(NaturalHealth365) If asked about one of the very best nutrients to consume in order to lower cholesterol, reduce abdominal fat and decrease risk of heart disease, it’s likely that very few people would answer: “fat.” Yet, those few people would be correct.
Recent research, including a new study performed at the University of Missouri, demonstrates that there is no link between the consumption of certain fats and the risk of developing serious conditions such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. Even more surprisingly, consuming fats can carry significant health benefits.
Of course, all fats are not created equal – only some are beneficial
Conventionally-trained nutritionists warn that saturated fats and trans fats are unhealthy, and can raise levels of harmful LDL cholesterol. Of course, trans fats, or highly-processed (heated) vegetable oils should be avoided at all costs. But, are we being told the whole truth about fats?
In truth, we can find healthy fats from flaxseed, olive, coconut and hemp oil. These oils contain varying amounts of the omega-6 polyunsaturated acid known as linoleic acid – which has been shown to have health-promoting qualities.
Wait a minute! I though linoleic acid causes inflammation?
While past studies have indeed linked linoleic acid-rich diets with inflammation in animals, some researchers are beginning to state that these results don’t hold true for humans, who respond to oil differently.
In a recent study conducted at the University of Missouri and published in Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, researchers evaluated the results of 15 different randomized controlled trials involving close to 500 participants, and found that there is virtually no association between consumption of vegetable oils and the markers of inflammation linked with heart disease, cancer, arthritis and asthma.
Not only that – linoleic acid seems to have the ability to lower LDL cholesterol levels.
In a nutshell: vegetable oils containing LA do not contribute to inflammation in healthy people.
Animal fats, on the other hand, can promote inflammation, an immune response that is linked to increased risk of life-threatening illnesses such as heart disease and cancer. Researchers can detect inflammation by noting the presence of inflammatory “markers” – including cytokines, C-reactive protein and fibrinogen – in the blood.
Olive oil, considered by many to be the queen of healthy oils, can combat metabolic syndrome
A staple of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, olive oil has generous amounts of both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids – both of which are beneficial. Monounsaturated fatty acids lower LDL cholesterol while raising levels of healthy HDL cholesterol. In addition, they help to regulate blood clotting and stabilize blood sugar levels.
Olive oil is also rich in vitamin E, an important antioxidant vitamin that can scavenge destructive free radicals and decrease disease-causing oxidative stress. In addition, it contains powerful anti-inflammatory polyphenols such as oleuropein and oleocanthal.
In a randomized controlled trial published just this week in Canadian Medical Association Journal, researchers found that extra-virgin olive oil – when used as part of the Mediterranean diet – can help reverse metabolic syndrome, a collection of unhealthy conditions that raises risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Metabolic syndrome is indicated by excessive belly fat, low levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high levels of blood sugar and triglycerides.
When it comes to health benefits and weight control, “healthy” fat diets trump “low-fat” diets
Participants in the olive oil group decreased their obesity and blood sugar levels at a much greater rate than those in the control group, which was counseled to eat a low-fat diet. In fact, close to a third of the olive oil group completely reversed their condition, and could no longer be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome by the end of the 4.8 year follow time period.
With roughly 33 percent of all Americans currently affected by metabolic syndrome, the good news about olive oil is particularly significant.
When it comes to oils that feature polyunsaturated fatty acids, it is the balance between the omega-3 and omega-6 acids that helps to determine their healthiness. Natural health experts tell us that both flaxseed oil and hemp oil contain optimal balances of PUFAs. Both of them feature an omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, which has been shown to decrease inflammation.
The University of Maryland Medical Center notes that research shows a lower incidence of fatal heart attacks in people who eat a diet rich in ALA, and adds that ALA may even reduce the risk of heart arrhythmias, and – by decreasing the adhesiveness of blood platelets – cut the risk of a stroke as well. For maximum health benefits, look for organic hemp and flaxseed oils that are labeled “high oleic.”
Coconut oil, rich in lauric acid, offers a wealth of heart healthy benefits
Don’t forget the coconut oil, which imparts a light, delicious coconut flavor to recipes when used as a cooking or salad oil. This healthy oil boosts immunity, promotes good digestion, supports healthy thyroid function and fights abdominal fat. It also increases levels of healthy HDL cholesterol, and helps to spur the conversion of cholesterol to pregnenolone – which in turn assists in the creation of important hormones.
In a double-blind clinical study published in 2009 in Lipids, researchers found two tablespoons of coconut oil daily for 12 weeks promoted significant loss of abdominal fat in the study participants.
Wait a minute – isn’t coconut oil high in harmful saturated fat?
Although most of coconut oil’s fat is indeed of the saturated variety, many natural health experts point out that much of this fat consists of medium-chain fatty acids, which have not been implicated in chronic diseases in the same way longer-chain fatty acids – such as those found in butter – have been.
Coconut oil proponents also point out that this tasty tropical oil is ideal for use in cooking, as it withstands high temperatures without breaking down into harmful trans fat.
Are there any vegetable oils I should avoid?
Yes. Canola, soy and corn oils, despite their otherwise beneficial content of linoleic acid, are notorious for their content of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Unless you want to up your intake of genetically manipulated ingredients, these oils are taboo.
How much fat is enough?
Of course, the recent research doesn’t suggest that you should guzzle down vegetable oils in unlimited quantities. Even with “healthy fats,” moderation is the key.
Experts say that consuming between two and four tablespoons of vegetable oil a day should be sufficient to achieve adequate linoleic acid levels in the body. According to the American Heart Association, fats – which universally contain nine calories a gram – should make up no more than 20 to 35 percent of your total calories. Although, some people may require more – depending on personal lifestyle habits and medical health profile.
And, it is not just cooking and salad oils that offer up healthy fat. You can also snack on whole organic foods that are rich in monounsaturated fats, and treat your body to healthy quantities of dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants galore. Luscious avocados, tasty olives, and crunchy, satisfying nuts such as walnuts, cashews, pecans and almonds not only taste great – it turns out they are great for our health as well.
To sum up, we shouldn’t be fanatically trying to rid our diets of fat, a nutrient the body needs in order to absorb fat-soluble vitamins. Therefore, consuming appropriate amounts of disease-fighting polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats would be a much wiser – and more palatable – course of action. Naturally, if you’re concerned about your heart health, consult a trusted medical professional.