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Fats: Everything you need to know

What are the different kinds of fat?

There are three basic kinds of fats that are classified based on their structure; saturated (SFA), monounsaturated (MUFA), and polyunsaturated (PUFA). Saturated fats can vary in length, but all have the same chemical stability because the bonds between molecules are all filled; so you can heat it to high temperatures and it lasts a long time without any oxidation reaction (which damages the fat: and then when you eat it, it causes damage in the body). Monounsaturated fats have one bond that’s not filled, making it slightly less stable than saturated; polyunsaturated fats have more than one bond unfilled, making them the most unstable (read: you don’t want to cook with these!) and most inflammatory in general. Most fats like olive oil are a mixture of a ratio of the different kinds, but mostly MUFA. Of the PUFA, are several essential fatty acids - omega 3’s and omega 6’s.

BAD SCIENCE GAVE FAT A BAD REPUTATION

  • Won't eating fat make me fat?!

Omega-3 and Omega-6

You may have heard of EPA, DHA, linoleic acid (LA), alpha-lineoleic acid (ALA) - these are all fatty acids that the body cannot produce from other sources so need to be consumed within the diet. One of the most common issues for vegans and vegetarians is getting enough essential fatty acids - especially omega-3’s - in their diets. Although flaxseeds and chia have “high” levels of these, the bioavailability of them - ie how much of the ingested fats can be converted to the useful forms - around 5%. These fats are critical for maintaining healthy cell structure and function, so vegans and vegetarians should be looking ideally to supplement with a high quality fish or algae oil pill. Both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are essential, however it it also key that the ratio between them is balanced. The former has anti inflammatory properties in the body; the latter tends to be pro-inflammatory. Our ancestors consumed them in a ratio of around 1-2:1, a healthy balance (6's:3's). Now most people are consuming far too many (pro-inflammatory) omega 6’s and the ratio has catapulted to more than 1:20 in favor of omega 6!

Units Omega6 consumed for every ONE Omega 3 consumed

Doesn’t fat make you fat?

There are many functions of fat in the body. Fat is needed to build all cells - it’s the primary component of the cell walls that determines how healthy the cell is and the communication between cells. Fat can be used as clean burning energy for the body (meaning less free radicals and inflammation created by burning fat vs sugar). Omega 3 fats have especially been shown to lower inflammation. In addition to this, your brain is nearly 60% made of fat and cognitive health strongly linked to quality fat intake. Fat is also needed to absorb key vitamins and minerals. Yes, too much fat makes you fat, because the body needs to put the excess energy somewhere. Calories still do matter. But too much carbohydrates will also make you fat (and bring you a host of other ailments). From an evolutionary standpoint, the body wants to store any macronutrient that is not needed for energy for future use, because hunter gatherers were never sure when or where their next meal was coming from!

What kind of fat should I eat?


For cooking, using saturated fats - butter, ghee, coconut oil - are best. For low heat cooking and raw use, olive oil is great (added benefits from the antioxidants when consumed raw). Great whole foods fat sources include nuts, avocado, fatty fish and cheese. If you consume these fats, you’ll be minimising consumption omega 6’s and maximising omega 3’s to achieve that ideal 1:1 ratio. What you want to avoid is industrially processed vegetable/seed oils, at all costs. Sunflower seed oil, peanut oil, rapeseed oil, corn oil, canola oil… in addition to being high in omega 6’s, these fats are highly processed and refined, easily oxidized when heated, often made from crops that have been sprayed heavily with chemicals, and the process of extracting oil from these plants in itself requires high volumes of chemical solvents and toxins.
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CONSUMPTION OF HIGHLY PROCESSED OILS HAS SKYROCKETED

  • Since the 1960's, real fats have been increasingly replaced with margarine, highly processed inflammatory vegetable oils, and processed carbohydrates. Obesity, cancer, and other chronic lifestyle diseases also started to climb. Connection?
    Image source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21367944

How much fat should I eat?

A general guideline is a serving of pure fat (olive oil, butter, coconut oil) is about 1-2 T. Meat, avocado, nuts/seeds or fish that already have fat as part of their macronutrient makeup are pre-determined for you; just eat a reasonable portion for you and nature’s done the rest of the work! Be mindful and aware of amounts of cooking fats you’re using and don’t be scared of animal products containing fats. As part of a macronutrient split, there is no right or wrong answer to how much fat you should be consuming; however a proportion of about 30-40% protein, 40-50% fat and 20-30% carbs is a good starting place.

A general guideline is a serving of pure fat (olive oil, butter, coconut oil) is about 1-2 T. Meat, avocado, nuts/seeds or fish that already have fat as part of their macronutrient makeup are pre-determined for you; just eat a reasonable portion for you and nature’s done the rest of the work! Be mindful and aware of amounts of cooking fats you’re using and don’t be scared of animal products containing fats. As part of a macronutrient split, there is no right or wrong answer to how much fat you should be consuming; however a proportion of about 30-40% protein, 40-50% fat and 20-30% carbs is a good starting place.
50%

Fat

30%

Protein

20%

Carbohydrate

Optimise your macronutrient composition with a focus on quality in all domains 

Doesn’t saturated fat raise cholesterol and clog my arteries?

Saturated fat is not the devil that the lipid-heart disease hypothesis presented it to be; it could be argued that the flawed science that scared everyone away from eating saturated fats and propelled the high carb movement is an influential factor in modern chronic disease and obesity. In moderation, studies recent suggest is neither good nor bad, and that high levels of saturated fat consumption vs low levels have no bearing on future occurrence of heart disease. Problems arise when consumed in excess, leading to adiposity, which then is accompanied by a host of other metabolic issues - dyslipidemia, high blood pressure, high levels of inflammation etc. The other problematic situation is when saturated fats are consumed in the wrong context - ie in the presence of a high (refined, inflammatory) carb, low fibre diet. Heart disease is not such a simple concept as fat or cholesterol “clogging” the arteries. There are many more factors at play, and cholesterol is a much more complicated process than what you eat - in fact, most of what you eat in form of cholesterol can’t actually be absorbed. To that point, cholesterol is synthesized by almost every cell in the body by itself, to the level meeting the cell’s needs, because cholesterol is a vital component of cells’ structures, needed as precursors for many steroid hormones, and insulating nerve cells.