All About the Fat
All About the Fat
By Brett Freliche
Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, America was all about everything “low-fat,” and anything fat was taboo. We replaced our whole eggs, bacon and butter with low fat turkey bacon, egg whites, and margarine. We also bought low fat mayo, low fat salad dressings, and fat free baked goods. But how many asked what they replaced the fat with. Needless to say, we did not get any healthier. Or fitter. At the same time, people in other countries were continuing to consume fats like they always did. And they lived their lives relatively free of cardiovascular disease.
Because Americans consumed more processed foods. And we ate more of them and felt less satisfied (because fats releases satiety hormones) and ended up consuming more of it.
And some people still today have that “low fat” mentality when it comes to their diet.
What have you done for me lately
So what does fat actually do for us?
There are 6 roles that fat has:
- Provides us with energy (it is the most energy dense micronutrient!)
- Helps make and balance our hormones (feeling moody? You might be low in fat consumption!)
- Forms cell membranes
- Forms our brain and nervous systems
- Helps transport the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
- It gives us two fatty acids that we cannot make on our own: Linoleic acid (Omega-6) and Linolenic acid (Omega-3)
But before we go into detail with all the different types of fat, lets review what fat actually is. (Sorry, but we’re about to get a little geeky here. We’re all about providing you guys with education, so here we go!)
What is Fat?
Scientifically, fats are organic molecules that are basically just carbon and hydrogen. These form groups called hydrocarbons. It is how these hydrocarbons are arranged that determine their type.
Hydrogen atoms can bond to these hydrocarbon chains. This is called saturation. The more hydrogen atoms attached, the more saturated it is.
Types of Fat
If hydrogen atoms fill up all the available spaces on the hydrocarbon chain, the fat is saturated. Because of this structure, these saturated fats are usually solid or semi-solid at room temperature.
Conversely, if only some of the hydrogens have bonded, the fat is – you guessed it – unsaturated. These are usually liquid at room temperature, and the less saturated the fat is, the more fluid it is.
Unsaturated fats can be broken down into two types.
Monounsaturated fatty acids are those with one carbon atom that is unsaturated. If a fatty acid has more than one carbon atom that is unsaturated, it is polyunsaturated.
When 3 fatty acids form with glycerol (a sugar alcohol), it creates a triglyceride. Triglycerides are the major form of fat found in the diet, and also a major storage form of fat found in the body.
Foods Highest in:
Butter, coconut oil/milk, cream (heavy, half & half, sour), dark (70%) chocolate, fatty beef, lamb, pork, palm oil, whole milk, cheese and yogurt
Almonds, avocado, Brazil nuts, canola oil, cashews, egg yolk, macadamia nuts/butter/oil, olives, peanut/peanut butter, pistachios, pecans, safflower oil, sunflower oil (this oil can be altered so check the label!), chicken and duck fat
Chia seeds, cod liver oil, corn oil, fish (fish oil), flax seeds, grapeseed oil, hemp seeds, mayonnaise, pine nuts, sesame seeds (tahini/sesame oil), sunflower seeds/butter, walnuts
Saturated Fat – is it bad for us?
This has been a frequent question. The answer is…it depends. You should not just be consuming saturated fat. It should be balanced among the others. What you DO NOT want to do is combine high amounts of saturated fat with a lot of sugar and processed foods.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids
You probably have heard these words before, and that you need to get these unsaturated fats in your diet. But how much? First, let’s take a look at these.
The most important Omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
Plant sources like flax, chia, hemp and walnuts are high in ALA.
Marine sources like fish, fish oil and algae are high in EPA and DHA.
Omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory. This assists with things like:
- Dilate, or open up our blood vessels and airways
- Lowers inflammation
- Prevent blood clumping
- Decrease pain
Omega-6 fats are pro-inflammatory. They operate opposite of our Omega-3 fats:
- Constricting blood vessels and airways
- Increasing inflammation
- Cause blood clotting
- Increasing pain.
This may seem odd to say we need both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, but balance is crucial. Early humans had a diet that gave them a relatively balanced omega-6 / omega 3 ratio. Research shows their diet would have given their omega-6/omega-3 ratio around 2:1 to 8:1. The current American diet reflects a ratio that is more like 10:1 to 20:1. Your goal should be to get 1:1 ratio on these.
You may have seen the words Partially Hydrogenated Trans Fats on food labels. These were fats that were processed to make them have a longer shelf life. This is a process where they take an unsaturated fat (remember these are soft or liquid at room temperature) and passes hydrogen ions through it until its solid at room temperature. This was great for commercial food production, but awful on our body. Consuming these fats can result in lower HDL, increase cholesterol production, they compete with our essential fats to access our cells, and in effect, create deficiencies with them. Over time, this can add up to higher risk of chronic diseases. Fortunately, in 2015, the FDA concluded that these partially hydrogenated fats found in processed foods would need to be phased out of all food products.
You may recall rinsing a bowl or dish that had some animal fat on it. You noticed the globs of fat that sat on top of the water. Same thing with salad dressing that you have to shake to mix. This is because fat does not dissolve in water. The same goes for when fat is in your body. To get around, fat must be transported by a lipoprotein.
There are 3 types of lipoproteins that we are generally familiar with:
Very-low-density Lipoproteins (VLDL)
These carry triglycerides from liver to adipose tissue (body fat);
Low-density Lipoproteins (LDL)
Carry cholesterol to all cells in the body.
These come in two types:
large buoyant (lb LDL) and indicates good health;
Small dense (sd LDL) and indicates poor health;
LDLs are considered dangerous because they deposit cholesterol into our arteries.
High-density lipoproteins (HDL)
These bring fat and cholesterol from the cells back to the liver (an important process known as reverse cholesterol transport). Often considered heart healthy as they remove excess cholesterol from cells and arteries.
If you have any questions regarding this blog post or anything nutrition related, please contact Brett, Brittany or Wes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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