Fat: The Good and The Bad

Fat is one of the macronutrients that people are often most afraid of, thinking that consuming dietary fat will make you fat, which is doesn’t. The whole fat debacle started in the mid 1950s with a scientist from the World Health Organization and a hypothesis known as the “diet-heart” hypothesis. Basically it stated that when you raise cholesterol you increase risk for heart disease, and when you reduce cholesterol you lower the risk. Leading to the very presumptuous statement that dietary cholesterol will cause heart disease. This simply isn’t true which the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a group of scientists who eliminated any recommendations to limit consumption of dietary fat or dietary cholesterol, now acknowledges as of 2015. Now this is still a broad statement and fat is still very confusing! There are many different kinds and certain assumptions about fat that need to be addressed in order to properly understand what to consume. Fat was given its bad reputation based on three ideas; the first being that body fat and dietary fat are the same (wrong), the second that since fat has a higher amount of calories than carbs and protein (1g fat = 9cal, 1g carbs = 4cal and 1g protein = 4cal) that avoiding fat will allow for less weight gain due to less calorie consumption (wrong), and the third idea being that saturated fat and cholesterol causes our arteries to become blocked leading to death from a heart attack. Of course all of this can be true when consuming a diet high in processed foods and hydrogenated oil, however, it is extremely unfair to the good fats to also have this bad reputation.

Fat is an integral part of the proper functioning of the body and we are made up of approximately 20-25% fat. It has an abundance of critical functions within the body such as a source of essential fatty acids, which are critical for growth and development, carriers of fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K, they are involved in hormone production and effect inflammation and blood clotting. There are two types of fat, saturated (which many probably know as the “bad” kind”) and unsaturated. The makeup, digestion and absorption of fat is honestly extremely complex and unless you plan on majoring in organic chemistry its not really necessary to understand it (I don’t at all). It has a lot to do with placements of carbon and hydrogen atoms and certain classifications, which are what determine these fats to be either healthy or unhealthy.

Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFAs) are our friends, in pretty much all circumstances. They are found in plant and animal foods such as olives, nuts and nut oil, avocados, butter, and animal fat. They have been shown to lower blood pressure; improve insulin sensitivity and lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), which can lead to decreased risk for heart disease and decreased risk for certain cancers.

Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs) are the more commonly known fats that include omega-3 and omega-6. We need both of these in our diet at an ideal ratio of 1:1. Omega-3 fats are the anti-inflammatory component while omega-6 is the inflammatory inducing which is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, cancer and metabolic syndrome. Unfortunately, in the Western diet there is an uneven balance of the two with an overconsumption of omega-6 fatty acids creating a ratio of up 20:1, which is causing all of these chronic inflammatory diseases. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in modified vegetable oils, refined carbohydrates and pretty much anything packaged, whereas the omega-3 occur naturally in fish, walnuts, grass-fed meat, eggs, flaxseed and walnuts.

Saturated Fats were once the enemy, but as it turns out they aren’t all that bad. There are MANY different forms found in food and the kind we consume aren’t the same kind that are found in our blood. A paper published by the Annals of Internal Medicine, reviewed objective data from 72 studies that analyzed the fatty acids circulating in the bloodstream as well as tissues. They found that fatty acids in the blood such as palmitic acid and steric acid cause heart disease which were actually converted from carbs and sugars through a process called novo lipogenesis were your body literally converts carbohydrates to fat. Saturated fats are actually fundamental for human health for functions such as proper hormone and immune system function, they have the ability to suppress inflammation and even contain essential vitamins. Saturated fat is found mainly in foods such as animal fat, butter, coconut oil or ghee and is best to cook or fry with because they aren’t oxidized as easy as unsaturated fats due to their tight bonds that make it more difficult to break down and become oxidized.

Trans Fat… Overall they are complete garbage. Trans fats are artificially manufactured, cheap to make and help extend the shelf life of many processed foods. Just don’t.

So, if I have one point to get across, it’s that fat is not bad (in whole, naturally occurring foods) and you should be consuming quality fats everyday. Health Canada recommends about 20-35% of your total daily calories should come from fat. Here is a little breakdown when choosing the right oil.

DO:

  • Organic avocado oil
  • Butter from grass-fed cows or goats
  • Grass-fed ghee
  • Organic virgin coconut oil
  • Organic beef fat
  • Organic pork fat
  • Organic duck fat
  • Organic chicken fat

These ones shouldn’t be used for cooking at high temperatures and are best to consume raw:

  • Organic extra virgin olive oil
  • Walnut oil
  • Macadamia oil
  • Hemp oil
  • Flax oil
  • Tahini
  • Sesame seed oil
  • Almond oil

Don’t:

  • Soybean oil
  • Vegetable oil
  • Canola oil
  • Corn oil
  • Palm oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Margarine and other butter substitutes
  • Anything hydrogenated

 

References:
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11745-010-3524-y
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11745-010-3524-y
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=effect+of+low-fat+diet+interventions+versus+other+diet+interventions+on+long+term+weight+change+in+adults

 

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