All About Dietary Fat
Fat is often vilified, attributed with both obesity and heart disease. People are commonly recommended to reduce fat intake in their diet if they’re looking to lose weight and get healthier.
This is a complete misconception. Fat is actually extremely important to our health as it’s:
-Vital to energy production in the body
-Builds cell membranes, which is the protective and exterior layer of all cells
-Crucial for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins like A,D,E,& K.
-Can help control appetite and blood sugar levels
-Assists in the creation of various hormones
So the problem is not fat, but the misdirected education around it. People need to understand the difference between various types of fats and which to consume or avoid.
Saturated vs unsaturated fat
The difference between these two fats are the amount of double carbon bonds in their chemical structure.
Saturated fats contain no double carbon bonds. Which allows for the fat to be solid at room temperature and less vulnerable to both heat and light. This makes it ideal for cooking. You can find this fat in animal lard, red meat, cheese, butter and coconut.
Saturated fat began to be vilified in the 1950’s when a study was done suggesting it raised cholesterol levels, developing plaque in arteries and therefore increased risk for heart disease. Though now we are beginning to see the flaws in that study. As heart disease is actually an inflammatory condition since plaque develops in response to inflammation or injury in the artery. So this suggests cholesterol may not be filtered properly, but doesn’t mean it is the cause for concern. In fact almost every cell in the body creates cholesterol and it's another building block for our cell membranes. The brain is also predominantly made of both saturated fat and cholesterol, making it critical to our mental health.
Unsaturated fat on the other hand can be broken down into two groups: polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Mono and Poly stand for the amount of double carbon bonds in the fats structure. These fats are often liquid at room temperature and are more vulnerable to the effects or both heat and light. You can find these fats in plant oils, nuts, seeds and avocado.
Omega 3 vs Omega 6
Both omega 3 and omega 6 are essential fatty acids that our body can’t create on it’s own, therefore we must obtain it through food.
Omega 3 comes from polyunsaturated fat. The three types of omega 3 fatty acids include, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is found mainly in plants such as flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds & walnuts. While DHA and EPA are found in fish, seafood and grass fed meats. This fat is known for being anti-inflammatory, reducing blood clot formation and increasing HDL (good) cholesterol in the body.
Omega 6 are also polyunsaturated fats that can be found in nuts, seeds, red meat, eggs and vegetable oils like corn, safflower and soybean oil. Omega 6 can be pro inflammatory because it's a precursor to various inflammatory mediators like prostaglandins. This is good because inflammation can be a healthy response to kill off infection or heal injury short term. But excessive amounts can become damaging.
It’s believed that humans evolved to eat a diet close to a 1:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids. With the current western diet that ratio looks more like 30:1. This is because fried foods, baked goods, and essentially most processed foods are created with vegetable oils rich in omega 6. All of which predominate in the western diet. This is more likely to explain the increase in heart disease and obesity than saturated fat.
Trans fats are the real villain. Though there exist small amounts of trans fats from food, Like 3 percent of fat in dairy and 10 percent of fat in red meat, there’s no evidence pointing that natural versions pose any harm. The harm comes from the man made version, also known as hydrogenated vegetable oil, we often see in margarine and other processed foods.
In 1902 a man named Wilhem discovered that if you add hydrogen to vegetable oil you can turn polyunsaturated fats into saturated fats. Making them solid at room temperature, less likely to become rancid by heat or light, and super cheap to make!
The bad news is that this man made monster has been researched to increase LDL (bad) cholesterol ,decrease HDL (good) cholesterol and promote inflammation in the body. In fact a 2 percent increase in trans fat consumption can increase your risk of heart disease by 23 percent!
To put this all in simple terms we should be avoiding trans fats and diets dominate in omega 6 fatty acids rather than avoiding fat completely. The fat that we do reduce should be replaced with healthy versions like omega 3 rich foods found in fish, grass fed meats, olives, chia seeds, flax seeds and walnuts. We should also use saturated fats as oil for cooking and stick to using unsaturated fat oils for salad dressings.