Fats, Our Friends

Okay, we have talked about cholesterol and essential fatty acids…now let’s get into fat. I personally do not believe that fat deserves the bad rap it gets, actually quite the opposite.

What do fats do?

Fats are a necessary component of our diet. In addition to energy and heat source storage, they….

  • provide padding and insulin for the organs and nerves
  • are essential in the absorption of our fat soluble vitamins
  • our the material for manufacturing our hormones
  • and are a source of our essential fatty acids, etc..

Fats make up the majority of our cells membranes, modulate the immune system, feed the heart, make up the brain, and some act as an antimicrobial, antiviral, and antifungal—but only when consumed in proper balance. Fats are great if—they are healthy fats, included as part of a balanced diet, and are protected against oxidation.

What are lipids, fats, fatty acids, and oils?

Lipids are compounds that are not water-soluble. They are found in the body as phospholipids, triglycerides (fats), and cholesterol. Fats may be solid at room temperature whereas oils are liquid.

The terms “fats” and “fatty acids” are often used interchangeably, but fatty acids are just sub-units of fats. Most of the fat in the body is stored as triglycerides. Triglycerides consists of any combination of any 3 fatty acids; saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated, connected to a glycerol molecule. A monoglyceride, on the other hand, only has one fatty acid connected.

Saturated versus unsaturated fats?

All fats are made up of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. Fats and oils tend to be a blend of three types, saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

The difference? Saturated fats are chains of carbon atoms strung together liked a beaded necklace with an acid attached to one end and a hydrogen molecules at the other. This chain is “decorated” with hydrogen atoms. Saturated fats have all of the hydrogen atoms they can hold, therefore, “saturated” with hydrogen. Unsaturated fats are missing pairs of carbon atoms in the chain and requires a link to hold it together, which creates a kink in the chain. This “kink” changes the property of the fat.

  • Saturated Fats: There are 3 types of saturated fatty acids:  short, medium, and long chained and each has a different and important role in promoting health. Foods containing high percentage of saturated fats include animal products, palm and coconut oil, coconut, butter, rendered animal fats, chocolate, fish oil, cheese, nuts, meats, and whipped cream.
  • Unsaturated Fats: There are two types of unsaturated fats, monunsaturated an polyunsatured fats. The type of unsaturated fat is distinguished by the number of “links” it has in the chain.
    • A monounsaturated fat has one “link”. Monounsaturated fatty acids can be found in nuts, avocados, olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, and in some animal fat such as fig fat or lard.
    • Polyunsaturated fats are missing two or more pairs and contains multiple “links”. They are found in many common vegetable oils, such as corn, soybean, safflower and sunflower oil but, may not be the healthiest choice. Healthy polyunsaturated fats are called Essential fatty acids and are converted by the body into EPA/DHA.

What are hydrogenated fats?

Hydrogenated fats are unsaturated fats that are processed to become solid at room temperature in order to protect against rancidity through a process called hydrogenation. Packaged and processed foods such as cookies, crackers, and margarine most commonly contain these types of fats.

What the best sources of dietary fat?

This list is taken from the Westin A Price foundation

  • For Cooking
    • Butter
    • Tallow and suet from beef and lamb
    • Lard from pigs
    • Chicken, goose and duck fat
    • Coconut, palm and palm kernel oils
  • For Salads
    • Extra virgin olive oil (also OK for cooking at very very low temps.)
  • For Fat-Soluble Vitamins
    • Fish liver oils such as cod liver oil (preferable to fish oils, which do not provide fat-soluble vitamins, can cause an overdose of unsaturated fatty acids and usually come from farmed fish.) I like them broken down into EPA/DHA.
  • The following fats may cause health issues
    • All hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils 
    • Industrially processed liquid oils such as soy, corn, safflower, cottonseed and canola
    • Fats and oils (especially vegetable oils) heated to very high temperatures in processing and frying.

Why can heating certain fats be bad?

Vegetable oils contain mostly heat-sensitive polyunsaturated fats. When heated, these fats turn into toxic compounds including trans fat. So all of these oils may contain trans fat even if it doesn’t say so on the label!

Now, on the other hand, saturated fats can resist a heat-related damage called oxidation. Due to their shape, these fats have no room for oxygen to squeeze in. Monounsaturated fats, like olive oil, have room for only one oxygen to squeeze in so it may be okay to cook at low temps with these oils. Polyunsaturated fats, on the other hand, has room for 2 oxygen molecules, making reactions not twice as nicely to occur, but billions of times more likely! 

How much fat should I eat?

More controversy abounds!! According to fat specialist, the late Dr. Jon Kabara, PhD, a suggested balanced diet for MOST people should be a balanced and healthy, low-calorie diet that includes a fat combination of 25% medium chained saturated, 57% omega-9 monounsaturated, 3% omega 3, and 15% omega 6. Complicated.

The Zone diet recommends a diet consisting of carbohydrates (40%), protein (30%), and fat (30%) whereas the  Metabolic Typing Diet proponents believe that carbohydrate metabolic types require only 15% fat, 25% protein, and 60% carbohydrates. Keto experts believe that high fat consumption in amounts up to 75 to 95% of the diet.

Even though we all very metabolically different, if we had to propose a very generalized dietary approach, it would consist of an organic based balanced diet consisting of roughly protein (1/4 to 1/3), carbohydrates (2/3 to 3/4) in the form of vegetables and limited fruit—combined with lots of fat consumed with every meal. As long fats are healthy, not oxidized or trans fats, we feel they can be consumed with abundance.

Are there circumstances when dietary fat should be limited?

Yes! Those whose gallbladder has been removed and those with familial hypercholesterimia, might want to consider supplementation to support lipid metabolism.

Others with issues with digestive enzymes, hypothyroidism, high cortisol levels, metabolic syndrome, metabolic acidity, GI issues, biliary stasis, fatty liver, immune issues, mitochondrial issues, low cofactor issues, etc. may need to determine their root cause to help alleviate fat metabolism issues.

What are healthy blood lipid levels?

Blood lipids must be evaluated with other markers to determine health. In addition to a standard lipid panel, we recommend a standard chemistry/lipid panel, homocysteine, CRP, fibrinogen, HA1c, fasting insulin, and thyroid panel to determine how fats are being utilized systemically.

It is important look for ratios between these markers, which is why we believe that actual values do not tell the whole story. As we age, we expect cholesterol levels to increase to keep up with the rigors of aging. In contrary to popular belief, high LDL values may indicate cellular repair and inflammation, not necessary the need for a statin drug. High values of HDL may not be as healthy as we are lead to believe and may indicate autoimmune issues among other things. In the office, we use functional blood chemistry analysis to determine cardiovascular risk and underlying root cause.

If lipid values are irregular, a VAP panel may be recommend to determine particle size which is a true risk factor as well as oxidation. Oxidative stress test may also be indicated for smaller LDL particle size.

How about supplements?

For those who choose to supplement with fish oil, please assure that it has been tested for contaminants and heavy metals and protected against oxidation during the processing so it does not become rancid.  Red yeast rice and other supplements may help control high cholesterol levels in lieu of a statin but mitochondria should still be supported. For those that go toward Keto, coconut oil or MCT can help the transition from carb to fat burning.

What can you do to improve your cardiovascular and other inflammatory disease risk?

Eating to control blood sugar levels, consume high-fiber, essential fatty acids, magnesium, a multivitamin, and vitamin D is a good place to start. Stay hydrated. Find and control sources of inflammation. Exercise will control blood sugar levels and help improve insulin sensitivity.

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