*Fueling Wellness with Fat*
I am excited to continue my weekly blog with one of my favorite topics: Fat. No, this isn’t a discussion on saturated fats being great for you, nor is it a discussion on trans fats being the worst for you. This is a post to highlight some of the biggest mistakes I see all the time with clients and how they are (very silently and slowly in most cases) HURTING their health.
I want to use this post to primarily plant the seed of awareness for most of you. Awareness of the kinds of fats you are eating and a general understanding of what they do in your body. If you haven’t heard it before, you can count on hearing this a hundred times more from me in the future: Fat is your friend. Fat is good for you. However, not all fat is created equal and we can do some SERIOUS damage to our bodies if we do not pay close attention to the different kinds. Let’s start with the basics.
What does fat do for us?
- Forms protective part of the myelin sheath coating that covers our nerves
- Composes about 60% of the brain and plays a HUGE role in brain cognition and neural function
- Keeps us satiated longer
- Helps absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K
- Transports nutrients and metabolites across cell membrane
- Fat helps activate hormones to build immune function
- Provides energy for our bodies
So as you can see, fat is SUPER important. We can make some our own selves, but we also need to eat it. Like with most diet-related topics, everybody can respond differently to intake of certain foods. The effect these fats have on your body depends on many variables. Some of which include the health of your gut microbiome (did YOU read my last post?), metabolism, genetics, age, gender, and lifestyle. Now that I have that out of the way, lets break these fats down, lipolysis style. I’ve separated some of these fats into a few different groups to further show their classifications. The ones I have included are the ones I want to focus on. I also want to note that most fats and oils have a combination of the following types of chains, but are classified according to the primary chain.
Fat Types and Functions:
- Monounsaturated Fat
- Sources: beef, olive oil, canola oil, avocados, some nuts (like macadamias)
- Functions: form core structural fats of the body
- Non-toxic at high doses (1); liquid at room temperature
- Saturated fats (long-chain)
- Sources: coconut oil, avocado oil, palm oil-certain kinds, most animal fats
- Functions: form core structural fats in the body, comprising 75-80% of fatty acids in most cells, and are the primary energy storage form for humans (1).
- No known toxicity, more easily burned as energy than PUFAs; bi-products are carbon dioxide and water
- If metabolically healthy (if you don’t know, see me:)), can eat as much SF as you’d like; solid at room temp
- Saturated fat (Medium Chain Triglycerides-MCTs)
- Sources: coconut and mother’s milk
- Functions: high in lauric acid which has anti-bacterial, anti-viral and antioxidant properties (1); structural component of cells
- Fast and easy digestion directly to the liver
- Quick source of energy
*Eating these three fats will raise HDL (the good cholesterol), lower triglycerides, and decrease small LDL particle size number (the bad cholesterol)-all decreasing your risk for heart disease (1). They will also increase muscle mass and stabilize energy and mood through good blood sugar control and steady energy supply. Carbohydrates can fluctuate both of the latter. *
- Poly-unsaturated Fatty Acid (PUFA)
- Omega 6
- sources: small amount in fruits, vegetables, cereal grains, and meat, eggs; larger amounts in industrial processed and refined oils like sunflower, safflower, soybean, and corn oil-all often found in processed foods (think chips, dressings, condiments, crackers, breads, pastas, meats)
- Function: reduces nerve pain, fights inflammation (when not over-consumed/in poor quality sources), can help reduce high blood pressure, preserves bone health (3)
- Omega 3
- Sources: walnuts, flax seed, seafood, some in ruminant animals, eggs
- Functions: integral part of cell membranes, necessary for proper brain development, provide starting point for making hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation; bind to receptors in cells that regulate genetic function; help prevent heart disease and stroke, may help control lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis, and play a protective role in cancer (2)
- Omega 6
* The ratio of omega 6: omega 3 fatty acids is very important to understand. The standard American diet has a rough ratio of 10:1 to 20:1 when we would really like that ratio to be closer to 2-5:1! With this drastic skewing in 6’s to 3’s, it increases our risk dramatically for modern epidemics of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, autoimmune disease, and more (1). *
The trick about fats is that there is always a point of oxidation. Stay with me here. Oxidation of fats leads to rancidity and free radicals, which can lead to a slew of complications in your body, including wreaking havoc on your digestive tract, and causing a whirlwind of inflammatory responses. Inflammation is a major marker and culprit of a variety of conditions such as: skin rashes, joint pain, brain fog, migraines, autoimmune conditions, thyroid problems, metabolic complications leading to weight gain, weight retention, or weight loss, heart disease, type II diabetes, and more.
So how do fats get oxidized? Light, heat, and oxygen exposure. This is why you see higher quality bottles of olive oil in dark containers. Saturated fats are the least prone to oxidation, monounsaturated are second least, and poly-unsaturated are the most prone to oxidation. This is why you actually do NOT want to eat a TON of omega-6 and omega-3 fats, ESPECIALLY if you are getting them from poor quality animal sources or industrial seed oils.
I will get into some of the nitty gritty details about fats and oxidation at a later date, as well as the role of cholesterol in the diet. For now, I want you all to go home and take a look at the nutrition labels of the foods you are eating and see if you find any of the following: sunflower, safflower, canola, soybean, corn, palm. These fats are some of the BIGGEST culprits in the food industry for causing a multitude of serious problems. They are incredibly processed, genetically modified (another topic I will get into at a later date…but not all GMO’s are created equal either so for now try to stay away from these), highly susceptible to oxidation, and damaging to your body.
The other fat consideration I take a look at with clients is the quality of your fat. The fat in commercially raised animals contains A LOT of toxins in addition to a load of other inflammatory agents. The toxins will lead to more damage to your microbiome and more inflammation. This is why if you choose to eat animal products poorly raised, it can be a wiser choice to choose leaner cuts. If you choose to eat grass-fed beef/dairy, pastured poultry, and wild seafood, higher fat is actually VERY good for you. So, to make things as clear as possible for you guys:
Eat liberally: high quality animal fats (meat, poultry, dairy, eggs), avocados, coconut oil/milk/cream, olive oil, wild seafood
Eat Moderately: nuts/seeds
Avoid: processed foods with industrial seed oils, processed poor quality animal products, farmed seafood
Attempt to eat equal omega-6’s and omega 3’s, and get the bulk of your fat intake from saturated and mono-unsaturated fatty acids.
Phew, if you can believe it, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Looking forward to more fat talk in the future. Let me know if you have questions and other topics of interest for me to cover!
Therese Martinez, MS, RD, CPT
- Kresser, Chris. 9 Steps to Perfect Health- #2: Nourish Your Body. February 3, 2011. https://chriskresser.com/9-steps-to-perfect-health-2-nourish-your-body/
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The Nutrition Source: Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution. 2017. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/omega-3-fats/
- Axe, Josh. Dr. Axe Food and Medicine: Benefits vs Risks of Omega-6 Fatty Acids. 2017. https://draxe.com/omega-6/
Therese Martinez, MS, RD, CPT