Saturday, 3 August 2013

Fats that Harm, Fats that Heal…… well almost

Many people have asked me about how to loose weight or what foods to avoid and I have never had a complete answer for them. From intuition , I would say, “just do everything in moderation!” and the people would go like “Huh!, what does that mean?” Well, I don’t know what it means but I do know now that I was partly right and partly wrong. “Together with smoking and physical activity, dietary habits form the foundation for the causation, prevention, and treatment of most cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, including coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke, and type 2 diabetes mellitus (DM), as well as sudden cardiac death, atrial fibrillation, heart failure, and cognitive decline.( Braunwald’s text book of Cardiology).”

Did you get that, dietary habits form the….. FOUNDATION FOR THE CAUSATION….. as in, you really are what you eat.

In developing countries, the burgeoning epidemics of obesity, Diabetes, and Cardiovascular disease (CVD) result directly from rapid social and environmental changes transmitted primarily through changes in diet and other lifestyle behaviors.[2] Familiarity with the beneficial and harmful effects of various nutritional factors is essential to mitigate and eventually reverse the substantial disease burdens caused by suboptimal dietary habits in individuals and in populations.(Braunwald’s text book of Cardiology)

Translation….. “My people perish for lack of knowledge” which could be viewed in two ways, either people do not know or they act as if they do not know.
So, in view of the above, I will attempt to give a breakdown of what is considered a healthy diet. Most of it is common knowledge to most people but some may be new.
Foods are usually divided into carbohydrates, fats, proteins and fibres. In primary school, I was taught that carbohydrates are the energy giving foods. I still remember the teacher saying it and us, the pupils chorusing it back. I also had the distinct impression that carbohydrates are white in colour while proteins are brown foods. This skewed my thinking so much that I did not consider sugar sweetened beverages to be a form of carbohydrate until  recently, neither do most people. Did you know that 600mls of coke has the same number of calories as 2 chapatis or a good serving of ugali. So, after lunch, when you take a sugar sweetened beverage, it is like you are taking lunch all over again. By the way, alcohol is also quite high in calories and 2 bottles of beer can be equated to a meal of ugali. So, next time you are out on the rave and you want to maintain your weight, just take the beer, a few pieces of meat and an apple and that will be your supper right there, complete in all ways. By the way, when it comes to weight gain, it is not what you eat that matters, it is how much you eat. It is not where the calories are coming from, it I s how much of the calories you are taking in. Think of it this way, if you were a mule and were asked to carry a load from point A to point B, it is not what is in the load that would matter, it is how much the load weighs.
However, when it comes to cardiovascular health, it is the quality of what you eat that is most important. I wonder if there is such a thing as a “healthy fat guy?” What would happen if I eat too much of all the healthy stuff? Hmmh… food for thought!
When it comes to carbs, one should target those that have a low Glycemic index and low glycemic load. These will usually turn out to be foods that have complex carbs, not refined and contain lots of fibre (we all know that, don’t we?)
Whole grain contains bran, endosperm and germ from the natural cereal, while the refined grains have the bran and germ removed. Which reminds me, those who have been on a farm will attest to this, farmers regurlary buy “maize germ” and “maize bran” to add to the cow and pig feed. They buy this from the same millers who make our maize flour and wheat flour……………. Talk about throwing pearls to the pigs.

Bran contains fiber, B vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, and tocopherols; germ contains numerous antioxidants and phytochemicals. Intake of whole grains associates consistently with lower risk of CHD, DM, and possibly stroke. Whole-grain intake has been found to improve glucose-insulin homeostasis, endothelial function, and possibly weight loss and inflammation. Whole-grain oats reduce LDL-C.[77] As with fruits and vegetables, it is not clear that any single micronutrient accounts for these benefits; the benefits may result from the synergistic effects of multiple constituents. (Braunwalds)

When it comes to fat intake, the science is not so straight forward. We had been made to believe that solid fats (hydrogenated vegetable oils) are bad and that the liquid ones are good. The hydrogenated vegetable oil companies therefore came up with a campaign stating that their products are “0.00% cholesterol free”. I remember seeing a bill board like that and I thought to myself, “ how can it be 0.00% cholesterol free?  What does that even mean?” I am yet to get an English teacher to explain that statement to me. In my mind, it is either “100% cholesterol free” or “contains 0.00% cholesterol”. Anyway, I believe the idea was to make us think that cholesterol is ingested in the diet ….well it is not. Dietary cholesterol is so little and of largely no consequence to your health. What matters is what the liver does with the fats that you feed it. The liver is actually the major source of body cholesterol and it generates this cholesterol from the food we eat.
Fats are divided into saturated fats, unsaturated fats and trans fats. Saturated fats play a leading part in raising blood cholesterol and factors such as Diabetes, Hypertension, Smoking and Physical inactivity act only on coronary vessels rendered susceptible by elevated cholesterol. Main source of saturated fats is animal fats and some dietary oils. Dietary fat (not dietary cholesterol) is the main contributor to blood cholesterol levels.


Oils to avoid
Coconut oil and Palm oil – contain large amounts of saturated fatty acids with least amounts of unsaturated fatty acids.
Hydrogentaed vegetable oils – contain a lot of trans fatty acids. These are the worst in terms of causing cardiovascular disease.

Good oils
Olive oil, Mustard oil , sunflower oil, canola oil, safflower oil – have large amounts of unsaturated fatty acids.

Poly Unsaturated Fatty Acids
Mono Unsaturated Fatty Acids
Saturated Fatty Acids
LDL cholesterol Response (mg/dl)  (bad chlosterol)
Coconut oil
Palm Oil
Olive Oil
Peanut Oil
Soyabean Oil
Sunflower Oil
Safflower Oil

From the table above, good oils are in red and they will help reduce our bad cholesterol.

PUFA – polyunsaturated FA,   MUFA – monounsaturated FA, SAFA – Saturated FA
The greater the level of PUFA and MUFA, the better the oil is for your heart.

Fish oil is also an important part of dietary cardiovascular disease prevention. It has been shown to lower cholesterol as it provides omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in good quantities.

Fruits and vegetables
It is recommended that we take in at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Not only do these provide essential vitamins and anti-0xidants, they are also a great way to aid in digestion due to the presence of fibre. Higher fruit and vegetable intake is related with lower CHD incidence.  Fruit intake is also associated with lower stroke risk and dietary fiber from fruits with lower onset of Diabetes. Hey, we all know that fruits and vegetables are vital for good health, so I will not belabor the point.

Bottom line, we need to watch how many calories we take in if we want to affect our weight. We should also ensure that the calories are coming from healthy sources so as to maintain good cardiovascular health.


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