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Not all fat is bad

Fat may be the most loaded word in the English language. Legions of people across the world avoid it like the plague, and think anything to do with it will make them unhealthy and unattractive.

What they might not know is there are good fats and bad fats, and you must have the good ones to be healthy.

According to the National Institutes Of Health, fat is one of three nutrients we need along with protein and carbohydrates.



Indeed, children under age 2 actually need fat and cholesterol for brain development and should not be on fat-restricted diets, the institute said.

But that changes as childhood begins, and not wanting to be fatheads or bodies, people need to know which fats to consume and which to avoid. Essential fatty acids help control blood pressure, blood clotting and inflammations. They also provide energy in the form of calories, and your skin and hair depend on good fats.




“Good fats actually burn the bad fats,” said Lisa Smith, a former health food store owner and now the supplements manager at California Organics in Nevada City. “There are good fats, like in fish, avocados and flaxseed, but people are afraid to consume fats because they think it will make them fat.

“Nature’s fats are totally different than the synthetic fats like in candy bars. Good fats are one of the most misunderstood things in nutrition.”

OK then, what else is good and bad?

The bad boys to avoid are called trans-fats, or trans-fatty acids which form when vegetable oil hardens, according to the health institute. Those “hydrogenated oils” can raise bad cholesterol levels and decrease good levels.

You get trans-fatty acids from the stuff that’s hard to stay away from – cookies, doughnuts, commercially baked goods, crackers and fried foods. Foods made with hydrogenated oils like those in margarine contain lots of trans-fatty acids, which are linked to heart disease.

Hydrogenated oils are linked to saturated fats and the institute said you should never buy anything that has more than 20 percent saturated fats in it. Those fats are found in some vegetable oils, coconut, palm and palm kernel oils, animal products, butter, cheese, whole milk, cream, fatty meats and of course, ice cream.

What nutritionists recommend is using oils with unsaturated fats – both mono and polyunsaturated – which are found in most liquid vegetable, olive, canola, safflower, sunflower, corn and soybean oils.

But don’t use too much, because unsaturated fats have lots of calories.

“It’s all a matter of balance and moderation,” said Linda Johnson, food service director at Nevada Union High School. “Trans-fats are really, really bad for you.

“The first thing I look for in the store is for no trans-fats and stay away from margarine, it’s loaded with trans-fats and chemicals.”

Johnson said the food industry is getting better about labeling products, which makes it easier for consumers to avoid bad fats than it was in the past.

“Everybody has different perceptions, but olive oil and fish with its omega-3 oils are good for you,” Johnson said. “In my life, I have fish once a week.”

Nevada City mom Michelle McCay-Moran agreed while shopping at California Organics.

For her children, “I supplement with omega-3s, fish oils, and I use olive oil and canola oils. I try not to give them any hydrogenated oils because they’re not healthy for you.”

Nevada County newcomer and mother Stacey Rusanzic follows a similar philosophy.

“We buy organic and we only use olive oil because it’s versatile and it’s the best,” Rusanzic said. “Plus, I’m Italian, so it’s probably habit too.”

Suzanne Grass, the food service director at the Grass Valley School District, said weaning bad fat out of student lunches is an ongoing process.

“You want to serve healthy items that children will eat, but no deep frying. We’re trying more fruits and vegetables (which don’t have high fat contents) and salads are gaining in popularity.”

Still, kids want hamburgers, chicken tenders and the like, so Grass began serving “low-fat, whole grain corn dogs made of turkey” just this week. She will also be introducing a whole-grain burrito and has been using apple sauce and plum puree in baked goods to cut bad fat content.

“A hot dog is a hot dog, but you try to put some whole grains with it,” Grass said.

To avoid bad fats at home, Grass eats fish, vegetables, fruit and is partial to pinto beans and hominy wrapped in corn tortillas with salsa.

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To contact senior staff writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem@theunion.com or call 477-4237.

Good fat sources

To be ingested in moderation:

• Olive and canola oils

• Cold-water fish

• Avocados

• Soy products

• Nuts


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