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The Answer Doc by Dr. Christopher Munger

The skinny on fats

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Posted: September 8, 2007 3:09 p.m.
Updated: September 23, 2007 5:00 a.m.
    Over the past decade there has been considerable research into how fat plays a role in heart disease. What has become clear is that although a low fat diet will help with weight loss, it is actually the types of fats that we consume that have the greatest risk of causing heart disease.
    These revelations have caused a big stir in the news lately. Some major cities have actually considered “banning” certain kinds of fats that can be used in food preparation in restaurants. Walk through the aisle of a grocery store and you’re a bombarded with words like poly, mono, saturated and unsaturated. Many of my patients have asked me to explain which fats are good and which are bad. So here’s the skinny on fats: their names, the foods that contain them and their effects on good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol.
     1. Monounsaturated:  These fats are pretty good for you. They raise HDL and lower LDL. Foods that contain monounsaturated fats are olive oil, canola oil, peanuts, peanut oil, cashews, almonds and avocados. Cooking with olive or canola oil instead of butter or margarine is a good, healthy choice.
     2. Polyunsaturated:  Some of these fats are excellent at raising HDL. Foods that contain polyunsaturated fats include corn, corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, fish and fish oil. Eating grilled or broiled fish weekly is probably a good choice for your heart.
     3. Saturated: These fats compose the majority of the fats that we consume as Americans, but unfortunately they really are not that good for us. These fats raise both HDL and LDL.  Foods that contain saturated fats include red meat, butter, cheese, whole milk, ice cream, coconut, coconut milk and milk chocolate. Most of us cannot conceive of eliminating all these foods from our diet, but eating them in moderation is a good idea.
     4. Trans:  These fats are not good. They raise LDL, decrease HDL and raise triglycerides, which are markers for increased risk of heart disease. Food that contain trans fats include margarine, shortening, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, regular potato chips, snack foods like Twinkies and honey buns, and most fast food (i.e. burgers, fries).  Most Americans can’t avoid the occasional fast food dinner, but it should be a rarity instead of a staple.
    So there’s the low down on the world of fats. The bottom line is that if you can make the majority of your fat intake unsaturated fats, you can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease. It may not be easy, but your health is worth it.
    Thanks to the Harvard School of Public Health for help with this article.

    Dr. Christopher Munger’s column appears every other Sunday. Dr. Munger is board- certified in family practice. He is a member of the Family Health Care Center in Statesboro and admits patients to East Georgia Regional Medical Center. He is originally from California. He received his bachelors degree from UCLA, his medical degree from Columbia University in New York City and completed his training in family practice at the University of Virginia. He lives in Statesboro with his wife and two dogs.
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