I just read an interesting article in the New York Times about fat and heart disease “Study Questions Fat and Heart Disease Link” by Anahad O’Conor. For many years, saturated fat was maligned as the cause of heart and other cardiovascular diseases. However, a recent study has shown that there is no clear link between the consumption of saturated fat and heart disease.
Fats are crucial to health and well-being for several reasons: they provide the highest concentration of energy of all nutrients; support healthy cell membranes; surround our vital organs; and insulate our bodies from extreme temperatures. Finally, and very importantly, fats help you feel full (this fact explains why low fat diets tend not to be very successful). Moreover, some vitamins are only absorbable with fat, namely vitamins A, D, E and K. The key then is to choose healthy fats.
There are several different kinds of fats and what differentiates them is the chemical bonds between the atoms. I won’t get into the details of that here, suffice it to say the following:
- Saturated fats are fats that are solid at room temperature, and come primarily from animal sources , such as meat, butter, and coconut oil.
- Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature.
- Monounsaturated fats are oils made from nuts and seeds, such as olive oil, almond oil, and other nut and seed oils.
- Polyunsaturated fats are found in nuts, seeds, algae, fish and plant-based foods. Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats. Omega 3s fatty acids are found in fish, flaxseed oils, and walnuts. Omega 6 fatty acids are found in corn, safflower, sunflower and soybean oil.
- Transfats read as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils on food labels. These are essentially man-made fats. They are created when polyunsaturated fats are hardened by a process called hydrogenation. Research has shown that transfats may cause cancer and heart disease. As a matter of fact, the New York Times article notes, “The researchers did find a link between trans- fats, the now widely maligned partially hydrogenated oils that had long been added to processed foods, and heart disease. But they found no evidence of dangers from saturated fat, or benefits from other kinds of fats.”
Recent research is indicating that other contributors to cardiovascular disease are refined carbohydrates, in particular sugar, white bread, or pasta. As the article notes, “The smaller, more artery-clogging particles are increased not by saturated fat, but by sugary foods and an excess of carbohydrates, Dr. Chowdhury said. “It’s the high carbohydrate or sugary diet that should be the focus of dietary guidelines,” he said. “If anything is driving your low-density lipoproteins in a more adverse way, it’s carbohydrates.” ” Indeed, consuming too much sugar, refined carbohydrates, starches and processed foods can lead to inflammation in the body which, in turn, can lead to cardiovascular diseases.
Scientists and physicians extol the benefits of a Mediterranean Diet, in particular when it comes to supporting heart health. The main thing about a Mediterranean Diet is that it emphasizes fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, nuts, seeds and whole grains. I think it’s not so much about following one diet or another, but about focusing on whole, real foods and minimizing the consumption of refined and processed foods.
Fats I like to use:
- Olive oil
- Pastured butter from grass-fed cows
- Coconut oil
- Unrefined sesame oil
- Occasionally, grapeseed or sunflower seed oil
Beluga Lentils with Leeks, Carrots,
Parsnips, and Chard
This winter I rediscovered and fell in love with Beluga lentils. And, while
Spring is almost here, I think this is a delicious dish for anytime of year.
You can make it more seasonal by changing the mix of vegetables.
6 cups water
5 Tbsp. organic unsalted butter
2 leeks, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
3 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
3 parsnips, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tsp. grainy mustard
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
3/4-cup vegetable stock
1 bunch Swiss chard, trimmed and sliced into thin strips
1 Tbsp. sliced fresh chives
1 tsp. chopped fresh tarragon
Freshly ground black pepper
- 1. Combine lentils, water, and 1 tsp. salt in a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat,
and simmer until lentils are cooked, about 25 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- 2. Rinse pot and then heat 2 Tbsp. of the butter. Gently sauté leeks, carrots, and
parsnips for 3 to 4 minutes. Lower heat, cover pot, and cook an additional 5 minutes,
until carrots and parsnips are soft.
- 3. In a small bowl, mix the remaining 3 Tbsp. (room-temperature) butter with the
mustard and lemon juice.
- 4. Add lentils, mustard-butter mixture, stock, Swiss chard, chives, and tarragon to pot.
Cook until chard is wilted, another 5 to 6 minutes. Season with salt and freshly
ground black pepper.
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