The main concern about dietary fats is their role in promoting heart disease. Although we used to advise patients to keep their fat intake around 30%, most recent research indicates that the type of fat is more important than total fat.
Japan is a country that has a very low fat intake. Crete is a country that has a high fat intake (but from vegetable sources). Both countries have one of the lowest incidences of heart disease in the world.
To understand how fats affect our heart I will explain the different components of a lipid profile that a provider orders for you.
There is “L”DL (“L”ousy cholesterol, both words start with an L) and it is the main target of treatment, the” L”ower the better.
Then there is “H”DL( “H”appy cholesterol) that protects your heart and the “H”igher the better.
Finally there are triglycerides that come mainly from eating too many calories, sugar, white flour, alcohol and potatoes and they are also associated with heart disease when they get high.
Now when you buy your food, you will notice four main kinds of fats. We’ll start with the most harmful which is Trans fatty acid. It is a component of many commercial baked goods (like donuts, cookies and cakes), and most deep fried foods. You can also find it in margarine, chips and crackers. Trans fatty acid raises your LDL and lowers your HDL which is a very bad combination. Avoid them at all cost.
Then we have saturated fats that come from red meat, bacon, sausage, egg yolk, butter and whole milk. They raise your LDL but do not affect your HDL so they are bad but not as much.
The other two are actually good fats. The first one is called polyunsaturated fatty acid and you can find it in walnuts, peanut butter, and fish. It tends to lower LDL and triglycerides but also lowers HDL. The net effect though on the heart is beneficial.
Finally there is the monounsaturated fatty acid and it comes from olive oil, nuts, soy, sunflower and canola. It lowers your LDL adds triglycerides and maintains your HDL. It is an excellent combination of effects that explain part of why the Mediterranean diet is so healthy.