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Understanding Good, Bad & Ugly Fats


Understanding Good, Bad & Ugly Fats

Heart disease is the unsung health epidemic in our culture. According to the CDC, approximately 610,000 people die of heart disease every year in the United States. That’s one out of every four ending in mortality, and the leading cause of death in both men and women.

The five major risk factors for heart disease are high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, family history and an abnormal lipid profile or blood fats. Although it might seem like a person with abnormal blood fats is easy to spot, this risk factor isn’t always related to being overweight or obese.

“Fat” can encompass a lot of concepts, so understanding the variations and how it’s measured will help you keep your long-term health in check. It’s time to review the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good Fat

A standard lipid panel generally includes readings for total cholesterol, LDL, HDL and triglycerides. HDL cholesterol is the “good” stuff. This type of cholesterol consists of high-density lipoproteins, which mop up fat and take it to the liver for breakdown. High levels of HDL (60mg/dL) are better.

You can boost this number by regular exercise and moderate alcohol intake; one or two servings per day day to decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease.

The Bad Fat

High LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol and triglycerides is an independent risk factor for heart attack and stroke. The “bad” cholesterol is LDL, which circulates throughout the body and may eventually wiggle into the arteries of your heart as plaque deposits. When the body doesn’t use all energy in a given meal, those excess calories are stored in the body as fats called triglycerides.

Aim for an LDL under 100mg/dL, total cholesterol under 200mg/dL and triglycerides under 150mg/dL. To keep all numbers in check, limit your refined sugar intake to no more than 100 to 150 calories per day and keep your saturated fat intake low — just one or two grams per day. Stick to “healthy” monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in staples like olive oil, fish, avocado and nut butters along with the naturally occurring sugars found in fruit.

The Ugly Fat

Not all fat is invisible, though. Another fat to monitor is the visible kind already laid on your body, which typically includes visceral and subcutaneous fats. Visceral fat wraps around your organs (and your belly), and subcutaneous fat is found directly below the surface of the skin. Not only does this excess “ugly” fat promote other risk factors for heart disease, including diabetes and high blood pressure, but the pressure and inflammation also causes joints to go before their time.

This type of fat is best controlled through healthy diet and exercise. Experts are beginning to suggest that waist circumference may be a better measurement for health than Body Mass Index (BMI); women should remain under 35 inches and men under 40 inches.

Now the next time you get screened at the doc, you’ll know what your labs mean. Know your fats, protect your heart.


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