Fats – are you taking enough of the good ones?

July 3, 2009

Macro-nutrients – Fat

Have you noticed that we are, as a population, eating less fat but are fatter than ever? How is that!? We need certain fats for our bodies to function properly. Fats are needed to help form cell membranes, carry fat-soluble vitamins, build tissue, produce hormones, protect vital organs, provide thermal insulation, transmit nerve impulses and, of course, provide fuel. Fats that are not produced by the body are called essential fatty acids (EFAs) and it means that they need to be acquired through diet (see chapter #12 – “The Power Of Omega-3”). But contrary to popular belief, we also need saturated fats. They form an important part of our body’s cell membranes and eating mostly poly-unsaturated fats can have a detrimental effect on the chemistry of those cellular membranes. Read on…

The concept that fats are equally bad for you is outdated information. In their book, Eat Fat, Lose Fat, Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon debunk certain facts about fat! Fat may not be the bad guy everyone paints it to be. Research is changing the way we look at fat. Fats that were once labelled “bad” may have some major health benefits after all. Supposedly “good” fats may not be as great as we once thought!

Types of Fat

Saturated fats

• Saturated fats are found mostly in meat and dairy products. They are also found in tropical oils like coconut and palm;

• Saturated fats are structured with their carbon bonds all occupied by hydrogen atoms making them highly stable;

• They are solid or semi-solid at room temperature;

• They are least likely to go rancid when heated and less likely to form dangerous free radicals.

Mono-unsaturated fats

• Mono-unsaturated fats are found in olives and olive oil, peanut oil, almond oil and canola oil*;

• Because of their chemical structures, they tend to be liquid at room temperature but become solid when refrigerated;

• They are relatively stable and do not go rancid easily with heat.

Poly-unsaturated fats

• Poly-unsaturated fat is found mostly in plant sources: safflower oil, sunflower oil, soy bean oil, corn oil, sesame oil, seeds and most nuts;

• Because of their chemical structures, they remain liquid at room temperature and when refrigerated;

• Omega-3 and Omega-6 are types of poly-unsaturated fats;

• Poly-unsaturated fats become highly reactive when subjected to heat and oxygen, leading to unwanted free radical formation.

Trans-fats

• They are produced by bombarding poly-unsaturated oils with hydrogen (hydrogenation) making them “resemble” saturated fats which makes them solid at room temperature and increases their shelf life;

• They are less expensive for the food industry to produce using cheap soy, canola or corn oil instead of the more expensive saturated fat sources;

• Trans-fats can be found in hardened margarines and shortenings, salad dressings, mayonnaise, cakes, cookies, crackers, fried foods and fast foods.

Best choices for cooking are saturated fats (coconut oil and palm oil) and fair choices are mono-unsaturated fats. Poly-unsaturated fats should never be used for cooking, as they are highly unstable when heated and lead to unwanted free radical formation.

 Coconut Oil “Healthy” Facts:

• Coconut oil is 91.9 percent saturated fat – very stable for cooking;

• It’s a high source of Lauric acid which has an effect on the immune system with antimicrobial properties;

• Coconut oil has been shown to increase thyroid activity because of its metabolic effect;

• The body can use coconut oil for energy, efficiently and quickly. Coconut fats are called medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) and which normally don’t get stored as fat. They are very helpful for weight loss;

• Most commercial coconut oils are not recommended because they are refined, bleached, and deodorized (RBD). Choose virgin coconut oil produced using low-tech and traditional processes.

There are some controversies among experts about the different types of fat. We have long been told that mono-unsaturated fats are the “best” fats, poly-unsaturated fats are the “acceptable” fats and saturated fats should be limited while trans-fats should be completely avoided. The authors of the book, Eat Fat, Lose Fat, are shedding a different light on fats and state that it is the free radicals from the extraction, processing and cooking of the poly-unsaturated fats, not the saturated fats themselves that can potentially initiate cancer and heart disease. This statement should change the way we consume fat. It is cutting edge information that, I believe, will soon become main-stream!