The Tale of Fats, Cancer, and Heart Disease

The Fats and Oils Story

A hundred years ago, shoppers had few fats to choose from. Usually, only butter and lard were available to consumers.

Today, there are enough fats and oils on the market to confuse anyone. But all of them fall into one of three categories:

  1. Table fats (butter and margarines)
  2. Cooking and salad oils
  3. Shortenings

To  make things simpler, remember just one thing. All of these items are high in fat. In fact, the fat content of shortenings and oils is virtually identical. Butter and margarine have  slightly less fat because these spreads contain a small amount of water that shortenings and oils lack.

The Different Types of Fat

The only important difference between the many fats has to do with what nutritionists call “type of fat.” Some of the fat in food is saturated, while other fats are monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. The saturated type of fat promotes heart disease, but others do not seem to do so. Somehow,  still there are controversies among experts and scientists regarding correlation between saturated fats and heart diseases or/and cancers.

But when it comes to cancer prevention, all fats are equal footing. Scientists believe that eating less of any type of fat will help prevent cancers of the breast, colon, and prostate gland. They have not concluded that any one type of fat has more effect on cancer than another.

This makes the message about fat and cancer much simpler than advice on preventing heart disease. You need only to keep three guidelines in mind concerning the fats and oils in your diet:

  1. Add no more than one pat of margarine to each serving of bread, pasta, or vegetables.
  2. Limit fats and oils used in cooking to no more than 2 tablespoons per 4 servings (3 tablespoons for 6 servings).
  3. Experiment with reduced-fat salad dressings, margarines, and cream cheese; try jams, jellies, and other condiments to replace some of the fat added to food

Saturated or Unsaturated?

For For those who are interested in preventing both heart disease and cancer, I would like to offer some facts about the type of fat in food.

Preventing heart disease means eating less saturated fat, for (dietary) saturated fat is  one of several sources that raise the blood cholesterol level. Of course there are other sources.  High  blood cholesterol is one of the three major factors that determine your risk of heart disease.

Scientists believe that polyunsaturated fats help to lower the blood cholesterol (but some other scientists doubt about this matter; still a controversy). But these fats don’t lower blood cholesterol as efficiently  as saturated fats may raise it. Some people believe that eating less saturated fat is the most important thing to do, but some other people don’t.

All foods contain some of each type of fat, That makes life too complicated, though, because it means that everything is partially saturated, partially monounsaturated, and partially polyunsaturated. Nutritionists have simplified things, calling a fat saturated or unsaturated based on the dominant amount of each fat that the food contains.

The following kinds of fat have enough saturated fat to be simply called saturated:

  • Beef, pork, or lamb fats
  • Milkfat and butter
  • Coconut and palm oils
  • Some industrial shortenings

Industrial shortenings are those used by food companies to make processed foods. Supermarkets do not sell these shortenings, but we encounter them in a wide range of ready-made products. Most vegetable oils and some margarines fall into the polyunsaturated category. There are many to choose from. They include:

  • Corn oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Sesame seed oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Some margarines, most likely those in tubs

Olive oil, peanut oil, many margarines, and some industrial shortenings are monounsaturated. The monounsaturated fats are believed have little or no effect on the blood cholesterol level.

Chicken and fish fats are less saturated than the fat of red meats. For this reason, some nutritionists and heart experts recommend eating more fish and fowl.

( to be continued )