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  Latest update: 1/1/2022

Classification of Dietary Fats

All fat is not the same, except for their Caloric value (9 Calories per gram). A teaspoon of lard (bad for you) has the same number of Calories as a teaspoon of olive oil (considered by most as a good fat). Read more about how fats can fit into a healthy lifestyle - A Healthy Lifestyle with an Emphasis on Dietary Factors

HDL versus LDL (and cholesterol)

Fat in the diet (and body fat as well) is in the form of fatty acids and cholesterol. A certain amount of cholesterol is needed as an important component in the structure of cell walls. But too much cholesterol, which is synthesized in the liver as well as from your diet, can cause fatty deposit in blood vessel walls. Cholesterol is transported to the cells by special molecules called lipoproteins. The two main lipoproteins are LDL and HDL. HDL is better than LDL from the perspective of developing fatty deposits in blood vessel walls - it appears that LDL is the major culprit in allowing deposits to form while HDL may actually be able to transport some cholesterol OUT of the blood vessel walls. What you want is a high HDL/LDL ratio.

This Dr. Mirkin blog from 2020 updates what we know about HDL and explains why a high HDL alone is not a reliable indicator of cardiovascular health. The reason? There are 2 forms of HDL - regular HDL cholesterol and another form called Nascent HDL. NHDL can clear plaque-forming particles from the arteries, and carry them to the liver, a thousand times faster than regular HDL and as such is much more effective in preventing cholesterol build up in artery wall plaque. The current test for HDL cholesterol does not differentiate the two types. Thus a high HDL by itself does not provide the whole picture.


Is there a "good" fat? Mono unsaturated fats are the preferred form of fat within the limits of a normal diet. Trans fats, which are found in a multitude of processed foods (referred to as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil on the label) should be avoided whenever possible. And check the label carefully. A product which "contains no cholesterol", may still contain trans fats. Other tips to help you avoid the really bad trans fats include checking your margarine to be sure it contains only liquid vegetable oil, experimenting with preparing recipes with olive or canola oil instead of margarine, and using canola or olive oil when you stir fry.

FISH and FAT (omega-3 fatty acids)

There are many studies that have supported the benefits of eating fatty fish - albacore tuna, salmon, and mackerel - at least two to three times a week. And it appears that the omega-3 fatty acids are the heart healthy component. This is based on the observation that eating an equal number of servings per week of fish with a low omega-3 fat levels has no effect on heart attack risk. Vegetarians can find omega-3 fatty acids in ground flax seed (and its oil) as well as in walnuts.

The current recommended daily intake has been set at 0.3 to 0.4 grams. What are the best fish for omega-3s?

Fish Grms Omega-3/3.5 oz serving
Mackerel 2.3 grams
Albacore tuna 2.1 grams
Herring, Atlantic 1.6 grams
Anchovy 1.5 grams
Wild King Salmon 1.4 grams
Bluefin Tuna 1.2 grams
Silver Salmon 0.8 grams
Farm raised Atlantic Salmon 0.6 grams
swordfish & trout 0.6 grams

But there are also some risk factors associated with eating fish. Some fish, at the bottom of the food chain, concentrate certain unhealthy substances such as PCBs and mercury. And as these compounds tend to accumulate in fat, fatty fish can be harmful in some cases as well. Unsafe levels of mercury, for example, have been found in swordfish, shark, tuna, mackerel, and tilefish. At the moment the FDA recommends that women and nursing mothers minimize their intake of these fish because of the sensitivity of the neurologic system of developing children to the toxic effects of mercury.

All questions and suggestions are appreciated and will be answered.

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