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Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Fats of Life -- Fat Can Be Your Friend

Back in the days when we were weight-obsessed teenagers, there was only one kind of fat  bad. Whether it was sitting on our plates or settling on our thighs, we knew we hated everything about it (except the taste).
Like so many things in life, however, fat has become far more complicated. We cannot live without fat: We need it for energy, insulation and regulating our metabolisms. For every good fat, it seems there is a bad fat  and it's getting harder to know the difference. The old standbys saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated  have been joined by such trendy fats as conjugated linoleic and stearic acids. Cholesterol, too, is ambiguous. Plus, there are dangerous man-made trans fats, which are turning into the stealth bombs of the kitchen.
Not only are there more fats to assess, but experts also differ on how much of each type you should eat. The American Heart Association recommends that a diet include no more than 30 percent total fat: up to 10 percent saturated fats, up to 15 percent monounsaturated and up to 10 percent polyunsaturated.
Proponents of a Mediterranean-style diet, however, point out that southern Europeans, whose diets include a huge proportion of monounsaturated fat  sometimes up to 40 percent of daily calories  traditionally have relatively low rates of heart disease, perhaps in part due to their low intake of saturated fat.
Scientists such as the Harvard School of Public Health's Walter Willett, M.D., conclude that it's probably the type of fat you eat, not the amount, that determines your heart health. This year the International Conference on Mediterranean Diets, a gathering of nutrition researchers, issued a recommendation that Americans stop counting fat grams and concentrate on reducing daily calorie intake.
Adapted from SELF, August 1998

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