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Fat; types of

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA): a natural fat occurring in free-range beef cattle. This was discovered as recently as 1980 by Professor Michael Pariza of the University of Winconsin, while he was conducting research on whether hamburgers could be a potential cause of cancer. CLA in fact has anti-cancer properties and also stimulates the human body"s conversion of stored fats into energy.

Linolleic Fatty Acids: a general category of fats, coming from vegetables. These include Omega 6, thought to be harmful if consumed in extreme, and "Alpha- linoleic"; or Omega 3 (which crops up in oily fish as well as flax, olive, rape and walnuts) which is thought to be beneficial as a protection against certain cancers and heart disease.

Mono-unsaturated fats: present research suggests that these are the best to consume, albeit in moderation. They are found in olives, avocados and some nuts including peanuts (groundnuts) and walnuts - and in oils made from them. It is thought that these fats can reduce the amount of cholesterol in the bloodstream. "Virgin" oils, which have received no heat treatment, should be sought out whenever possible.

Poly-unsaturated Fats: these fats occur naturally in vegetables and in oils made from them such as corn (maize), rape seed and sunflower. It was thought for a while that health benefits could be obtained by eating these fats instead of Saturated Fats, and they were and are used in margarines (some of these still make health claims on their behalf); it is now thought that this generalisation isn"t necessarily true, unless the oils are in their purest forms and haven"t been heat treated during manufacture - in which case they might be labeled "virgin". Unfashionable Trans Fats, for example, are a sub-division of this group. See below.

Saturated Fat: These are nearly all animal fats from the likes of butter, cheese, cream dripping, lard, and meat products - and are generally solid at room temperature. Too much is thought to lead to an increase in cholesterol, which can block arteries.

Trans Fats (Trans fatty acids): this type of fat is made from poly-unsaturates, so was originally thought to be beneficial. They're processed into a solid fat through a hardening process (known as hydrogenation). However, there is now evidence that trans fats are linked to certain cancers. They are found most often in hard margarines, and manufacturers are taking steps to reduce the amount used. They are also hidden away in manufactured biscuits and the like. It's recommended that they make up less than 2 per cent of your daily calories - this means less than 4g a day for a woman, and 5.5g for a man.

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