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Diabetics Need to Watch Out for Saturated Fat and Cholesterol

With diabetes, polyunsaturated fats have a favorable impact on insulin sensitivity, and trans fats are especially unfavorable. Saturated fats are carbon chains with no double bonds between the carbon atoms, therefore the molecule is saturated with hydrogen bonds.

Trans fats result when unsaturated fats are hydrogenated, making the fat saturated. Saturated fats are generally solid at room temperature, and hydrogenation of food products like stick margarine was specifically for this purpose.

Current recommendations are to limit saturated fats less than 7 percent of daily calories, and to strictly limit trans fat to less than 1 percent of daily calories. The reservations about saturated fat relate historically to the relationship of elevated blood cholesterol level to cardiovascular disease, especially to the buildup of waxy plaque in arteries (atherosclerosis). More recently, the focus on your total cholesterol level has evolved.

Cholesterol is a type of fat called a sterol, and it has several crucial and necessary roles in your biology including roles in the production of vitamin D, testosterone, and estrogen. Cholesterol is manufactured in your cells, but can also be a taken in, along with saturated fat, from foods of animal origin.

Where the total cholesterol level was formerly viewed as the measure most significant to heart disease risks, the focus now is redirected at the difference between the particles which ferry cholesterol around in the blood — lipoproteins. In that regard, references to bad LDL cholesterol and good HDL cholesterol actually refers to the low density lipoprotein or high density lipoprotein particles transporting cholesterol, not to cholesterol itself.

And, from the perspective of heart disease risk, it is the levels of LDL, and the ratio of LDL to HDL that seem most significant. Saturated fats, and especially the manufactured trans fats, raise LDL levels and lower HDL levels, and LDLs tend to form arterial plaques whereas HDLs actually remove plaque forming materials.

The research on these issues is always ongoing, and inconsistencies always show up in complicated studies of human diet and health, often related to the difficulty in excluding other potential health factors unrelated to diet. There is solid agreement on the dangers of trans fat, which clearly raises LDL and lowers HDL. There is general agreement that reducing saturated fat is beneficial, but especially beneficial if the calories are replaced by adding monounsaturated fat, like olive oil, instead of adding additional carbohydrates.

Interestingly, regular consumption of red meat is associated with an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, and the risk is even greater for processed red meat.

Finally, hyperlipidemia (there’s the lipid word) is the medical term describing abnormally high levels of lipids (fats) in blood — hyperlipidemia is an element of metabolic syndrome. Managing your level of blood lipids is important for managing the risk for diabetes complications.

Current target values are LDL lower than 100 milligrams/deciliter (mg/dl), HDL higher than 40 mg/dl for men and 50 mg/dl for women, and triglycerides lower than 150 mg/dl. Triglycerides are a blood fat not as specifically related to fat in the diet.

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