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How Diet Can Keep You Young!

Article 1:

When It Comes to Fats, You Definitely Are What You Eat!

by Susan Stevensen, M.Ed., LDN
Licensed Dietitian

This article is #1 in a series of 6 articles devoted to feeling young and staying healthy through eating well.

Getting the right balance of dietary fat is probably the most important thing you can do to prevent aging and to protect your precious health. This article is all about why this balance is so important, and what you can do about it.

Flexibility is the key factor within the chemistry of our personal body cells that allows us to maintain an optimum quality of life. Let’s face it, an existance without flexible body cells means any of the following can happen: premature wrinkling, stiff and sore joints, heart and lung muscles that are incapable of handling exertion, arteries that can’t expand, thus leading to high blood pressure and poor circulation in limbs and extremities, decreased mental acuity, as well as related disease states like kidney disease, arthritis, erectile dysfunction, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

These conditions are not inevitable with aging! But they can happen to you if you do not pay close attention to your diet! Just how are all of these various disease states related to one another, since they seem so different from each other?

The answer lies deep within your body’s basic cellular biology. All human cells have cell membranes that provide elasticity, structure, and act as barriers to regulate what enters and exits the cell. The cell membrane is made up of a double layer of lipids, or fats, known as the lipid bilayer. The lipid bilayer consists of chains of fatty acids, which become more saturated, more unsaturated, or more trans type fatty acids, depending on what you eat (also see my previous article on trans fats).

Why is this important? We have an estimated 100 trillion cells in the human body, and virtually all body cells are made up of lipid bilayers. If you consume foods that have more poly-unsaturated, saturated, or trans fatty acids, you will necessarily have relatively more cell membranes that are made up of these same fatty acids, because the foods that you eat become the building blocks of all of your body cells.

The relative degree of saturation in the fatty acid chains making up your basic cell membranes has a tremendous effect on the fluidity and flexibility of your body cells. Research has shown that saturated and trans fatty acids are less fluid and more rigid than unsaturated fatty acids. Eating too many saturated fats or trans fats can cause your body cells to have too much rigidity and too little flexibility.

By including better fat choices in your diet, you will have a profoundly beneficial effect upon your overall health. By increasing the flexibility of your cellular membranes, you can dramatically reduce your risk of heart disease, hypertension, arthritis, Alzheimers, and other problems listed above.

But eating too much poly-unsaturated fatty acids can have an excessive effect in that direction, by making your body cells too permeable and too fluid. This excess permeability can cause the barrier capability of your cells to decline, then allowing foreign molecules to enter the cells, and leading to a decrease in your immune function and a greater risk for cancer. By avoiding most commercial foods, regular vegetable or salad oils (soy, corn, safflower), and too many fried foods, especially when fried in the wrong fats, you can take another important step to prevent aging and improve health.

There is a middle ground. Optimal dietary fats appear to be the mono-unsaturated fats found in olive oil, canola oil (rapeseed), and peanut oil. Many research studies have shown the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, where most of the fat is derived from olive oil, nuts, and seeds. Mono-unsaturated fats will keep your body cell membranes in premium condition, with just the right amount of permeability and flexibility for proper immune function.

What should you do?

  1. Follow the Mediterranean diet by eating more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes (beans). If you can do this, you will automatically eat less animal fats, which are highly saturated.
  2. Read all food labels carefully. Avoid any food product which contains the word “hydrogenated,” especially if a fat is solid at room temperature. That’s a sure sign the product contains saturated fats or trans fats (even “all vegetable oil” products, palm kernel oil or palm oil, and coconut oil products). Examples to avoid include solid shortenings, stick or solid margarines, regular tub margarines, most baked goods like pies, pastries, donuts, and commercial cakes.
  3. Take care not to overeat fatty animal products such as butter, cheese, sour cream, other whole dairy foods, and rich red meats. Choose more lean meats and low-fat dairy products, and remove visible fats or skins from meats and poultry before cooking.
  4. Choose olive oil, canola oil, or peanut oil for all of your salads and cooking.
  5. Eat fish at least once weekly, and take fish oil supplements every day.
  6. When eating out, order more broiled or baked foods, and avoid any commercial fried food items.

These dietary changes will result in improved health for your heart, lungs, joints, and every other organ in your body. Continuing to follow this healthy eating pattern for weeks, months, or years at a time will allow you to look and feel much younger than you feel today. The right amount of flexibility in your body cell membranes will definitely be worth it, and you will see improvements in your heart health, greater skin suppleness, breathing benefits, and greater joint flexibility!

Check back soon for article #2 in the “How to Prevent Aging with Diet” series: “Fight Aging with Phytonutrients and Anti-oxidants”

Good Food, Good Friends, and Good Life.