Fats: For Your Health

By Monique N. Gilbert

The body needs a certain amount of fat in the diet. It stores fat to serve as a quick energy source and to protect important organs. However, all fats and oils are high in calories. Fats provide 9 calories for each gram contained in food, while protein and carbohydrates each provide only 4 calories. While fat is necessary and essential for proper health, some types of fats are damaging to the cardiovascular system.

Artery-clogging fats that increase blood cholesterol include saturated fat and trans fat. Saturated fat mainly comes from animal sources like meat and dairy products, but it can also be found in coconut and palm oils. Trans fat comes from hydrogenated vegetable oils, like margarine and vegetable shortening. Both saturated fats and trans fats stay solid at room temperature.

A more heart healthy fat is unsaturated fat, generally found in vegetables. This type of fat includes both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fat is found in olive, canola and peanut oils. These oils are liquid at room temperature but start to thicken when refrigerated. This type of fat is considered the healthiest for your heart and body. Avocados and nuts also contain monounsaturated fat. Polyunsaturated fat is found in soybean, corn, safflower and sunflower oils. These oils are liquid at room temperature and in the refrigerator. This type of fat is considered the next healthiest fat that does not clog arteries.

However, when unsaturated vegetable oils are manufactured into solid form, they turn into trans fats. This type of fat is commonly called fully or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in a food's list of ingredients. Trans fats are found in hundreds of processed foods, usually to protect against spoiling and to enhance flavor. Restaurants tend to use a lot of trans fat (hydrogenated vegetable oil), especially for frying.

Trans fats are even worse for the cardiovascular system than saturated fats. Researchers have conservatively calculated that trans fats alone account for at least 30,000 premature deaths from heart disease every year in the United States. Recent studies indicate that trans fats drive up the body's LDL, the bad cholesterol, even faster than saturated fats. High levels of cholesterol have been linked to heart disease and stroke.

Diets high in fat, particularly saturated fat, also promotes breast, colon, endometrial, lung, prostate and rectal cancers. Therefore, saturated fats and trans fats are the only fats that we should strive to eliminate from our diet. Replace these fats with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. The American Heart Association recommends that daily fat intake should be less than 30 percent of total calories; saturated fat intake less than 8-10 percent of total calories, and cholesterol less than 300 milligrams per day. Always read the Nutrition Facts label and list of ingredients to find out the amount of, and the type of, fat contained in any particular food.

Want a delicious and nutritious alternative to mayonnaise? Then try this recipe which makes a wonderful heart-healthy cholesterol-free sandwich spread!

Tofu Mayo

5.3 ounces tofu (1/3 of a 16-ounce block firm tofu)
3 tablespoons soymilk
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt

    1. Blend ingredients in a food processor for a full 1-2 minutes, or until it's smooth and creamy.
    2. Transfer spread into a jar and chill. Use in place of traditional mayonnaise.

Makes about 1 cup (8 ounces)

This article and recipe are excerpts from the book "Virtues of Soy: A Practical Health Guide and Cookbook" by Monique N. Gilbert (Universal Publishers, $19.95, available at most online booksellers). http://www.virtuesofsoy.com

Copyright © Monique N. Gilbert - All Rights Reserved.

Monique N. Gilbert, B.Sc. is a Health Advocate, Certified Personal Trainer/Fitness Counselor, Recipe Developer, Soy Food Connoisseur and author of "Virtues of Soy: A Practical Health Guide and Cookbook" (Universal Publishers, $19.95, available at most online booksellers). For more information about soy, visit the Virtues of Soy website.

Monique N. Gilbert has a Bachelor of Science degree, is a Certified Personal Trainer/Fitness Counselor and health advocate. She began a low-fat, whole grain, vegetable-rich diet in the mid-1970's. This introduced her to a healthier way of eating and became the foundation of her dietary choices as an adult. She became a full-fledged vegetarian on Earth Day 1990. Over the years she has increased her knowledge and understanding about health and fitness, and the important role diet plays in a person's strength, vitality and longevity. Monique has a Q&A column at Veggies Unite where she gives advice about health, fitness and vegetarian/vegan diets. Monique feels it is her mission to educate and enlighten everyone about the benefits of healthy eating and living.

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