Get your fats straight!

nutrition-labelWith rising levels of obesity in America, it is important to educate both adults and our rising generation about healthy food intake.

“Obesity transcends everywhere,” says Dr. Mark Sicilio a pediatrician at Scott & White Clinic in College Station. “You drive around and you look any of the grocery stores or the shopping marts and there’s a lot of obesity out there. It’s a very difficult problem to get a grasp on so we have to try to start early on with the children and their families.”

It’s true. Our families are facing a great deal of health challenges related to weight, and sometimes we may feel we are getting information overload.

There are a number of opinions regarding diet, exercise and nutrition, but it is important to learn about the various ways to manage your health and improve your overall wellness.

One of the valuable tricks is to know how to distinguish between good and bad fats.

Figuring out Fats

Good fats, you ask?

Yes, it may be news to you that there are such things as good fats also called unsaturated fats. Our body depends on fat to provide energy, maintain healthy skin and hair, and absorb various vitamins in your body. Fats provide essential fatty acids, which are not made by the body and must be obtained from food.

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However, don’t be fooled by fast foods and packaged products, because these seldom contain the “good fats,” we have mentioned. Rather, the good fats are unsaturated fats, like those found in fish, seeds, and certain types of oils.

If you want to control your weight or improve your wellness, try substituting foods with saturated fats for those with unsaturated fats. Don’t consume these foods in addition to your diet, but rather make healthy substitutions.

The bad fats, on the other hand, are found in foods such as milk, meat and butter. They are more difficult for our body to process and can increase our risk of health problems.

When we’re talking about fat in these foods, we are usually concerned with a large amount of calories. Just as harmful, is the large amount of sugars found in unhealthy foods. Sugar can be burned as energy, but often they are high in calories that are not beneficial to your body.  Dr. Sicilio calls these “empty calories” and suggests we be aware of the risks.

“The soda that kids have been drinking, the full calorie ones, they just simply should not be consumed at all,” says Dr. Sicilio.

“The typical can of Coke has about 12 teaspoons of sugar and if you imagined putting that much sugar in a similar volume of iced tea, people would say, ‘you’re nuts.’ You’re consuming a lot of empty calories with soda and people need to be educated about that and avoid it.”

Considering Cholesterol

In addition to fats, there are also expert nutritionists who distinguish between good and bad cholesterol.

HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein and is sometimes called “the good cholesterol.” Lipoproteins like HDL are made of fat and protein. They transport cholesterol, triglycerides, and other fats in the blood from other parts of your body to your liver. When carried, the cholesterol is called HDL-C.

HDL-C has been associated with lower heart disease risk, although a recent article from the New York Times highlighted a study where researchers have questioned how directly these two are related and if causation can really be inferred.  Regardless of the debate, all experts agree that HDL-C is beneficial to your body.

If you want to improve your health, you may wish to raise your levels of HDL. According to The Heart Health Center, you can do this through exercise, losing weight, cutting back on the bad fats we mentioned, and adding fiber to your diet.

So of course, now we need to mention the flip side.

LDL, low-density lipoprotein, is bad for our body because it collects in the walls of blood vessels when transported as LDL-C. When this buildup occurs, blockages result and can put you at a greater risk for heart attack or blood clots in your arteries.

“In some cases high LDL-C and low HDL-C are genetically programmed,” says Dr. Catherine McNeal,  a specialist in clinical lipidology, “and although a good diet is fundamental, medication are often needed to treat these disorders.

If you need to lower your cholesterol levels, remove items such as butter, bacon, frozen foods, and processed snack foods from your diet.

Make it a Lifestyle Change

“It ought to be where you can have food and have fun, and not have obesity.”
–Dr. Sicilio

If you are committed to living a healthy life and improving your health, we know it’s not easy. Wading through the good and bad fats and being aware of your cholesterol level is just the beginning. Dr. Sicilio mentions the process of fighting obesity is a whole lifestyle change.

“It ought to be where you can have food and have fun, and not have obesity,” he says. “If it’s not part of a whole lifestyle change, it’s going to be fought with difficulty.”

About the author

Jill Taylor
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I contribute content and skills as a freelance writer for Baylor Scott & White Health. I enjoy improving our connection with our readers, patients and communities by assisting with a wide range of writing projects.

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Get your fats straight!