What About You?
Confusion abounds about dietary fats and oils. Some say all fats are bad to eat, unsightly to wear (depending on distribution), and a harbinger of premature death regardless of age. On the other hand, some gorge daily on a smorgasbord of saturated fats, trans fats, and other unhealthful foods. In the middle are those who are puzzled, confused, fed-up, or just plain indifferent about the whole matter!
The reality is that some fat is good, even necessary, while some kinds and, too much of it in general, are best avoided. Dietary fat is necessary for our bodies to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fat is also necessary for healthy skin, vision, and brain development and function. Yet, energy-dense fat is often pinpointed as the villain in the battle of the bulge – more than twice the calories of the same amount of either proteins or carbohydrates! However, it is a grave error to equate excess body fat with only excess dietary fat. Overweight and obesity are complex. Some studies show that processed and highly refined foods, including starches and sugars (carbohydrates), are at least (if not more so) as “obesigenic” as good fats.
Amount of Fat
There is an established association between fat intake and the risk of atherosclerotic heart disease and stroke. Unbridled consumption of long-chain saturated fat and trans fatty acids raises blood cholesterol concentrations, contributing to the above conditions. Nonetheless, very low-fat eating plans – less than 15% or 34 grams of fat in a 2,000-calorie diet – don’t eliminate atherosclerosis risk in everyone and may increase the risk for deficiency in essential fats. Some people find a low-fat diet very difficult to maintain this over time. Most modern nutritionists suggest that a diverse diet that derives 20 to 35% of its energy from fat is healthful. However, individuals have diabetes, atherosclerosis, or multiple sclerosis may benefit from a much lower fat intake.
There’s no dietary requirement for saturated fat, for God make our bodies to produce all that is necessary. Long-chain saturated fat has its own limit. Most conventional health authorities recommend that less than 7-10% of our total daily calories should come from saturated fat found concentrated in meats and dairy products. Other nutritionists would advocate dispensing with animal fats altogether.
Interestingly, there is early evidence that highly saturated vegetable fats from the oils of coconut, palm and the palm kernel, as well as cocoa butter, are of the medium-chain variety and may not confer the same degree of health risk as their long-chain cousins if they are cold-pressed and not heat-processed. Virgin, cold-pressed oils and saturated vegetable fats are safer to consume than heat-processed oils and fats. We will explore this topic more fully in another article soon.
(Editor note: We do not recommend any coconut or palm oil if one is obese, has diabetes, prediabetes, or any cardiovascular problems. Recent studies suggest that these oils increase total cholesterol levels and do not improve the overall HDL to total cholesterol ratio.) As far as saturated fats go, virgin, cold-pressed coconut oil would be preferable to butter for healthy individuals.
Fast Food Combo
Generally, long-chain saturated fats push inflammation by three distinct mechanisms as well as increase cholesterol levels.1 Inflammation fuels each stage in the development of atherosclerosis and underlies chronic conditions—arthritis, auto-immune conditions, diabetes, obesity and such. The immune system responds to fast-food diets (rich in fat, sugar, and low in fiber) as it does to a bacterial infection: it turns on the spigot for inflammatory assaults.2 Saturated fats interferes with the ability of blood vessels to expand appropriately and they reduce blood flow.3 Cholesterol is a minor player unless it becomes oxidized. Chronic health conditions, pollution, and a deficient intake of anti-oxidants makes the body’s organs produce more free radicals than it has anti-oxidant capacity to handle (oxidative stress).
The combination of saturated fats, oxidized cholesterol, and sugar is especially problematic. Long-term consumption of high fat with a high sugar diet damages the kidneys.4 Consuming a single meal with palm oil reduces the body’s ability to respond to insulin appropriately and increases fat deposition in the liver.5
Trans fats are mainly man-made through the process of hydrogenation. “Partially hydrogenated” oils and fats as described on food labels are a clue to their existence in the foods we buy. Even so, trace amounts of naturally-occurring trans fats are present in fatty meats and full-fat dairy foods. Chronic ingestion of trans fats has been associated with risk of developing certain cancers, including breast and colorectal, in population studies. Furthermore, research conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health estimates that eliminating trans fats from the diet could prevent about 250,000 heart attacks and related deaths every year.6 Consumption of trans fat produce more than cardiovascular damage. See Save Your Heart & Brain! Make Your Own Cookies!/
Some fats are essential for our health since we have no other way to get them but through our food. Insufficient amounts can lead to nutritional deficiencies and sickness. There are two essential fatty acids: linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid, and alpha-linoleic (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid. From alpha linoleic acid the human body can make DHA (docosahexanoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentanoic acid), unsaturated fats considered central to a child’s brain development and eyesight, and for heart health. Supplementing the diet of lactating mothers with flaxseed increases the concentrations of ALA and EPA but not DHA in blood and breast milk. To ensure your diet provides enough dietary Omega-3 essential fatty acids, include foods such as flaxseed, chia, walnuts, sesame seeds, and spinach. While salmon, albacore tuna, and fatty fish are sources of omega 3 fatty acids, the current state of water pollution precludes adding these to an optimally healthful dietary regimen.7,8,9 Bisphenol A (BPA) is a man-made compound found in plastic. This product accumulates in the fatty tissue of fish and can disrupt the endocrine system and increases the risk for certain cancers.10 Chia seed, flaxseed, leafy greens, and organic whole soy products are superior sources of omega-3 fats for most people. The omega-3 fat from these plants is much more stable from oxidation than from fish.
Most people in the United States don’t get enough omega-3 and perhaps too much omega-6 essential fatty acids in their diet, and may be frankly overdoing their consumption of omega-6 fats. In fact, current evidence suggests that the effects of tobacco smoke, directly or second-hand, as well as air pollution in general along with excessive intake of omega-6 fatty acids lead to inflammation and inflammatory health conditions. Dietary sources of omega-6 fatty acids include: poultry, egg, cereals, wheat, whole-grain breads, and most vegetable oils.
Keep in mind that essential fatty acids are essential in the sense of absolute necessity and should not be confused with essential oils, which are “essential” only in the sense of being a concentrated essence. The so-called “essentials oils” in aromatherapy are not to be confused with the genuine essential fatty acids.
The Bottom Line
While there is a lot more to know about fats and the types of fats, we do well to get to the bottom line: both excessive and insufficient dietary fat may be problematic. If we consume too much or too little of any essential food or ingredient, we run the risk of body malfunction!
Easy Ways to Avoid “Bad” Fats:
- Follow a whole-food vegetarian dietary regimen: Eat lean protein foods such as legumes—e.g. garbanzo beans and black beans—whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables.
- Choose whole foods, or foods you make at home, and avoid packaged foods when possible. If you use oil and fats for meal preparation, use natural plant-based healthful oils such as cold-pressed olive and sunflower oil. Nuts, seeds, olives, and avocados are the best fats for us to use.
- When choosing foods, consider the fat quantity and quality. If it is processed, read the label to understand how a serving of that food fits or does not fit into your diet. Limit long-chain saturated fats and avoid trans fatty acids.
- Even for good fats, moderation is the key.
- Fritsche KL. The science of fatty acids and inflammation. Advances in Nutrition Journal, 2015, vol 6:2935-3015.
- University of Bonn. “Fast food makes the immune system more aggressive in the long term: Study shows that even after a change to a healthy diet, the body’s defenses remain hyperactive.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 January 2018.
- Universite de Montreal. “Every single junk food meal damages your arteries, new study reveals.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 October 2012.
- Li Li. A Long-Term High-Fat/High-Sucrose Diet Promotes Kidney Lipid Deposition and Causes Apoptosis and Glomerular Hypertrophy in Bama Minipigs. PLoS ONE 10(11): e0142884.
- Álvarez E. Acute dietary fat intake initiates alterations in energy metabolism and insulin resistance. Journal of Clinical Investigation. 2017; 127 (2): 695
- Mozaffarian D. (13 April 2006). “Trans Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease” New England Journal of Medicine. 354 (15): 1601-1613.
- SeaWeb. “Chemicals In Our Waters Are Affecting Humans And Aquatic Life In Unanticipated Ways.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 February 2008. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080216095740.htm
- Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA). “Environmental pollutants in large Norwegian lakes.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 May 2017. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170519131647.htm
- Domingo JL. Nutrients and Chemical Pollutants in Fish and Shellfish. Balancing Health Benefits and Risks of Regular Fish Consumption. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2016;56(6):979-88.
- Repossi A. Bisphenol A in Edible Part of Seafood. Ital J Food Saf. 2016 May 2; 5(2):5666. eCollection 2016 Apr 19.