So, What’s The Skinny On Fats?

Are you fat-phobic?  If you are, then the good news is that you really do not have to be.  The nonsense we have been force-fed for fifty years in this country is turning out to be not correct; modern research shows no connection, for example, between saturated fats and increased cardiovascular risk – in fact, as mentioned in a previous article I have done, the added sugar food manufacturers put in food to make it taste better after fat is removed is a much more significant risk factor in cardiovascular disease.

This is not to say that you should just pop open that can of Crisco and chow down…but you really needn’t be so afraid of fat…in fact, fats can be your friend, even if you are not diabetic. (DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor or a dietician.  I am drawing the information I have from a number of different articles.  I do know, however, from the schooling I have had in basic medicine and disease processes I must have in order to do what I do for a living…that if you have, or are at risk for pancreatitis, fat should be limited and/or avoided.)

Additionally, most of the cholesterol in your body comes from what your body manufactures on it’s own, not from foods you consume.  So avoiding high cholesterol foods is not going to do a lot to bring down your cholesterol numbers.  My cholesterol numbers dropped radically on Atkins, and again are well under control on the low-carb diet I now follow.

So what is the truth?  I only know what I have stated above, which comes from many different sources which are all peer-reviewed, and written by doctors and cardiologists.  But one thing I DO know, without a doubt, is that food manufacturers DO NOT want you to be an educated consumer.  Reading nutrition labels is good, but you should also read the ingredient labels.  Many unwanted things hide under unfamiliar names, because the manufacturer knows that if you knew what was actually in their stuff, you might choose a different product.

So why would they want to put items in their food that are not particularly healthy for you, and even may, in fact, be extremely UNHEALTHY for you?  Two words:  It’s Cheap.  That simple.  One needs look no further than that to know the motivation of the food manufacturers.  If it is cheaper to produce, they make more profit…and budget-conscious people are more likely to choose lower-priced products (and the old adage of “you get what you pay for” definitely applies here!)

Getting back to fats, now…There are basically three types of fats…saturated, unsaturated, and trans-fats.  Unsaturated fat, by the way, can be broken into two sub-groups, mono- and poly- unsaturated fats.  So what are these fats, and what’s good for you?  Trans-fats should absolutely be avoided.  These are the ones manufacturers try to hide in the ingredient label, by calling it “partially hydrogenated oil.”  Other names under which this stuff hides are: hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated (such as “partially hydrogenated soybean oil”), shortening, margarine, mono- or diglycerides.  Yes, folks, MARGARINE is on that list.  Margarine IS NOT BUTTER.

So, you ask…what are these different types of fats, and how good or bad are they?

Here goes:

Good fat:
Good fats come mainly from vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish. They differ from saturated fats by having fewer hydrogen atoms bonded to their carbon chains. Healthy fats are liquid at room temperature, not solid. There are two broad categories of beneficial fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Monounsaturated fats.
When you dip your bread in olive oil at an Italian restaurant, you’re getting mostly monounsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fats have a single carbon-to-carbon double bond. The result is that it has two fewer hydrogen atoms than a saturated fat and a bend at the double bond. This structure keeps monounsaturated fats liquid at room temperature.

Good sources of monounsaturated fats are olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, and most nuts, as well as high-oleic safflower and sunflower oils.

Polyunsaturated fats:.
When you pour liquid cooking oil into a pan, there’s a good chance you’re using polyunsaturated fat. Corn oil, sunflower oil, and safflower oil are common examples. Polyunsaturated fats are essential fats. That means they’re required for normal body functions but your body can’t make them. So you must get them from food. Polyunsaturated fats are used to build cell membranes and the covering of nerves. They are needed for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation. (Other articles you may have read spell out the connection between inflammation and diabetes, so I won’t belabor the point here.)

A polyunsaturated fat has two or more double bonds in its carbon chain. There are two main types of polyunsaturated fats: omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. The numbers refer to the distance between the beginning of the carbon chain and the first double bond. Both types offer health benefits.

Eating polyunsaturated fats in place of saturated fats or highly refined carbohydrates reduces harmful LDL cholesterol and improves the cholesterol profile. It also lowers triglycerides.

Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, flaxseeds, walnuts, canola oil, and unhydrogenated soybean oil.  Oils, seeds and nuts are good sources for the omega-6 fatty acids.  Industrial nations eating a typical diet get too much Omega-6 and not enough Omega-3.  So what’s the difference?

Omega-6 is pro-inflammatory, Omega-3 is anti-inflammatory, and I have already mentioned the known connection between inflammation and diabetes.  Of course, if you understand body processes, SOME inflammation is necessary and even desired.  It helps protect our bodies from infection and injury, but it can also cause severe damage and contribute to disease when the inflammatory response is inappropriate or excessive.  So this is good to keep in mind.  So what’s a good balance?

The Inuit people of Alaksa,  whose diet consists of a lot of seafood, have a 1:4 ratio; pre-industrial hunter-gatherer societies whose diet consisted of a lot of land animals tended to have a ratio of about 2:1 to about 4:1.  Anthropological evidence also suggests that the ratio human beings evolved eating is somewhere around 1:1  Clearly we should be a lot lower than the Standard American Diet ratio of 16:1!!

In-between fats:
Saturated fats are common in the American diet. They are solid at room temperature — think cooled bacon grease. Common sources of saturated fat include red meat, whole milk and other whole-milk dairy foods, cheese, coconut oil, and many commercially prepared baked goods and other foods.

The word “saturated” here refers to the number of hydrogen atoms surrounding each carbon atom. The chain of carbon atoms holds as many hydrogen atoms as possible — it’s saturated with hydrogens.  These fats are not as bad as we were once led to believe.  Still, one should attempt to limit the amount of these fats.  A standard serving of meats, for example, should be about the size of a deck of playing cards, between perhaps 4-6 ounces.  How many of us really limit ourselves to that?  These fats need not be AVOIDED…but the majority of the fats you eat should be unsaturated fats.

Bad fats
The worst type of dietary fat is the kind known as trans fat. It is a byproduct of a process called hydrogenation that is used to turn healthy oils into solids and to prevent them from becoming rancid. When vegetable oil is heated in the presence of hydrogen and a heavy-metal catalyst such as palladium, hydrogen atoms are added to the carbon chain. This turns oils into solids. Now, really think about this:  You may have heard of heavy-metal toxicity, right?  So do you REALLY want something in your body that was processed with a heavy metal catalyst?  These are fats that honestly should be avoided!  So why do they do it?  For one, it’s cheaper, and for another, it makes it possible to transport food longer distances.

A good rule of thumb to follow is…the further your food has to travel to get to your plate, the less healthy it will be for you.  Try to go to local farmer’s markets, and get locally produced vegetables, meats, fish, poultry, whatever happens to be available in the area in which you live.  Generally, the closer to home your food starts, the healthier it will be for you.  and it will probably taste better, too.

Until next time!