Fat is fat, right? The fast and easy answer is no. All fats are not the same and some are terrible for your health. Right up front, manufactured trans fats added to processed drinks and foods are awful for your health. The U.S. government has deemed that there is no safe level of consumption for trans fats and has ordered companies to remove them from processed foods by June 2018.
It’s important to your diet and health to avoid these fats. If you don’t know where these fats hide in your diet, let’s take a closer look.
Are All Fats the Same?
Before talking about only fat, let’s look at how fat fits into the big picture. Depending on which expert you ask, there are either three or four macronutrients. The commonly agreed-upon macronutrients are fat, protein and carbohydrate. Some sources consider water to be a fourth macronutrient. You need all of the macronutrients to build a strong, healthy body.
This column will focus on fat. Fat, and more specifically saturated fat, has been demonized by media, health and nutrition experts since the publication of the famous Framingham Heart Study in 1948. The objective of the Study was to identify common factors or characteristics that contribute to cardiovascular disease by looking at a large group of people over a long period of time.
One of the conclusions scientists made was that high cholesterol in the blood seemed to be predictive of heart disease. A second conclusion they made was that plaques that form in arteries are made up of cholesterol and they surmised that the more cholesterol you eat, the more plaque you will build in your arteries.
Scientists and medical professionals have come to realize that the body is more complex than eat cholesterol and collect cholesterol in your arteries. After roughly 40 years of cutting fat out of our diets, including saturated fat, and replacing it with a high level of carbohydrates, sugar and processed food – we have rising levels of obesity and disease.
More recently, experts have been looking at these past study results and finding many design flaws as well as intentional distortion of the study results by unscrupulous scientists. Additionally, it has been recently revealed that sugar industry lobbyists paid Harvard scientists to distort data. A terrible disservice to all of us.
If you want to read more on the history of how fat got a bad rap, a couple of resources include the column “The Sugar Conspiracy” by Ian Leslie, or the book “Big Fat Surprise” by Nina Teicholz.
Fat is essential to good health and you cannot live without it because it provides the nutrients necessary for new cell growth and is important for hormone production as well. There are critical fat-soluble vitamins that depend on fat to be absorbed by the body. We need fat for healthy skin, eyes and for brain development and maintenance.
There are four main categories of fat. The categories include saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and trans fats. Let’s look at each one.
All fats are built of fatty acids and each fat is categorized by its chemical structure. We don’t need to go into too much chemical structure here, just know saturated fats all have single chemical bonds in the fatty acid structure.
Saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature and have higher melting points than polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats. What many people don’t know is that animal and vegetable fats and oils contain a combination of fats. For example, butter is classified as a saturated fat. That’s because it is 63 percent saturated fat – and – 29 percent monounsaturated fat as well as 3 percent polyunsaturated fat.
Most of the fats classified as saturated are animal fats. One notable exception is coconut oil. More on coconut oil in another column.
It is worth emphasizing again that consuming saturated fat that contains cholesterol does not build cholesterol in your arteries.
Monounsaturated fatty acids, often called MUFAs, have one double bond in the fatty acid structure and the remainder of the bonds are single. Foods high in monounsaturated fats include red meat, whole milk products, nuts, olives and avocados.
Though olive oil, for example, is high in monounsaturated fat, you may be surprised to know that it is 78 percent monounsaturated, 7 percent saturated and 15 percent polyunsaturated fat. It is obviously not 100 percent monounsaturated.
Polyunsaturated fats have two or more double bonds in the fatty acid construction. These fats can be found in high concentrations in nuts, seeds, fish and green leafy vegetables. Salmon, for example, contains 28 percent saturated, 33 percent monounsaturated and 28 percent polyunsaturated fat. Soybean oil is 11 percent saturated, 24 percent monounsaturated and 58 percent polyunsaturated fat.
Within the polyunsaturated fat category, there are two fatty acids that get a lot of attention. You may have heard of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. There is debate about the optimal ratio for these fatty acids in the diet. The current recommendation is a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 of 4:1 to 1:2. Though experts disagree on the optimal ratio, there is no disagreement that diet that is too high in omega-6 fatty acids leads to health problems.
Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat that are common in nature in small amounts. Natural trans fats are chemically different from the artificial trans fats used in the processed food industry. These artificial fats became a big part of our modern diet when saturated fat was wrongly demonized. Food manufacturers began producing large quantities of these trans fats by using a process called partial hydrogenation. Partially hydrogenated oil is the primary source of trans fat in our food sources.
In June of 2015 the Food and Drug Administration ruled that partially hydrogenated fats, or trans fats, are NOT safe for human consumption in any quantity. The food industry has until June of 2018 to remove these fats from the foods they produce.
It has been shown that consumption of artificial trans fats increase coronary heart disease and destroy health, in part, by raising levels of LDL (referred to as “bad”) cholesterol, lowering HDL (referred to as “good”) cholesterol, raising triglycerides and promoting systemic inflammation in the body. Even though these fats have been deemed unsafe, many in the food industry continue to use trans fats in processed foods. Why?
Trans fats are cheap and they extend shelf life of processed foods.
Some examples of foods that contain artificially produced trans fats includes packaged snacks, packaged baked goods, margarine and the frying oil used in fast food production. For your own good, you must eliminate trans fats from your diet.
You want to keep some amount of natural fats in your diet and substantially minimize sugar and processed carbohydrates.
Become a Fat Burning Machine.
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