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NUTS: great help to reduce the LDL (bad) cholesterol

It’s smart to limit calories that come from fat, especially saturated fat
By Consumers Union of United States Inc., Published: March 5

You probably know that eating lots of high-fat food comes at a price: a thicker waistline and, if you load up on saturated or trans fats, an increased risk of heart disease and other problems. But what if you literally had to pay to eat fat?

That’s happening in Denmark, where, in an attempt to improve public health, the government recently enacted a “fat tax” of about id="mce_marker".50 per pound on food — such as bacon, butter, fast food and pastries — that contains more than 2.3 percent saturated fat.

There’s no such plan in the works in the United States, but there are plenty of other reasons to limit the calories in your diet that come from fats and certainly those from saturated fat. The simplest one is that all types of fat, even the healthful ones, contribute a lot of calories: nine per gram vs. four in a gram of carbohydrates or protein. That’s significant if you’re trying to lose or maintain weight.

At the same time, foods with both fat and protein can actually help prevent you from overeating, since they keep you feeling full longer. And some fats, like the omega-3 fatty acids in fish, can lower blood pressure and provide other health benefits.

Here’s a rundown of some of the latest research on how different fats affect your health.

Fat and your health

A fatty diet was once considered a first-class ticket to heart disease. But later research revealed that the situation was far more nuanced. There’s strong evidence that eating monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, found in foods such as wild salmon and trout, nuts, avocados and most vegetable oils, actually cuts the risk of heart disease and other problems. For example, a 2011 review of 50 studies found that the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in healthful fats, was linked to a more healthful waist circumference, better blood pressure, improved HDL (good) cholesterol and lower triglyceride levels compared with various other diets. Other research has suggested that people who regularly cook with olive oil and use it as dressing are less likely to have a stroke than do those who never use it.

Saturated fat, on the other hand, is problematic because it kicks your body’s production of cholesterol into overdrive. That’s why limiting this fat, which is found mostly in animal foods and plant sources such as coconuts and palm oil, is a key lifestyle measure for people with heart disease. And a June 2011 study suggested that a diet low in saturated fat and refined carbohydrates could reduce a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Furthermore, recent research suggests that cutting back on saturated fat shouldn’t be your only strategy. It’s also smart to increase your intake of food that has cholesterol-lowering properties. In one six-month study, for example, people who reduced their saturated-fat intake while also consuming a diet heavy in plant sterols, soy protein, fiber and nuts reduced their LDL (bad) cholesterol levels more than those who focused only on cutting saturated fat. And a recent review of 48 studies concluded that replacing some saturated fats with more-healthful ones reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by 14 percent.

Trans fat: always bad

There’s no controversy when it comes to trans fat. Found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, it both increases LDL cholesterol and decreases HDL cholesterol. High intake has been consistently linked to an increased risk of heart disease. It also may raise the risk of depression, according to a 2011 study of 12,059 adults.

Trans-fat consumption has declined since 2006, when it became mandatory to list it on labels. But you can still find it in some margarines and baked goods. And food labels that show zero grams of trans fat can still contain up to 0.5 grams per serving. So check the list of ingredients for partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Copyright 2012. Consumers Union of United States Inc.

Almonds, pistachios part of good-for-you recipes

In your mission to eat healthier this year, you've axed iced cinnamon rolls and breaded shrimp off your shopping list. Just don't cross off nuts.

Many nut varieties can be part of a healthful eating plan, contributing fiber, protein and heart-healthy fats to your meals and even helping you shed pounds.

“If you look at cultures around the world, those who have done a better job of maintaining their weight include nuts on their diets,” says David Grotto, an Elmhurst dietitian and author of “101 Foods That Could Save Your Life.”

Even in America, he said, researchers recently concluded that people who ate one to two handfuls of almonds a day lost more weight and kept it off longer than the study group that didn't eat almonds.

Grotto, who is penning a third book, says it appears nuts satisfy us more than other snacks and they may contain a compound that prevents their fats from being absorbed into our bodies.

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, when people substitute nuts for choices such as fatty meat and deep-fried foods high in saturated or trans fats, blood cholesterol usually declines.

“Plant sterols work like a sponge sucking up cholesterol,” Grotto explains.

Nuts contain mostly the good-for-you monounsaturated fat; almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pistachios, pine nuts and pecans all have 3 grams or less of cholesterol-raising saturated fat in a 1½-ounce (about ? cup) serving. Walnuts are high in polyunsaturated fat, some of which is a heart-healthy omega-3 fat similar to that found in salmon and other fatty fish.

Cashews and almonds are especially high in magnesium, pecans are loaded with manganese and pistachios are rich in vitamin B-6. Brazil nuts are an outstanding source of the antioxidant mineral selenium. Almonds are exceptional sources of vitamin E, another antioxidant; hazelnuts, peanuts and Brazil nuts are also good sources.

“Macadamia nuts are the highest source (among nuts) for monounsaturated fat; they're also the most calorie-dense so a small amount might be good, but not an entire box,” Grotto says.

Indeed portion control is key.

Since nuts contain 240 to 285 calories per ? cup, make sure that you don't add them to your diet without dropping less-healthy alternatives.

Outside of just snacking on almonds or pistachios while at work or playing Angry Birds, nuts can add their protein, fiber and nutrients to numerous sweet and savory recipes. Add chopped nuts to your favorite muffin recipe, stir them into oatmeal, sprinkle them into rice pilaf or swirl some into yogurt.

At America's Test Kitchen, editors working on “Light & Healthy 2012” found they could boost the flavor and nutrition profile of their breaded chicken breasts with toasted nuts. Editors noted that “in countless baking recipes we toast nuts to deepen their flavor. We were already toasting the bread crumbs, so why not toast the nuts along with them?”

The results: “our tasters couldn't stop reaching for second helpings ...”

By Deborah Pankey


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