Fats have long been wrongfully accused of being bad for your health, so much so that there has been an entire food industry built around it. The misconception has long been that eating fat will make you fat. While this has some truth to it, it only holds true in certain cases. This is because not all fats are created equal. You will hear me say that phrase many times over, because since this world has turned into a mass production food machine driven by marketing and advertising campaigns, food is no longer just food. But, the good news is some fats are our friends! Let’s learn why healthy fats are healthy.
We are on the defensive here, we are looking for the REAL food in a sea of make believe food. Therefore, to get to my point, there are healthy fats and not healthy fats. The not healthy fats are the ones we should point the finger at, not the healthy ones… these we will be taking home with us.
What are Fats?
Fat refers to the class of nutrition known as lipids. The lipid family includes triglycerides (fats and oils), phospholipids and sterols.
Triglycerides are the chief form of fat in the diet and the major storage form of fat in the body. Triglycerides function as the following:
- Energy Source: under normal conditions, dietary and stored fats supply about 60% of your body’s resting energy needs. Fat is burned for energy and spares protein for being used. This is important because the proteins are needed to maintain muscle tissue, enzymes and antibodies.
- Insulation and Protection: fat tissue usually accounts for about 15 to 30 percent of body weight. Part of this is visceral fat, the fat stored around the organs that provides protection. The other part is subcutaneous, which lies under the skin that serves as insulation.
- Carrier of Vitamins: dietary fats dissolve and transport fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) and fat-soluble phytochemicals (carotenoids, lycopene). Without fat in a meal, the fat-soluble phytochemicals and vitamins are much more difficult to digest and absorb. Therefore, it is always recommended to include a source of healthy fat with a meal.
- Build Cell Membranes
Triglycerides are classified into three groups: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. All fats and oils contain a mix of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. Depending on which fat is most prevalent, the fat is classified as saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.
1. Saturated Fats
Saturated fats are a stable fat (meaning they are not easy oxidized) that are found most often in animal products like butter, ghee, animal meat, eggs and milk but also can be found in plant-based options such as coconut, cacao and palm oil. Being a more stable fat, they are best used as a cooking fat.
Saturated fats have long been thought to be a cause of cardiovascular disease and cancer but it is now thought that the correlation was based on false ideas of cholesterol levels rather than the function and quality of fats. Saturated fats are now making a big come back in the health world, showing great health benefits such as:
– Lowering Risk of Heart Disease (increase HDL- good cholesterol)
– Preventing Bone Loss
– Strengthening the Immune System
– Feeding your Brain, Nervous System and Hormones
Saturated fatty acids vary in length and therefore are classified as: very-short-chain fatty acids, short-chain fatty acids, medium-chain fatty acids and long-chain fatty acids. All of these acids have research-proven functions in the body.
Short-chain fatty acids increase pancreatic enzyme secretion (help digestion) and have been shown to have anti-cancer effects in the colon.
Medium-chain fatty acids can be metabolized into usable forms of energy very quickly, therefore they are not typically stored as fat. They have been historically used to improve numerous health problems including, pancreatic insufficiency, liver cirrhosis, lymphatic problems, cystic fibrosis, leaky gut, surgical stress and hypothyroidism. MCFA, like that found in coconut oil, have even shown to increase weight loss and thyroid function.
*A Note About Animal Fats: Saturated fats from animal flesh and dairy often are not clean and I do not suggest using these sources. These sources tend to be highly toxic due to antibiotic and hormone use, in addition to the poor conditions in which the animals are raised. Fat stores toxins from the body in high concentrations and therefore you must be wary of the source. Unless you are able to find organic, clean, grass-fed sources, I would not consume these. Stick to coconut oil, coconut butter and raw cacao butter.
2. Unsaturated Fats: Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated
Monounsaturated fats are found in a variety of foods including olive oil, rice bran, nuts, seeds, avocados, and sesame oil. Being less stable than saturated fats, they are best used as a dressing or for light cooking. Monounsaturated fats have been found to have the following benefits:
– Shown to Reduce Cholesterol
– High have levels of the Antioxidant Vitamin E
– Maintain Cell Membrane Integrity
– Anti-inflammatory Effects
Polyunsaturated fats are probably the most popular of the fats in the industry today. That is because this group contains the essential fatty acids, Omega 3 (linolenic acid) and Omega 6 (linoleic acid). Polyunsaturated fat can be found mostly in nuts, seeds, fish, algae, leafy greens and krill. These fats are delicate so heating and processing them can easily cause damage.
Omega 3 Fatty Acid:
Omega 3 Fatty Acids contain the valuable nutrients ALA, DHA and EPA. Great sources are flax seeds, hemp seeds, raw walnuts, fresh water salmon, krill, cod liver oil, pumpkin seeds and chia. Omega 3 fatty acids are vital to health, and must be supplemented if they cannot be attained in high levels by the diet. Their benefits include:
– Prevents Cardiovascular Disease
– Improves Immune Function
– Reduces Inflammation
– Provides Healthy Eye Sight
– Vital for Healthy Blood Flow/Pressure
– Aids in Healthy Skin (eczema, dry skin, itching, rashes, acne)
– Important for Glucose Metabolism
– May prevent: arthritis, dementia, asthma, depression, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and high blood pressure
Omega 6 Fatty Acids:
Omega 6 fatty acids are a valuable part of our health in that they are a key precursor to prostaglandins but often are over-consumed from the wrong types of fat. These include grain-fed red meat, corn oil, soybean oil, vegetable oils, cottonseed oil and processed foods. The good sources of Omega 6 come from sesame oil, flax seeds, hemp seed oil, olives, wheat germ and borage oil. This is important because imbalances of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids promote chronic inflammation in the body and outweigh the benefits of both fatty acids. Therefore, it is important to focus only on healthy sources of fat. Omega 6 fatty acids do have health benefits from the right sources that include:
– Reduces Symptoms of Eczema and Psoriasis
– Aids in Prevention of Cancer
– Relieves symptoms from PMS, Endometriosis and Fibrocystic Breasts
– Reduces Pain from Arthritis
– Prevents and Improves Diabetic Neuropathy
To read more about Omega 6 Fatty Acids please go here
Trans-Fatty Acids (hydrogenated oils):
Trans-fatty acids are by far the worst fats on the market. These fats are highly toxic and cause you to get fat to say the least. These are the result of a highly toxic process to make them more stable and therefore have an extremely long shelf life. Hydrogenation is the process of taking a plant oil, adding a nickel catalyst to them, heating them, and then removing the nickel catalyst. The result is an altered fat that acts more like a saturated fat than an unsaturated fat. Trans fats can be found in the following:
– Fried Foods such as French fries, chicken, and tempura
– Commercial baked goods
– Sugar Cereal
– Peanut Butter (JIFF and Skippy)
– Creamers (Nestle Coffee-Mate)
– Snack foods such as crackers and chips
– Imitation Cheeses
Trans fatty acids are extremely harmful to the body, so much so that they have been banned from use in New York City. They have been found to cause:
– Cardiovascular Disease
– Heart Attacks
– High Cholesterol
– Type 2 Diabetes
– Alzheimer’s Disease
– Chronic Inflammation
Look on ALL labels for the term “hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated,” it can also be labeled as “shortening.” Please go check your kitchen now, they are in so many so-called “healthy items” you will be surprised. Throw these away immediately!
Take Home Points:
1. All fats are not created equal. Focusing on healthy fats is essential, you cannot feel your best and certainly not look your best without them.
2. The right kinds of fats do not make you fat, in fact, some fats (coconut oil) actually help you loose fat.
3. Saturated fats like coconut oil are HEALTHY
4. Cut out bad sources of fats such as animal meat, lard, vegetable oils (soy, canola, peanut), processed foods, fried foods and trans fats (hydrogenated fats)
5. 30% of your diet should be from fat. Including some fat with each meal increases nutrient absorption
6. Focus on fat from whole foods like olives, raw seeds, avocados, raw nuts (like walnuts), salba and healthy oils like coconut oil, organic olive oil, hemp seeds and sesame oil
7. Supplementing with essential fatty acids is a must. This includes Omega 3 fatty acids such as DHA and EPA
Now that we have gotten through the low-down on Triglycerides, we will pick this back up with Part II. Now go clean up those refrigerators, kitchen cabinets and go buy some healthy substitutes!
Learn more about which oils are the best and how to cook with them at “Cooking with Oils: Inside Guide”