Fewer than half of Americans realize there are two types of dietary fat that actually help their hearts, a new survey shows.
So, while many have heeded the warnings about the cardiovascular dangers of trans fats and saturated fats, the American Heart Association (AHA) now thinks people need to pay more attention to the cardiovascular benefits conferred by polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
As a result of its recent survey, the AHA's new Face the Fats campaign has harnessed the power of the Internet to encourage people to view these lesser known fats with new respect.
"We're trying to take education to the next level and say when you have the opportunity to choose, choose the better fat, not the bad fat," says Dr. Clyde W. Yancy, medical director of the Baylor Heart and Vascular Institute in Dallas and the incoming president of the AHA.
The campaign's Web page presents information at varying levels of sophistication.
The pages include an interactive quiz on fats, menus, recipes, and a Fats 101 course. A Fats Translator calculates a body-mass index from the input of height, weight, age, and level of activity.
The index is a scale ranging from underweight to obesity.
The AHA decided to go digital in this phase of its campaign because "the Web really is becoming the world's premier information source, so we have to be there," adds Dr. Yancy.
"When we have lots of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats in our diet, our HDL cholesterol goes up and helps protect our arteries from clogging up and hardening," explains Lona Sandon at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
"HDL kind of acts like a broom and sweeps up the artery-damaging molecules and takes them away," she says.
Trans fats and saturated fats are more able to stick to blood vessel walls and harden arteries, adds Dr. Yancy.
This process can lead to the rupture of an artery or obstructed blood vessels that can cause heart attacks, strokes, or blood vessel disease.
Sandon supports the idea of greater education on the different forms of dietary fat.
"I think it's still very confusing for people," she says. "They don't know if they should be eating low fat, what kind of fat."
She also advises moderation in consumption of any kind of fat. All fats have nine calories per gram, she explained, so even too much of the better fats can lead to weight gain. "They're healthy, but you can't go wild with them," she says.
The Face the Fats campaign is funded by $7 million received from McDonalds USA as part of the settlement of a California class action lawsuit brought by a consumer advocacy group, bantransfat.com, according to the AHA.
McDonald's recently announced that it has eliminated trans fats from its fried foods by changing to a canola-based cooking oil.
Always consult your physician for more information.
Remember: "cholesterol-free" does not mean "fat-free."
Dietary cholesterol is a fat-like substance found in all foods of animal origin: egg yolks, meat, poultry, fish, milk, and milk products.
Because our bodies make cholesterol, it is not required in our diets. However, because most people eat foods that contain cholesterol, it is important to avoid excessive amounts.
The amount of cholesterol you consume can affect your blood cholesterol levels.
Fatty acids are the basic chemical units in fat. They may be saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, or trans fats.
These fatty acids differ in their chemical compositions and structures, and in the way in which they affect your blood cholesterol levels.
Saturated fat is used by the liver to manufacture cholesterol.
It is considered the most dangerous kind of fat because it has been shown to raise blood cholesterol levels, particularly the LDL, and should comprise no more than 10 percent of your daily calorie intake.
Examples include: meats, butter, cocoa butter, coconut, and palm oils.
Polyunsaturated fats do not appear to raise blood cholesterol levels.
Examples include: safflower, sunflower, corn, and vegetable oils, margarines, and soybean oils.
Monounsaturated fats do not seem to have any affect on blood cholesterol. Examples include olive and canola oils.
Trans fats are by-products of hydrogenation, a chemical process used to change liquid unsaturated fat to a more solid fat. Structurally similar to saturated fat, trans fatty acids may have a great impact on raising total and LDL cholesterol levels. Examples include stick margarine and fats found in commercially prepared cakes, cookies, and snack foods.
Total fat intake should be no more than 30 percent of your daily calorie intake.
All fats contain about the same number of calories - teaspoon for teaspoon. There is no low-fat fat.
Fat is the most concentrated source of calories, supplying more than twice as many calories per gram as either carbohydrates or proteins.
Most people tend to get far too much fat in their diet, which contributes to health problems such as obesity, high blood cholesterol, and heart disease.
While coconut and palm oils contain no cholesterol, they are high in saturated fat and should be avoided.
Always consult your physician for more information.