Low fat diet: the heart's preference

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014


THE term "cardiovascular disease" (CVD) is an umbrella word for any disease of the heart and the blood vessels.

Such diseases are so broad but the most common are hypertension, atherosclerosis (or fat clogged arteries), congestive heart failure (poor blood circulation that weakens the heart) and myocardial infarction (heart attack).

CVD is actually among the leading causes of death and morbidity in the Philippines.

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However, there is a strict demarcation line separating heart diseases from vascular diseases in epidemiologic case findings by the Department of Health but only for statistics purposes.

While fact still holds that major risk factors include heredity, age and sex contribute to the development of CVD, of equal importance are the precipitating factors like cigarette smoking, sedentary lifestyle and most specially, the diet.

In terms of diet, most nutrition experts maintain that excess fat and sodium in the diet contribute to CVD.

For this article, I will focus on fats.

Fat is an essential nutrient that contributes up to 30 percent supply of energy from calories second to carbohydrates, which supply up to 50 percent of calories.

Secondly, fats are necessary for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.

Literatures share that there are two qualities of fat: saturated and unsaturated.

These two differ in terms of their chemical structural make up that may be too technical to discuss.

But to simplify things, unsaturated fats which can be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated, have direct influence on cholesterol levels particularly on lowering the blood levels of the Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL), which is dubbed by some as 'bad cholesterol' as it is responsible for the development of atherosclerosis.

Furthermore, experts recommend that consumption of monounsaturated fats is at least one-thirds of the total calories from fats.

Food sources that are rich in monounsaturated fats are vegetable oils, grapeseed oils, nuts and avocadoes.

Meanwhile, the polyunsaturated fats are either Omega-3 or Omega-6 fatty acids.

Omega-3 is believed to reduce incidence of heart diseases due to its effect of lowering blood cholesterol, triglycerides, very-low density lipoproteins (VLDL) and LDL after a series of studies.

In a similar vein, Omega-6 has the ability to replace the saturated fats in the body eventually, preventing the saturated fats from increasing LDL.

Sources of Omega-3 include fish and fish oil while Omega-6 can be found in corn oil, soybean oil and sunflower oil.

On the other hand, saturated fats are believed to elevate the blood cholesterol level.

These saturated fats are found in animal sources such as cheese, butter, whole milk, ice cream, fatty beef and pork and poultry skin as in fried chicken skin.

Plant sources may also contain saturated fats like coconut oil and coconut milk, palm kernel and palm oil.

Health experts suggest that we read back labels properly whenever we buy food from the groceries to be aware of the fat content as most products contain both the saturated and unsaturated fats.

If fat consumption is inevitable, which is most likely the case, nutritionists advise that we consider the polyunsaturated to saturated fat ration which should be 2:1.

They also recommend the following tips in reducing fat intake:

(1) Trim visible fats from meats;

(2) Use ground meat that has no more than 15 percent fat and that any fat extracted should be poured off after browning;

(3) Frying is avoided;

(4) Meats should be no more than 5 oz. per day and should be lean;

(5) Choose white meat over dark meat; and

(6) Chicken sandwiches should contain no mayonnaise and special salad dressings.

As the saying goes, the way to someone's heart is through the stomach.

Happy Hearts' Month!

Sources: Basic Diet Therapy for Filipinos; Comprehensive School Health Education; Managing Chronic Disorders; and Outline in Obstetrics.

[Email: polo.medical.sociologist@gmail.com]

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on February 11, 2014.

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