To lower cancer risk, get to know the fats

Eating Well

January 13, 1998|By Colleen Pierre | Colleen Pierre,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Researchers have been struggling to tease out breast cancer risk factors, and have long thought that diets high in total fat might be a culprit. But a just-released four-year study of more than 60,000 Swedish women suggests that the kind of fat you eat may be more important than the amount.

In that study, eating more monounsaturated fat (monos) appeared to protect women against breast cancer, while eating more polyunsaturated fats (polys) appeared to increase breast cancer risks. Saturated fat (satfat) seemed to have no effect. Although this study is far from conclusive, it does fall in line with studies from Spain, Greece and Italy, as well as numerous animal studies.

The idea that monounsaturated fat can be beneficial is not so shocking. Research in the heart disease arena shows that, for some people, eating higher fat diets (up to 35 percent of calories from fat) when most of the fat is mono, can actually lower heart disease risks by lowering (bad) LDL cholesterol without lowering (good) HDL.

And for some people with diabetes, a similar diet can lower triglycerides, blood glucose levels, and blood insulin levels.

This suggests that looking at the kind of fat you're eating could be beneficial.

In food, fats always show up in combination, some saturated, some mono, some poly. To say a food is high in monos means there are more monos than polys or satfats. But all three are there in some amount.

Saturated fats raise cholesterol levels and increase heart disease risks for many people, so they're listed on food labels. But the Nutrition Facts label was designed when the need to reveal monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fats didn't seem so pressing, so they are not required to be there. However, manufacturers are free to provide poly and mono information if they wish.

If they don't, here's what you need to know.

Monounsaturated fats make up the bulk of the fat found in olive and canola oil, olives, avocados and many nuts including almonds, filberts, macadamias, peanuts, pecans and pistachios. Most Americans really don't use those fats very much.

Polyunsaturated fats predominate in liquid vegetable oils such as corn, soy, sunflower and safflower oils, nuts including walnuts, Brazilnuts and pine nuts, sunflower and sesame seeds. If you use small amounts of them, they won't be a problem. But polys also make up the bulk of most margarines, and a large part of the fat in processed foods, which Americans love.

So you need to shift the balance.

That means getting into the habit of eating more close-to-natural foods and fewer processed foods, using a little olive oil on your salad, some canola oil in your cooking, and seasoning food with nuts and avocados instead of butter or margarine.

Don't go overboard. This is not a magic bullet that kills cancer with one shot. The type of fat may be one factor in reducing breast cancer risks. Your genetic makeup and lifestyle habits play a big part. If you smoke, quit. If you don't exercise, start. Then remember the other cancer-preventive parts of healthy eating.

Eat smaller portions of lean meat, chicken or fish. Substitute beans for meat sometimes.

Work methodically to increase fruits and veggies, and go for fTC color, choosing dark green and deep orange types often. Choose more whole grain breads and cereals.

Keep fat under 30 percent of calories, and shift the type toward monounsaturated fats.

Do your monthly breast-self exam and have your annual mammogram.

That's the best we can do for now.

Pub Date: 1/13/98

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