines contain fewer trans fats, but read nutrition labels carefully.

At the end of the day, it’s really a matter of picking your poison. Both – or either – should be consumed sparingly. Or, alternatively, rather than spreading butter or margarine over your bread, try dipping into some delicious and heart-healthy olive oil with herbs.