Transforming your diet

YOU probably already know that saturated fat, the kind abundant in animal sources such as meats, cheeses and whole dairy products, is nasty, clogging arteries and linked with scores of other health problems. And you may have heard that polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, found in vegetables, nuts and seeds, are the “healthy” kinds, playing a role in lowering cholesterol and reducing inflammation.

But reputations can sometimes be deceiving. Take for example trans-fatty acids, which are made from heart-healthy vegetable oils. Through a cooking process called hydrogenation, these healthy oils are made unhealthy, transformed into a spreadable consistency resembling butter that can raise cholesterol levels. Hundreds of food manufacturers use this process to give their products more texture and a richer, more appealing taste, including many labeled as “low-fat” or “cholesterol-free.”

You’ll know a product is hydrogenated by reading the label. If you see the words “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” the food contains trans-fatty acids and should be avoided or eaten sparingly, especially if the oil is listed among the top four ingredients. Labels that read “may contain one or more of the following” and then list partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, soybean oil or other oils also indicate that the product has been chemically changed and contains trans-fatty acids.

While they may lack saturated fat, hydrogenated products such as margarine can be even more dangerous to your heart. Three studies have found that trans-fatty acids can raise cholesterol even higher than saturated fat, and the damage isn’t only to your arteries. When you eat foods containing these processed hydrogenated oils, it’s like putting sugar in a gas tank, which messes up the combustion of your body, says Dr. Michael A. Klaper, a nutritional medicine specialist and director of the Institute of Nutritional Education and Research, in California. According to him “the cell membrane is transformed from having this flexible, pliable curve that it gets from the “right” fats such as polyunsaturated to becoming straight and rigid through hydrogenation. The trans-fatty acids are not incorporated into the new cell membrane, so cells can’t divide properly. When they do divide, they can have unstable membranes that are prone to breaking, which might put you at increased risk for various diseases, including cancer.”

Gut response
Some say the center of your healing potential is your center – the gut. Most people aren’t aware just how important intestinal health is to overall health. Literally dozens of health woes, including unexpected ones such as mood swings, acne and rashes, may result from problems formed in the gut: bacteria overgrowths, congestion in the intestines or other conditions cause by eating the wrong foods, according to Dr. Elson Haas, director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin in California. Conversely, they can be treated with simple changes in the diet.

Dr. Haas recommends what he calls a detoxification diet, a three-week eating plan that he says purifies the body and helps rid it of scores of congestive problems. Unlike a fast, which avoids solid foods, his plan includes plenty of solids: steamed vegetables, whole grains, fresh fruits and after the initial three-week period, legumes, nuts and other whole foods. It’s a transition plan to help rid the body of toxins and rebalance abnormal yeasts, bacteria and parasites that causes disease. It helps the body heal itself. The proper elimination of these toxins is essential to intestinal and overall health.

Another advantage of this type of diet is that it’s high In fiber, a crucial part of healing with food. High-fiber foods fill you up, so you eat less. That’s important, since many of the health problems that affects us are the result of being overweight. But perhaps even more significant is that fiber helps prevent the absorption of fat and cholesterol from the intestinal tract. There are two kinds of fiber, and they are found in varying degrees in different foods. Soluble fiber is abundant in beans, fruits and grains such as oats, barley and rye. Insoluble fiber is found in vegetables, cereals and grains such as wheat.

Soluble fiber forms a gel-like material that keeps dietary fat and cholesterol from getting to the interior wall of the intestines, where it is absorbed by the body. So if you’re having a fatty food such as steak, be sure to include a soluble-fiber food such as beans with it. You should have most of your fiber with your fattiest meal of the day in order to have it work most effectively. Since soluble fiber inhibits the absorption of dietary fat, it makes sense that it would be most effective when we’re having most of that dietary fat.

The insoluble fiber found in most vegetables doesn’t gel, so it’s less effective at preventing fat from being absorbed. But it still provides a very important benefit—proper elimination, so food and the toxins in it pass through the intestines faster. Once again, this prevents congestion, one of the two reasons for the nutritional imbalance that causes so many health problems.

TAGS: balance, cholesterol, diet, health, wellness
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