There is a great controversy in this country about the role of fats in our diets. High quality fats should be included into your diet. They are required in the human body. They are essential for cell wall flexibility (which allows things to get in and out of the cell) and brain health. There are three major types of fats, these are:
The chemical structure is saturated with hydrogen. These fats are solid at room tempeture. Lard, butter, animal fats, palm oils, cocunut oil. These fats do not become rancid at high heat and are therefore suitable for frying and high heat cooking. Saturated fats enhance the immune system and helps in the absorption of essential fatty acids/calcium and increases hormone production in general. It is important to remember and look into the quality of the meats and saturated fats that you are using. There is a very large difference between a naturally raised and fed animal than a convential grain fed animal.
Unsaturated fats come in two different forms. Those are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Unsaturated fats are not saturated with hydrogen therefore leaving space open to make other connections. These are less stable and are not solid at room temperature. These fats are your oils.
Typical monounsaturated fats are olive oil, canola oil and peanut oil. Typical polyunsaturated fats are soybean, safflower, sunflower, corn and flax oil. Polyunsaturated fats have double bonds to connect them. When you heat something with double bonds you create toxins. This is why you want to stick to saturated fats and monounsaturated fats for cooking unless they are refined for high heat. There is however a third type of fat.
Trans fats are unsaturated fats that have been altered by having hydrogen forced into them. This creates a saturated fat, but in the process the chemical structure changes and therefore the body is unable to recognize it as a normal fat. Trans fats have been linked to many different medical problems such as: cholesterol (increase LDL, decrease HDL), cancer, diabetes, obesity, immune system failure, birth issues/deaths/decreased birth weight, vision problems, sterility, bone problems, hormone problems, increase blood insulin levels and a more rigid cell membrane.
Essential fatty acids
Essential fatty acids are fats that must be consumed by us in order to maintain proper health. These are polyunsaturated fats that our bodies are unable to produce and they are required in our bodies processes. These are Omega 3, Omega 6 and Omega 9. There is not a lot of information on Omega 9 so I will focus briefly on the Omega 3 and Omega 6.
These days there is a lot of discussion about Omega 3s. The reason for this is a drastic imbalance in our diet. The human body should have a balance somewhere around 1-1 or 1-4 of Omega 3 to Omega 6. It has been found that the average American has a balance closer to 1-40 or 1-60 of Omega 3 to Omega 6. This is important because Omega 3’s decrease inflammation and Omega 6’s increase inflammation and there is a theory that all chronic disease was started with and a continuation of inflammation. With a balance of fatty acids like this we couldn’t help but be inflammed.
Omega 3’s are typically found in the greens of this world and those things that eat the green stuff such as algae and grass. Therefore you get Omega 3’s from fish and grass fed animals. Also there are many plant sources such as flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts and vegetables. Other sources are fish oils, good egg yolks, grass fed meats and vegetables.
Fatty acid chain lengths and qualities
Short chain (4-6 carbon atoms) – Always saturated, animal fats (cows/goats), antimicrobial (bacterias/viruses), absorbed quickly (quick energy), good fats for weight loss and good for the immune system
Medium chain (8-12 carbon atoms) – Butter fats/tropical oils, same properties as above
Long chain (14-18 and up carbon atoms) – Saturated or unsaturated, oleic acid, BPA, GLA (omega 6) which produces prostaglandins and can lead to illnesses when they are out of balance
I believe that your best bet in fats are high quality saturated fats (including grass fed/naturally raised animal fats) and mono unsaturated fats. You should avoid trans fats entirely and should consume polyunsaturated fats sparingly. All oils will contain all of the natural fats.
Here is a brief summary of “Why We Get Fat” by Gary Taubes
This book challenges the assumption that we get fat because of a calories in verse calories out argument. In fact this book shows pretty clearly that it is not how much we eat but what it is that we eat that causes us to get fat.
It states that the high glycemic load of simple carbohydrates in particular and carbohydrates in general and really anything that increases insulin (starchy foods) production causes us to get fat. This is because insulin determines where the energy goes that you eat. Some to the muscles and some to the fat. As you increase your insulin use on a regular basis the muscle molecule become resistant to it, therefore insulin starts partitioning more of the energy straight to the fat cells. This is before you have a chance to use it as energy because your muscles never receive it. Therefore the argument is that you do not become fat because you are lazy, you become lazy because you are getting fat. Ie…you consume the same amount if energy, insulin starts partitioning some of this energy directly to the fat cells instead of to the muscle cells, therefore you do not have as much energy. Therefore you are not as active. Not the other way around which is, you stop becoming active then start storing fat.
In order to lose weight he argues that one must decrease the insulin levels. Fat is in constant motion in a normal body, in then out of the blood stream. However it is locked away when your insulin levels are increased because the body believes that there is enough energy in the system already. Therefore if you want to access your fat stores you must decrease you insulin/blood sugar levels by eating fats and proteins. When you do this the body will shift from burning carbohydrates constantly as energy to burning fat. This is what the body is supposed to do, however it can take time to switch over fully depending on the damage done.
This book also states that decreasing carbohydrate intake will also decrease your risks for several chronic diseases. Such as heart disease, cancer, hypertension and diabetes. We all know that all of these diseases increase with weight gain. Therefore his initial non scientific argument is that anything that makes you thinner is good for these diseases. Since he has demonstrated that it is what you eat, not how much you eat that causes weight gain he resolves that these foods are in fact healthy for you. He then pursues this scientifically. It demonstrates that a high fat high protein diet and low carbohydrate diet is heart healthy due to several reasons. One of the main ones being that the LDL particulates remain fat and fluffy. In a carbohydrate rich diet these particulates are made small and dense. These then imbed themselves into the arterial walls causing atherosclerosis. There are also Changes in Hdl/LDL levels. While both change and LDL does increase, the overall effect is heart healthy. Historically scientists viewed weight gain as a sign of malnutrition. This is because in poor populations without a lot of food the children were thin and frail and the adults were fat. This was not caused by having too much food, but by the foods that were eaten. (carbohydrate based foods) This has been demonstrated in societies all over the world, and it would correspond to this books hypothesis. You spend your childhood years abusing your insulin levels until your muscles become insulin resistant, then you start partitioning the energy to your fat cells instead. This leads to becoming fat with the same amount of food, and it also means that you do not have as much energy so that you then become lethargic. Every individuals body is different. Some will be more likely to stay lean while others more likely to gain weight. As you increase your insulin levels though you start pushing the meter to the gain weight side. Also, muscle cells become insulin resistant before fat cells do, therefore you naturally gain more weight as you age. Especially if you are constantly spiking your blood sugar.
This thought process lost prominence during the second world war when the European scientific community was lost. After that it has been assumed that you get fat because you are eating too much and this has not been challenged since.
He also discusses that since western diseases are in fact our diseases and we eat a lot of meat that the nutrition community tends to blame them on fat. He then compares our diet to those healthy diets of hunter gatherer societies and concludes that the foods that are similar are probably the safe foods to eat while the ones that are not are probably the unsafe ones. The similar foods were essentially meats and vegetables and low in other carbohydrate sources.
Obviously there are a lot of opinions and lots of diets and research. I enjoyed this book, I found it to be very well researched and to state both sides of his argument. It also corresponds to what I have believed to be a healthy diet which would be natural meats and vegetables as the main stay. If you’re interested feel free to check out the book.