Following a Mediterranean type diet and physical activity are returning positive research results for reducing the risk of death. A major health benefit with this diet may be the type of fat consumed.
Scientific evidence shows that consumption of saturated fat, trans fat, and dietary cholesterol raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad cholesterol,” levels, which increases the risk of heart disease.
Although saturated fat is the main dietary culprit that raises LDL, trans fat and dietary cholesterol also contribute significantly.
Saturated fat is found mostly in food from:
- Animals, like beef, veal, lamb, pork, lard, poultry fat, butter, cream, whole milk dairy products, cheeses, and from some plants, such as tropical oils.
- Tropical oils include coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils that are found in commercial cakes, cookies, and salty snack foods ~ unlike other plant oils, these oils have a lot of saturated fatty acids.
- Some processed foods (such as frozen dinners and canned foods) can be quite high in saturated fat.
Trans fatty acids are formed during the process of making cooking oils, margarine, and shortening and are in commercially fried foods, baked goods, cookies, and crackers. Some are naturally found in small amounts in some animal products, such as beef, pork, lamb, and the butterfat in butter and milk.
Don’t get this wrong, fat is a major source of energy for the body and aids in the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K and carotenoids. When eaten in moderation, fat is important for proper growth, development, and maintenance of good health. As a food ingredient, fat provides taste, consistency, and stability and helps you feel full.
While unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) are beneficial when consumed in moderation, saturated and trans fats are not.
Taking a look at the Mediterranean diet you will find:
- High consumption of fruits and vegetables
- Healthy fat consumption such as olive oil
- Small portions of nuts
- Drinking red wine, in moderation, for some
- Very little red meat consumption
- Eating fish regularly
What is noticeably absent from this diet is saturated and trans fats. More than half of all fat-sourced calories in the Mediterranean diet come from monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil.
The next time you reach for oil, you may want to grab the olive. Extra virgin for an even better choice for making that difference.