Did you know that February is American Heart Month? I thought it would be fit to emphasize on how even swimmers should consider prevention when it comes to the health of their hearts. People often think that if we exercise we are allowed to go all out on junk & fatty foods without worrying about health consequences, given that we are going to burn them off anyways. Isn’t that true?
Let me clarify that fat by itself is not a culprit although often when talking about heart health, we rush to attack fats. Fats play an important role in our health and our fat stores provide our skeletal muscles with relevant sources of energy during exercise; they also have important structural roles in our nervous system, tissue structure and our memory storage.
Athletes can have diets that are moderate in fats without worrying, but which fats should we exactly opt for? And which ones should we avoid?
Saturated, unsaturated fats and cholesterol… What is the difference?
Saturated fats are mainly present in animal sources and they are solid at room temperature, whereas unsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature and they are found mainly in plant sources. Unsaturated fats are generally categorized into polyunsaturated (omega 3 & omega 6) and monounsaturated. Both saturated and unsaturated fats provide us with energy (about 9Kcal for every 1g).
Trans-fats are yet another type of fats that yield energy (9 Kcal per 1g); these fats are often also referred to as partially hydrogenated fats. Trans-fats are mostly commercially prepared and only sparingly found naturally in foods; their aim of hydrogenation is to make their structure similar to saturated fats and allow them to be used in packaged foods.
Dietary cholesterol, on the other hand, is fat-like substance produced by our liver and also found in animal products (only found in animal products! So nuts do NOT contain cholesterol!); therefore we do not require dietary cholesterol in large amounts, given that our body can already produce it. It is also important to note that dietary cholesterol does not yield any energy.
Role of fats on health
Typically diets high in saturated fats, trans-fats and dietary cholesterol have negative effects on heart health, and when consumed in high amounts they increase our bad blood cholesterol (LDL), which in turn plays a role in the development of heart diseases.
Diets high in unsaturated fats, particularly monounsaturated fats and omega 3 fatty acids, may on the contrary have protective roles on our heart’s health.
Sources of fats in food:
– Saturated & trans-fats
Butter, animal fats, full fat dairy products, and most animal derived products that contain fats are usually high in saturated fats and they should be consumed in moderation (fish is an exception).
Commercially prepared biscuits, chocolates, pastries, and baked goods are usually high in trans-fats and they should be minimized in our diets.
– Unsaturated fats
Olives, olive oil, peanuts, almonds, and avocados are all great sources on monounsaturated fats that provide us with some protection. Whereas, fish, walnuts and flaxseeds are excellent sources of omega 3 fatty acids which also seem to play a great role in our cardiovascular health (omega 3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fats).
At last omega 6 fatty acids are typically found in oils, nuts & seeds and should be consumed moderately within a balanced diet.
I am sure that by now you feel that I have given you a biology lecture with complicated names and details; but to simplify it for those whom I confused; I just want you to keep in mind that all fats can be consumed in moderation as long as they are part of a balanced & varied diet. Some preference should be given to the fats we called unsaturated and some attention to the saturated ones, and at last try to minimize consumptions of the trans-fats.
Happy Heart Month everyone… Remember prevention is the key <3by