Is plant based saturated fat healthy? Are nuts good for cholesterol?

What about fats in plant foods? 

There are many current myths about fats. That fats can play both a beneficial role and a damaging one is at the root of the confusion. If you have heart disease, you need to be extra careful about your animal fat intake. Making plant foods the centerpiece of your meals eliminates much of the worry about the amount of fat you take in you’ll automatically get the right kind of fat.

Remember that the fats in plants, with a few exceptions like coconut, are good fats. It is the fat from land animals beef and chicken that you need to be concerned about, because they contain large amounts of saturated fats. Natural plant fats are usually unsaturated. Furthermore, animal foods contain cholesterol, whereas there is no cholesterol in plant foods.

Aren't nuts high fat foods that I should avoid? 

Nuts are high in fat, but these are the good fats. Recent studies have shown that nuts help lower blood cholesterol, and in a major study done by Loma Linda University it was found that people who ate a few handfuls of nuts every week had fewer deaths from heart disease than people who did not eat nuts regularly. If you are on a plantbased diet, nuts supply good protein in addition to fiber and good carbohydrate. They also help you feel satisfied and prevent overeating because of the presence of their good fats.

Nuts, together with dried fruits like raisins, make great, healthful energy snacks. Trail mixes and many energy bars based on nuts, raisins, and other dried fruits are a great idea for anyone with heart disease. Be sure the energy baryou choose contains no hydrogenatedfats.

Do you mean I can eat nuts and peanuts and use some olive oil? 

It is difficult to overeat whole foods like nuts and seeds (for instance, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and peanuts) because the good fats they contain usually satisfy your hunger. Avocado contains good fats, as do soy and garbanzo beans. Cold pressed oils like olive oil are full of good fats and antioxidants, and you can use them in moderation. (It is easy to overuse oils, and prolonged frying with any oil should be avoided, as the oil molecules in the fried food can be damaged by high heat.)

So, instead of thinking in terms of saturated or unsaturated fat, I should just think in terms of plant fat versus animal fat? 

Yes. One of the few exceptions is coconut fat, which is not a good choice because it is very saturated. Just remember that there are two kinds of unsaturated fats: the monos and the polys, and that both are good for your blood cholesterol. The only common foods from plants that are somewhat saturated but have a fat that is neutral on blood cholesterol are chocolate and cocoa drinks. Olive oil and olives, which are mostly monounsaturated, have a long history of association with low heart disease rates in Mediterranean countries. Soybean oils found in tofu and many Asian foods have a similarly long history of association with low rates of heart disease in Japan, China, and Southeast Asia.

The choice is simple: eat your fat from plant foods, and limit your fat from animal foods by choosing either very low fat or nonfat milk and other animal foods, or by using a higher fat food like cheese only as a flavoring in very small amounts.

Is it true that not all unsaturated fats are good for me? 

Yes. We have been talking about natural unsaturated fats. But problems creep up with processed unsaturated fats. When you take good polyunsaturated oils, like soybean oil, and make them solid, using a process called hydrogenation , the result is a mixture of fats that contain a certain amount of a “twisted” molecule. The natural state of this molecule is one of our safest fats, oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat. But the twisted molecules of monounsaturated fats are called trans fats or partially hydrogenated fats or oils. (They are also called trans fatty acids.) These fats are very common in foods because they are what the food industry calls functional: they work well in baked goods and many other products because they add texture and keep well. But through hydrogenation, the molecule has been changed enough to result in different physiological effects than our friendly soybean oil and nut fats. The world was shocked in 1990 when two researchers from the Netherlands, Drs. Katan and Mensink, published an article showing that these fats actually raise blood cholesterol and lower HDL, the good cholesterol.

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