‘Fat’ can sometime be a word that gives people the chills when they hear about it. It is one of the three main sources of calories to our diet and a major part of ones dietary requirement. There are three kinds of fat: saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. The degree of saturation is dependent on the amount of double and triple bonds in the chemical makeup. Saturated fats are known to increase the body’s levels of serum (blood) cholesterol. Along with cholesterol, saturated fats can deposit on the inner walls of blood vessels; a condition known as atherosclerosis.
When the heart’s arteries become clogged with cholesterol and fats, blood flow can be restricted or totally blocked, leading to severe chest pain and heart attack. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats actually have a cholesterol-lowering effect. By substituting polyunsaturated fats for the saturated fats in your diet, you can actually help control cholesterol levels. Too much dietary fat can also contribute to overweight. Being overweight can aggravate high blood pressure, place excess strain on your heart, and make it more difficult to stay active and physically fit, thus having a negative impact on your overall cardiovascular health.
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For about three decades, health institutions like the American Heart Association, National Institutes of Health, World Health Organization, and others advised people to reduce dietary fat by limiting fat intake to fewer than 30 percent of daily calories. Their claim was that a low fat diet ultimately resulted in the reduction or elimination of risk for heart disease although; there wasn’t much evidence to support the notion of low-fat diets in the beginning.
In an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on February 8, 2006, in a 8th year Women’s Health Initiative Dietary Modification Trial, about 49,000 women with almost identical rates of heart attack, stroke, and other forms of cardiovascular disease were followed to see the effect of a low-fat diet and those not on the diet. Their results showed that women on the low-fat diet didn’t lose or gain any more weight than women who followed their usual diets. The important thing to note from these kinds of studies was the type of fat in the diet.
For example the Mediterrean style diet is high in fat but these fats are from plant sources such as olive oil, nuts and seeds which are low in saturated fat intake. The ‘Western” diet on the other hand has fats from animal sources which are usually saturated and produces a higher risk for heart disease. In conclusion, as research grows on diet and heart disease, it’s becoming clearer that looking at a single nutrient in isolation cannot tell us the whole story about a person’s heart disease risk. People eat foods, not nutrients, and they eat them in an overall dietary pattern.
The traditional Mediterranean Diet pattern, in contrast, appears to lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, and metabolic syndrome, a constellation of factors that increases the chances of developing heart disease and diabetes. So if you are concerned about heart health, pay attention to your overall diet, not just to the type of fat.