Dietary fat is one of the most hotly debated macronutrients, period. People will go to extremes either avoiding fats or eat a diet that is mostly fat based. Whether people would like to admit it or not, we require a certain amount of dietary to be truly healthy.
As a society we have a lot of negative perceptions about dietary fats, that are based on bad science from many years ago.
The unfavorable opinion of fat is still around today because people were told growing up by teachers, doctors, parents and our government that fat is bad for us and causes heart disease.
The unfortunately we were encouraged to ditch the healthy natural fats in exchange for hydrogenated processed fats that were made in factories.
We have since learned that the natural fats such as butter,coconut oil, grass fed beef and other sources of saturated fat are restorative to our health, while the vegetable oils that have been recommended can wreak havoc in the body.
This low fat diet in conjunction with highly processed carbohydrates and sugar has sent our health as a society down the drain.
Alzheimers, Obesity, Metabolic Syndrome, Type 2 Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease and many other neurological disorders are all on the rise, even though we have followed the low fat, high processed carb recommendations.
If something is not working it is time to step back and take a look at the approach and see what’s broken. This blog post is going to explain what fats are, what they do in the human body to promote health and why all fats are not created equal!
Macronutrient Bad Boy: Fats
Along with proteins, carbohydrates and water, fat is a macronutrient that the body requires in larger amounts. Minerals and vitamins are micronutrients meaning that they are essential to health, but required in smaller quantities than macronutrients.
Fats comprise roughly fifteen percent of our body weight. Animal and vegetable sources of fat provide a dense source of energy in our diet, and are required for optimal health.
Many of the foods that contain the largest concentration of fats come from animals, but there are some great plant sources too. Some of the richest sources of dietary fat are: Grass fed butter, coconut oil, olive oil, coconut flesh, cream cheese, avocados, sour cream, full fat cheese, bacon, dark chocolate and whole eggs.
Fats and oils (named lipids) are a grouping of fatty acids made from carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms. Fatty acids are molecules made up of a chain of carbon atoms.
These chains contain one to twenty four carbon atoms, and are categorized based on the length of the carbon atoms and degree of saturation.
The Different Players
Some of the most important roles of fats in the body are that they:
Provide a longer burning source of fuel for the body
Play a role in healthy skin and hair,
Supports the immune system,
Make up cell membranes
Precursors to hormones,
Insulate our internal organs
Are required for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K)
Contribute to neurological health, mood and anxiety.
We have a wide variety of natural fats that help support our health, along with other man made fats that damage our health. It is an important distinction to make and understand which ones to eat, and which to ditch.
Fats To Think About:
Trans Fats ( there are natural and man made trans fats)
Lets start with the most controversial fat in our society. It has been demonized and widely avoided by many folks.
For years we have been told that saturated fats will cause higher levels of cholesterol which in turn will clog arteries causing heart disease, but this is far from the whole story.
Some very short studies lasting a few weeks showed that greater intake of saturated fats did raise cholesterol, HOWEVER many long term studies with over 350,000 participants didn't show a correlation between saturated fats, blood cholesterol and cardiovascular disease in the long term. A few weeks is not a long enough time to make a conclusion on a study like this.
Foods that are the richest in saturated fats are coconut oil, coconut flesh/milk, full fat dairy, beef tallow, palm oil, grass fed beef, lard, duck fat, chicken fat and whole eggs (yolks), butter, ghee, lamb and pork.
Saturated fats are:
the main structural fats in the body
make up the majority of the fatty acids found in cells
helps incorporate calcium into bones
aids in cardiovascular function
supports a healthy immune system
transports the fat soluble vitamins A,D,E and K around the body.
Saturated fat are the best choice to cook with because they are very stable and do not go rancid easily. The oils are solid or semi solid at room temperature and are found in animal fats ( butter ghee, tallow, duck fat, lard) and tropical oils (coconut oil, red palm oil)
Monounsaturated fats are the one fat that everyone from paleo to vegan folks can agree on for the health benefits! The best sources of monounsaturated fats are macadamia nuts, olives and olive oil, avocado, pork fat, chicken, almonds, eggs yolks, and duck.
Monounsaturated fats are also a primary structural component of the body, and are known for:
Positive effects on cardiovascular health
reduce oxidative damage
decline in LDL and Triglycerides
boost the production of HDL and help immune function.
These fats are relatively stable to cook with at lower heats, but saturated fats are the best for anything above low/med cooking.
These fats are liquid at room temperature and do not go rancid easily. Olive oil, almond oil and avocado oil are monounsaturated fats, but use for very low heats or cold uses to preserve the health benefits.
There are two different types of polyunsaturated fats: omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Polyunsaturated fats play a main role in cell membranes and regulating functions in the body as well.
Polyunsaturated fats help to regulate the inflammatory and anti inflammatory reactions in the body. Most people who eat the standard american diet get an overabundance of omega-6 fats and far too little omega-3’s leading to chronic inflammation from the diet.
By reducing the intake of vegetable oils and omega-6 rich foods, and increasing the intake of omega-3 rich foods you can reduce inflammation dramatically.
There are six different omega-6 and omega-3 fats, but there is only one essential omega-3 and omega-6 fat. This means that these two essential polyunsaturated fats must be obtained from your diet, while the body can manufacture the other needed polyunsaturated fats on its own.
Polyunsaturated fats are relatively unstable and go rancid much easier than any of the other fats. The oil sources of polyunsaturated fats (all vegetable oils) will always be liquid at room temperature.
These fats should not ever be used for cooking they are very easy to damage with heat and become much more inflammatory in the body.
Essential Omega-6 Fat: Linoleic Acid (LA)
This essential fatty acid can be found in small amounts in fruits and vegetables, grains meat and in larger amounts in poultry, nuts and seeds.
Unfortunately the largest concentration of these essential fats are in vegetables oils such as canola, cottonseed, sunflower, safflower and soybean.
The major problem is that these oils are highly processed, and are damaged very easily by heat when cooked. When these processed oils are cooked with they become much more inflammatory to the body.
When vegetable oils are consumed in excess without adequate omega-3 fats it creates an inflammatory cascade that contributes to chronic diseases.
We need both omega-6 and omega-3 fats in the diet, but they are required in a much more balanced ratio than the standard american diet provides. When you stick to the whole food sources of Linoleic Acid this problem is avoided.
Arachidonic Acid (ARA)
Arachidonic acid is a longer chain omega-6 fatty acid that our bodies can make from linoleic acid (LA). ARA can also be found in large amounts in animal foods such as egg yolks, chicken, beef and pork.
It can be found in our cell membranes and plays a role in messages sent between cells. ARA contributes to the growth of muscle tissue and skeleton. You will not normally hear a lot about Arachidonic Acid but it plays a big role in health.
Essential Omega-3 Fat: Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA)
ALA can be found in plant sources such as walnut and flaxseed. Your body will convert ALA into the very important omega-3 eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
The conversion rate of ALA to EPA and DHA is very very poor so it is a much better bet to get EPA and DHA from the dietary sources such as such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, bass , oysters and lower concentrations is grass fed beef and ruminants.
While the ALA is the essential fat, it is the EPA and DHA that we derive the benefits from. What creates a problem is the extremely low conversion rate of ALA to EPA and DHA.
In many people the conversion rate varies from 0.5-5% , this conversion also depends on other nutrients such as B-vitamins and Zinc which most people are deficient in.
Nature Made: Trans Fats
There is a clear distinction that needs to be made between the two different types of trans fats: those from nature and man made artificial.
The main source of natural trans fats we eat are in the form of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) from grass fed animals and grass fed animal products and in much lower concentrations in grain fed animals. Our body can also manufacture CLA from other natural trans fats.
Some of the known benefits of natural trans fats are lower risk of heart disease, improved glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity which can help prevent and to some degree manage diabetes, there is some evidence that CLA can even help those who are obese lose weight.
Man Made: Trans Fats
The man made trans fats are found in processed foods such as fast food, butter substitutes frozen dinners, candy, chips, doughnuts and margarine.
While man made trans fats vary slightly in their structure from natural trans fats that slight difference creates big problems in the body.
These artificial trans fats:
damage the lining of blood vessels
decrease the omega-3 conversions
damage cardiovascular health
increase the dense damaging LDL particles
decreasing the anti inflammatory HDL cholesterol particles.
There is nothing remotely good about the man made trans fats, they only damage our health.
People want dietary fats to either be good or bad for us. it would make things much simpler, but when it comes to nutrition there are a lot of factors to consider.
Making those stark good/bad statements with no context and poor science is what got us into the health predicament we are in.
The fact of the matter is that natural fats have been a significant source of energy in our diet for many ages.
Agriculture dramatically changed the balance of macronutrients in our diet, grains, sugar and processed carbohydrates soon became a significant portion of our diet.
We were fooled into thinking the same fats that fueled our healthy robust were going to raise our cholesterol and give us heart disease.
In response to this new information about saturated fats causing heart disease we switched to either no fats diets, or used highly processed vegetable oils, hydrogenated oils, margarine or butter substitutes that have all been proven to damage our health.
Overconsumption of these processed oils is linked to heart disease, inflammation and neurological disorders, go figure. unless we start to makes changes to our current diet, our health will continue to degrade.
To get things moving in the right direction we need to move away from the man made fats and incorporate the healthy fats nature provides.
The majority of the fats we consume need to be from natural sources and not man made.
We need to avoid processed vegetable oils, while consuming the natural sources of omega-6 fats such as avocados, nuts and seeds in moderate amounts.
The omega-3 fats EPA and DHA should be consumed regularly along with the Omega-6 fat Arachidonic Acid (ARA). If nothing else remember fats that come from natural sources are healthy while fats that are made by man damage our health.
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