Wisely chosen fats promote health

By Margie Mansure (reporter@mountaintimes.com)

Article Published: Jan. 30 | Modified: Jan. 30

With so many types of cooking oils available, figuring out what to purchase can be confusing.

This month, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics updated its position paper on dietary fatty acids for healthy adults. The bottom line: Fat should provide 20 to 35 percent of energy, which is 44 to 77 grams for a 2,000 calorie diet. Polyunsaturated fats, especially Omega-3 fatty acids, should be consumed more, and saturated and trans fats should be limited.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids are liquid at room temperature and should make up the bulk of the fat we consume. One type of polyunsaturated fatty acid known as Omega-3 has been shown to have many health promoting benefits.

Good plant sources are nuts, particularly walnuts and flax, chia and hemp seeds, and vegetable oils, such as canola and soybean. Unless labeled organic, most canola and soybean oils have been genetically modified. Grape seed oil is a recent addition on grocery store shelves and is 70 percent polyunsaturated. It does not hold up well in cooking, but may be used in salad dressings. The best sources of fatty fish high in Omega-3 include salmon, sardines, tuna, herring and trout.

The most well-known monounsaturated fat is probably olive oil, but it is also found in canola oil, lard and avocado. Studies have shown that increasing this type of fat in the diet can be beneficial when replacing carbohydrate and saturated fat, but not as beneficial when replacing polyunsaturated fat.

Monounsaturated fat has been shown to decrease triglycerides and increase HDL, or the good kind of blood cholesterol. Olive oil has a unique flavor and works well in cooking. But, according to the research, using a mostly polyunsaturated fat, such as corn or soybean oil, is as beneficial to health as olive oil.

Saturated fat is solid at room temperature, found mostly in products that originate from animals, and is known to raise blood cholesterol levels. Research has shown that the fatty acid called stearic acid, a saturated fat found in cocoa butter, does not raise cholesterol levels. Good for chocolate lovers.

Tropical oils are high in saturated fat. Coconut oil (a solid fat) is a recent addition to grocery store shelves. More than 59 percent of the fatty acids in coconut oil have the chemical structure called medium chain triglycerides (MCT), six to 12 carbons long. Due to this structure, coconut oil is marketed as having health-promoting properties.

One study showed that fatty acids that are eight to 10 carbons long are oxidized, rather than stored as fat in the body. However, 44 percent of coconut oil has longer, 12 carbon length chains. Until more studies are completed, consuming coconut oil is not recommended, as it could raise blood cholesterol. Replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated sources lowers cardiovascular disease risk by 10 percent.

Here is an easy to make, not too sweet granola recipe that contains plenty of Omega-3 fats from nuts and flax seed.

Nutty Granola

¾ cup sunflower seeds
1 ½ cups oatmeal
¼ cup ground flaxseed
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup slivered almonds
3 tbsp natural peanut, almond, or sunflower butter
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup honey
½ teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 300˚F. Combine ingredients in a bowl, and mix until evenly blended. Press mixture in a baking pan, and bake for 40 minutes or until brown, stirring occasionally.

Margie Mansure, M.S., R.D. is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and extension agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension. She offers personalized classes to improve the health of citizens in Watauga County through worksites, schools and community groups. For more information, email margie_mansure@ncsu.edu, or call (828) 264-3061.

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