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Fine Tuning Your Fat Intake

February is heart month. Whereas past research focused on the amount of dietary fat as a trigger for cardiovascular disease, we now know that both quantity and qualityof fat impact our blood vessels. From “The New Becoming Vegetarian” (US title), “Becoming Vegetarian” (Canadian title) by Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis, here are 6 steps to making the fat in your diet work for you instead of against you.

Step 1. Get 15 to 35 percent of your calories from fat. If you are inactive, overweight, or have chronic disease, aim for the lower end of this range. People who are lean and active, athletes, teens, and children can aim for the higher end. By15 to 35 percent of calories, how much fat do we mean? For someone eating 2000 calories, this means 2.5 to 5 tablespoons of fat. Good sources are whole plant foods such as those listed below. Note that nuts and seeds are not linked with obesity, unlike concentrated fats and oils and high-fat animal products. Each of the following provides about 1 tablespoon of fat:

* 1/4 cup nuts or seeds
* 1/2 avocado
* 20 olives
* 1 cup medium tofu
* 1/2 cup firm tofu or tempeh
* 2 cups regular soymilk
* 1/2 cup shredded coconut

Note that 1 tablespoon of fat or oil is entirely fat.

Step 2. Minimize your intake of trans fatty acids.

Trans fatty acids should make up less than 1 percent of your calories; an intake of zero is better still. Accomplish this by restricting or eliminating foods containing hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated fats: cookies, crackers, pastries, pies, snack foods, hydrogenated margarine, shortening, and most fried foods. Don’t be fooled by a label declaration of “all-vegetable oil”. Read the ingredient list! Dairy products also contain trans fats.

Step 3. Limit saturated fats. Restrict saturated fats to 7 percent of calories or less; avoid the heavy hitters such as butter, cheese, eggs, fatty animal products, and tropical oils. If you use dairy, replace whole milk and sour cream with skim milk and non-fat yogurt. Spread your toast with nutritious almond or cashew butter. For breakfast, try scrambled tofu. In baking, substitute ground flaxseeds for eggs.

Step 4. Keep your intake of omega-6 fatty acids moderate. We require some dietary omega-6 fatty acids; excellent sources are sunflower, pumpkin, and sesame seeds. Along with valuable fats, seeds deliver minerals (zinc, copper) plus vitamin E. Most Canadians consume too many omega 6’s because these are plentiful in a great many foods and in the oils (corn, safflower, sunflower, soy, cottonseed) used in processed foods. Such oils provide omega 6’s, but without other beneficial nutrients found in whole foods.

Step 5. Select reliable sources of omega-3 fatty acids. The other fats that we need are omega-3 fatty acids; these are present in far fewer foods. We require 3 to 6 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day. Excellent sources are flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, hempseeds, hempseed oil, canola oil, and walnuts. Each of the following provides 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids:

* 1 tsp. flaxseed oil
* 1 tbsp. hempseed oil
* 2 tbsp. ground flaxseeds
* 2 tbsp. canola oil
* 1/4 cup walnuts

A few other foods also contribute to our intake; we get 1 gram of omega-3 fatty acids from 10 cups of dark leafy greens, 1 cup of soybeans, or 6 ounces of firm tofu. Fish provide long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (DHA), however serious environmental, health, and animal rights issues make this choice less than ideal. However, fish get their omega 3’s from micro-algae and we can get this DHA in veggie caps (www.veganessentials.com). When using these supplements, 100-300 mg/day DHA is generally recommended (higher end of the range for pregnant and lactating women).

Step 6. Rely on whole foods. The highest-quality fat comes from fresh, whole foods, such as nuts, seeds, olives, avocados and soyfoods. Wherever possible, rely on these instead of concentrated fats and oils for most of your fat. Whole foods come carefully packaged by nature to protect them from damaging light, heat and air. Whole plant foods provide phytochemicals, including antioxidants, plant sterols, vitamins, minerals and are the very best sources of essential fatty acids.

Vesanto Melina is an author of seven food and nutrition classics. She has been a staff dietitian with Dr. Dean Ornish’s renowned heart disease reversal program. For personal consultations, call her home office (604-882-6782) or Fort Integrated Health Clinic (604-888-8325). Website: www.nutrispeak.com

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