Bad Fat 

Here's what you need to know about saturated and trans fats

Last week I talked about how the basic units of fat are fatty acids; how different fats are determined by the composition or mixture of fatty acids in fats and oils; and also what fats are for. I also talked about how the fat in food once ingested and digested enters your bloodstream in form of triglycerides. This week, I’d like to focus on “bad” fats.

Saturated fatty acids or “bad” fats

The amount of saturation of fatty acids in fat determines the temperature at which it melts. The more unsaturated the fat, the more liquid it remains at room temperature. And, of course, the more saturated it is the more solid it remains at room temperature.

Saturated fats are more stable than the unsaturated kind, so are less likely to break down or become rancid.

Trans fatty acids are the product of the deliberate and artificial saturation or hydrogenation of oil—man-made tinkering at the molecular level—which results in a type of fat higher in saturated fatty acids than regular liquid oils and the molecular transformation or change of monounsaturated fatty acids. Hence the name trans fats.

Many types of vegetable oils are used in making vegetable shortening, which becomes firm when hydrogen gas is added to the blend of oils, (just like margarine). Trans fats are formed during the hydrogenation process. Partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening and some margarines remain solid at room temperature.

The unhealthful partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, for instance, helps make food more flavorful, preserves it longer and gives it better texture and an appearance of freshness as it sits on supermarket shelves for weeks or months. That’s why fast food chains, “family” restaurants, diners, bakeries and other food stores often use hydrogenated Amira Elganvegetable shortening for frying and baking.

Packaged food made with saturated fats and trans fats has a longer “shelf life” and a more consistent appearance over time. When customers don’t know or care about the dramatic health differences between good and bad fats, food companies find it more profitable to use.

What makes bad fats so bad

High levels of fats or triglycerides in the body may cause serious health problems dramatically increasing risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and even certain cancers.

Studies show that both saturated fats and trans fats are associated with increased risk cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.

Specific studies on trans fats show that they contribute to type II diabetes, increase the risk of coronary heart disease and cause some cancers and other ailments.

High intake of red meat and full-fat dairy has been linked to a higher risk of breast cancer in women of all ages. And cooked meat has been found to be a carrier of carcinogens associated with colon cancer.

Some scientists believe that saturated fats found mainly in animal sources such as meats and dairy products are bad because they raise bad cholesterol levels leading to coronary heart disease. But more alarmingly, they believe that trans fats are worse because they not only raise bad cholesterol but also actively lower levels of high-density lipoprotein (the good cholesterol).

Where “bad” fats come from

Saturated fat is found in foods like beef tallow, butter, certain oils, meat, eggs and other dairy products.

The main sources of saturated fats include egg yolks, red meat, pork, chicken with skin, ice cream, creams, butter, other dairy products, lard, palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil.

Generally, we see liquid vegetable oils as good sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, and low in saturated fats. Coconut and palm kernel oils are exceptions to that rule. These oils are deceitfully healthy in appearance but contain more than 80 percent saturated fatty acids by weight, so it’s best to avoid them.

Trans fatty acids are found in lesser amounts in meat and milk products. But trans fats are commonly found in greater quantity in foods that also are high in saturated fat such as some margarines, vegetable shortenings, doughnuts, cookies, baked goods, snack food, candy bars, fried food, salad dressings, frozen food, some cereals and other commons convenience foods.

Your best defense against “bad” fats is to make your own meals from scratch using wholesome high quality, fresh ingredients. But when that’s not option, understanding your food choices and ingredients is the next best possible solution. And, of course, always avoid junk food.

Stay tuned for next week when I discuss in greater detail the “good” fats and sources of them. 

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Reader Feedback

Good Morning Amira!

Thank you for today's newsletter on FATS. On June 7th this year, at age 51, I suffered a heart attack. I spent two weeks in two different hospitals being poked and prodded, and ended up with a stainless steel stent in my heart and a torn abdominal aorta from a botched heart catherization. I was told to start changing my diet or die, basically. So I am now on low fat, low cholesterol, low sodium diet (with lots of PILLS thrown in for fun). I've been studying and searching the internet for information. It was nice to just receive GOOD information in my inbox this morning!! Keep 'em coming! Thanks again.

M. W., Houston, Texas

Reader Q&A

Q: Could you tell me if there is a natural food or herb that can take garlic breath away? I love garlic so much, but hate the bad garlic breath afterwards. So much that I have stopped eating anything with garlic, and I know I'm depriving myself of a very beneficial natural food. Any ideas? ....thanks, I love your newsletter, I have been forwarding them to friends......... cmbjazzz

A: There aren’t many things that inhibit the sulfur compounds in garlic that cause "dragon breath" but here are some things that can help:

• Eat some fresh parsley (chewing thoroughly) immediately after eating garlic

• Chew on fresh wintergreen or mint leaves

• Eat baked beets (beet roots)*

• Floss to get rid of food and garlic particles caught between teeth

• Brush teeth to clean them but more importantly, scrape the surface of the tongue with the toothbrush

• Use natural toothpaste with wintergreen and baking soda

• For temporary fresh breath during close encounters, use a natural mouthwash with zinc or tea tree oil in it (Jason Power Smile is excellent)

* To baked beets, trim leaves (beet greens) leaving 1 inch of stem attached. The beet roots should not be trimmed. Wash and wrap in parchment paper or aluminum foil and bake in a preheated 400ºF oven for 1-1/2 to 2 hours until tender but firm enough to grate and use in salads. Remove skin under cold running water.

Words of Wisdom

To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.

Anatole France

Good Things In Store

Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is a valuable food supplement for anyone, but especially for vegans and vegetarians. It is an excellent source of high quality protein, B-complex vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, folic acid and antioxidants.

Nutritional yeast belongs to the edible mushroom family and is grown from strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae on mixtures of cane and beet mineral rich molasses. Once the fermentation has been completed, the nutritional yeast is harvested, washed and pasteurized to kill the yeast then finally dried on roller drum dryers.

The yellowish dry crumbly and flaky granules have no leavening properties—it’s inactive yeast with nutty, cheesy flavor.

Nutritional yeast adds great nutrition value to meals. In theory, it can be added to any food or drink. In practice it’s a matter of taste -- literally. I must confess that I don’t like the taste of nutritional yeast, but I try to tolerate it in certain foods.

Nutritional yeast provides many components that are beneficial for health. For example, the trace mineral chromium in it helps regulate blood sugar. The rich concentration of B-complex vitamins is good for fighting depression, stress, migraines, anxiety, nervous disorders, asthma, anemia, allergies, PMS, hair loss, heart disease and even bad breath.

Nutritional yeast is a natural source of B12, which is great for the prevention of anemia and nerve damage. It also helps digestion, helps during pregnancy and lactation, is good for treating heart palpitations, abdominal problems, nervousness, insomnia, PMS, skin problems, memory loss, fatigue and asthma.

The best kind I’ve seen is Red Star Nutritional Yeast, Vegetarian Support Formula T6635+ (manufactured by Lasaffre for Red Star). It does not contain sugars, preservatives or genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

You can find it at health food stores in flaked or powdered form. Yeast should last for months if stored in a cool, dark, dry place or keep in the fridge tightly sealed.

Here are the main benefits of Red Star Nutritional Yeast:

- Cholesterol free

- Low fat (no saturated fat), low sodium

- No dairy, added sugars, preservatives or GMO

- High quality protein

- High concentration of B-complex vitamins (it’s a natural source of B12)
- Rich in fiber (good for lowering cholesterol and reducing risk of cardiovascular disease)

- Contains glutathione, an antioxidant to protect cells from free radicals

- Kosher certified (excluding Passover)

Your daily intake of nutritional yeast should not exceed 2 tablespoons, as more may increase the uric acid content in your bloodstream and thereby stress the kidneys.

Two tablespoons of nutritional yeast contains 60 calories, 1 gram of unsaturated fat, 7g of carbohydrates, 4g of fiber, 8g of protein plus lots of vitamins and minerals. Here are some suggested uses of this extraordinary food supplement:

- Add 1 tablespoon to 2 cups of mixture for veggie burgers
- Add ½ teaspoon to 1 cup of liquid for sauces or gravies,
- Add 1 teaspoon per cup of flour to baked goods
- Add 1 tablespoon of it to your glass of juice, smoothie or health beverage.

Heck, you can even add it to your pet’s food. Your cat or dog will certainly enjoy the benefit of eliminating nasty fleas, and they may even be vane enough to appreciate healthier skin and a nicer looking coat of hair.

Good News

I have created a companion Web site for those of you interested in keeping up with health related news. It's called Vegetarian Organic News, and you can visit the site regularly to stay on top of what's happening in the world that affects our food and our health. Click here to visit the site

Vegetarian Organic Recipe of the Week

Luscious Lentil Soup (vegan)
Serves 4 to 6

This lentil soup is unbelievably tasty and extraordinarily good for you. This nutritious one-dish meal provides complete protein, has a negligible amount of fat and really fills you up. Lentils are high in healthy fiber (great for the heart and diabetes), folate, vitamin B6 and magnesium, all extremely beneficial for cardiovascular health.

Preparation time: 10 minutes Cooking time: 50 minutes Equipment: Food processor or blender

Get ingredients ready (use organic ingredients if possible)
1 tablespoon unrefined safflower oil
8 fresh garlic cloves
½ medium yellow onion cut in 4 pieces
5 fresh plum tomatoes cut in quarters
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
⅓ cup basmati long grain brown rice
5 cups fat-free vegetable broth or stock
5 cups water for cooking
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper powder
1 cup dried lentils (sorted; free of debris, rinsed with cool water and drained)
¼ cup fresh chopped cilantro leaves
2 large carrots washed, ends trimmed and cut in quarters
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Heat oil on a large pot over low heat. Meanwhile, process 4 garlic cloves and 2 pieces of onion in the food processor or blender until finely chopped. Keep processor handy to use again but, in the meantime, put the garlic and onion mixture in the pot stirring and sautéing for 3 minutes or until lightly browned.

2. Simultaneously, put tomatoes, thyme and remaining garlic and onions in the food processor and puree until almost of smooth consistency (don’t put that food processor away yet). Transfer tomato mixture into the sautéing garlic and onions pot and stir well. Stir in while mixing well the rice, broth, water and cayenne simmering covered with lid for 15 minutes (set timer).

3. Meanwhile, in the food processor, combine chopped cilantro and carrots and chop until carrots are diced into very small pieces (almost finely chopped). Add carrots and cilantro mixture and lentils to rice, mixing well. Cover and simmer over low to medium heat for 35 additional minutes stirring occasionally or until lentils are tender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Leftovers should keep for 5 days or so in the refrigerator.

Cook’s tip: For a second easy meal made with 2 to 3 cups of leftover lentil soup:
- Sauté 2 cups of cubed firm fresh tofu or baked tofu, or 1 cup of crumbled tempeh over low heat with one tablespoon of safflower oil and 2 minced cloves of garlic for 5 minutes.
- Add lentils leftovers to tofu or tempeh, ½ teaspoon of cumin, ¼ teaspoon of paprika and salt and pepper to taste sautéing for 15 minutes over low heat. And voila—a second delicious and nutrient rich simple meal for your enjoyment.


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Comments? Please send e-mail to Amira at [email protected]


This newsletter is not intended to provide and replace medical advice. The author and editor expressly disclaim all responsibility for any adverse effects resulting from any information, diet or exercise suggestions. It is imperative that the advice of a physician is sought before any diet or exercise programs are adopted.