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Health benefits and dietary recommendations of fats

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We have identified four types of fats, dietary fats that a human being consumes. These are monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated and trans fats. I wrote about the first three in last week’s edition of the Guardian Newspaper and I present the fourth type, Trans fat today. Following that is an article on the health benefits of fats.

Trans fats
The double bond in the unsaturated fatty acid can be broken into two halves and each half can become attached to hydrogen atoms making all the bonds single and saturated. Heating liquid vegetable oils to very high temperatures and pumping hydrogen into it achieve this. The heat breaks the double bond making it available for hydrogen atoms to be attached to each single bond created.

This process is known as partial-hydrogenation and the product is partially hydrogenated oil. Also called trans fatty acid, this product, which is artificial, is solid at room temperature and has an extended shelf life. This is the intention of the manufacturer – to increase the shelf life and make more money. Trans fat has been described as the worst kind of fat an individual can eat. It increases the LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood and decreases the HDL (good) cholesterol. A scenario such as this increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

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Margarine and cooken are the commonest examples of partially hydrogenated oil or trans fatty acid available. They are frequently used in baked foods such as cakes, bread and cookies. Others are potato, popcorn, French fries, fried chicken and turkey, doughnuts, biscuits, pizza crusts etc.

Health benefits of fats

Health implications of saturated fatty acids
It is difficult to come to a conclusion as to the health implications of the saturated fatty acids. Research has been inconclusive and some results have been controversial. Some say that saturated fats are a risk factor in the development of heart disease, while others have concluded that there is no such relationship. Be that as it may, various food sources of these fatty acids we have been considering have the different types of the fatty acids in them, in various proportions. For example, animal products have a higher proportion of saturated fats than unsaturated. On the other hand, plant products have a higher proportion of unsaturated fats than saturated fats. We have also seen some plant oils that have higher levels of saturated fatty acids in them than unsaturated fatty acids. In choosing the kind of fat to eat, bear in mind that there are more health benefits with the unsaturated fatty acids as against the saturated ones that may indeed predispose to heart disease. Some doctors and nutritionists advise that human beings should reduce their consumption of saturated fats and increase consumption of unsaturated fats. This is my position and I shall discuss more on this when I present dietary recommendations on eating of fats.

A few health benefits of saturated fats are as follows: they assist in the absorption of nutrients like the fat soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K and mineral like calcium. To prevent deficiency of these vitamins, saturated fats have to be present. Also, it is more satisfying to eat saturated fats than any other. For this reason, they can prevent starchy carbohydrate and sugar craving and stabilize blood sugar in type 2 diabetes.

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There is a lot of evidence to support the finding that polyunsaturated fats lower the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). Coronary heart disease occurs as a result of occlusion of the arteries that supply blood to the heart by plaques. These plaques cut off the blood supply to the heart giving rise to heart attack. Omega 3 and 6 reduce the risk of heart attack by preventing plaque buildup on the walls of the arteries. These fatty acids increase the blood level of HDL good cholesterol and reduce LDL bad cholesterol and triglycerides. It is this bad cholesterol that is implicated in the formation of plaques on the arteries. Polyunsaturated fats also reduce blood clot formation and also reduce the blood pressure. It is believed that their effect on blood lipid level, inflammatory response and endothelial function further help to reduce the risk of heart disease. In the same vein, they reduce the risk of stroke. Furthermore, these long chain polyunsaturated fats exhibit some glycaemic control over the blood insulin level thereby regulating blood sugar level. They may be useful in the management of type 2 diabetes.

The brain has been found to be particularly rich in these fatty acids and there is sufficient evidence to show that they support cognitive function and behaviour. In fact, it is recommended that pregnant women should increase their dietary intake (flaxseed, almonds and cold water fish) and supplementation with omega 3 and 6 throughout pregnancy and lactation. This helps in the neurological development and cognitive function of the baby.

*Pastor Dr. Paul Nanna is a Medical Doctor and a Pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of GOD. Telephone: +2348033018181. Email address: paulnanna.pn@gmail.com. Blog: nutritionandhealthmanagers.com. Twitter Handle: @paulnanna.

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