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Saturated Fat Risks Cancelled by Exercise

The Masai of Kenya and Tanzania eat the same type of high animal-fat diet as North Americans, but they have a very low incidence of heart attacks. In spite of the large amount of saturated fats in their diets, they have lower body weights, waist measurements, blood pressures and cholesterol levels (British Journal of Sports Medicine, July 2008). This is explained by the fact that the average Masai burns 4,000 kilocalories a day, which is roughly equal to walking 12 miles every day.

Saturated fat is the dominant fat in meat, chicken and whole milk dairy products. It raises cholesterol only when a person takes in more calories than he burns. A high-meat diet does not cause heart attacks in people who get a lot of exercise. Saturated fats are broken down by your body into two-carbon units. If you are getting too many calories, your liver converts these two-carbon units into cholesterol. If you are not getting enough calories, your body burns these units for energy.

When you take in more calories than your body needs, you store the excess as fat. Full fat cells release cytokines into your bloodstream, and they turn on your immunity. Your immunity is good because it protects you from infection, but if it stays overactive, it starts to destroy your body including your heart and blood vessels. The bottom line: if you eat much saturated fat, be sure to get plenty of exercise.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Are public swimming pools safe?

It depends on the care. Adequate chlorination and other means of lowering bacterial counts should keep swimming pools safe. However, some pool attendants do not do their jobs and sometimes too many people go into the pools for adequate cleaning.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Last week you reported that drinking fruit juice increases risk for diabetes. What if I drink my fruit juice while eating other foods? What about smoothies?

Fruit juice taken with cereal or other foods will be absorbed slower than fruit juice by itself, but will still cause higher blood sugar levels than if you did not drink the fruit juice. Smoothies are halfway between juice and whole fruit. The more the fruit is liquified, the faster its sugar is absorbed.

Scientists are frantically trying to explain the marked increase in diabetes, severity of diabetes, deaths from diabetes, increase in heart attacks, increase in obesity and so forth over the last 50 years in the United States. While the questions have not been answered yet, refined carbohydrates, particularly in liquid form, are suspect. Sugar-water does not suppress hunger the way that sugar in solid food does, and sugar-water causes the highest rises in blood sugar.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Do the special margarines really lower cholesterol as promised in their advertisements?

These products contain plant cholesterol that blocks some absorption of animal cholesterol in your intestines. So they lower blood cholesterol slightly by lowering absorption of cholesterol from food. However, your body needs cholesterol to make vitamin D, sex hormones and so forth, so when you absorb less cholesterol from your food, your liver makes more cholesterol.

The plant sterol margarines can lower blood cholesterol only a little bit. This is just another advertising ploy to sell a product; it doesn't tell you that a healthful lifestyle is far more important than taking any specific food or pill. You lower cholesterol much more by eating fewer calories and less saturated fat, and by burning more calories with exercise and activity. Eating plant cholesterol is a little bit better than doing nothing.

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Recipe of the Week

Cold Red Pepper Soup

You'll find lots of recipes and helpful tips in The Good Food Book - it's FREE

June 25th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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