Fat Facts

For years, doctors, health professionals, and the media have pounded into our heads that eating a low-fat diet would take off weight, prevent heart disease and cancer, and help in many other conditions. Over the last 50 years, fat consumption has declined, but the effect of this decline has been the opposite of what was desired. The incidence of obesity, diabetes, and other degenerative diseases has skyrocketed. Recent research is beginning to show that people who avoid eating fat, substitute starch, and that is most often refined. As a result, they actually end up eating more. In addition, their bodies do not get the nutrients needed so they are still hungry and often develop cravings. The fact is, that we need natural fats from whole foods in our diets. They help us to feel satisfied, so we do not eat too much, as well as supplying essential fatty acids and other nutrients.

Saturated Fats

Saturated Fats are found mostly in animal fats, like butter and cream, and tropical oils like coconut oil. Small amounts are in all vegetable oils and are also made in your body (usually because of eating to many carbohydrates). Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are less likely to go rancid when heated.

Some of the roles saturated fats play in body chemistry include:

  • They make up at least 50% of the cell membrane, which helps to maintain the “stiffness” of the membrane so it can work properly.
  • They are essential for the absorption of calcium into the bones
  • They protect the liver from alcohol and other toxins
  • They help build the immune system
  • Vitamins A, D, K, and E are better absorbed with saturated fat.
  • They provide energy to the heart in times of stress
  • They help the lungs to work properly
  • They assist in the production and function of hormones
  • The body needs some saturated fat in order to assimilate essential fatty acids        

Monounsaturated Fats

Monounsaturated Fats tend to be liquid at room temperature but are solid when refrigerated. Like saturated fats monounsaturated fats are stable and can be used in cooking. The most common monounsaturated oil found in our food is oleic acid, which is found in olive oil, sesame oil, as well as almonds, pecans, cashes, peanuts, and avocados. The body also produces these fatty acids from saturated fatty acids when it needs them.

Polyunsaturated Fats

Polyunsaturated Fats are found in a wide variety of foods. They are liquid even when refrigerated. When these fats are exposed to heat or air the chemical structure breaks down and so can provoke diseases like cancer and heart disease, immune system problems, digestive disorders, learning problems, and weight gain. For this reason, the consumption of commercial oils like corn, cottonseed, soy and sunflower, should be avoided.

The two polyunsaturated fatty acids found most frequently in our foods are linolinic acid (omega 3) and linoleic acid (omega 6). These are called essential fatty acids because your body cannot make them and they must be obtained from foods. An imbalance in amount of the essential fatty acids in our bodies can also cause a number of health problems.

Most vegetable oils are higher in omega 6 oils. Because of the current emphasis on consuming polyunsaturated oils rather than saturated fats, there tends to be an over-consumption of omega 6 fatty acids in most people’s diets. For this reason, health professionals seeking to improve the balance of fats often emphasize omega 3 oils.  Foods that contain larger amounts of omega 3 fatty acids include, walnuts, flax seed, dark leafy greens, eggs and butter from pastured animals, and fish and fish oils.

Trans Fats

Trans Fats are contained in most commercially baked goods, many frozen foods, margarine, chips, shortening, fast food fries and many other products. Forcing hydrogen into polyunsaturated oils to make the fatty acid chains behave like saturated fat produces trans fats. Because trans fats are so cheap to make and the shelf life of products made with them is practically forever, the food industry prefers these fats instead of the more expensive animal fats and tropical oils.

Some of the problems trans fats can cause include:

  • Promotion of weight gain
  • Heart disease
  • Hormone dysfunction
  • Immune system dysfunction
  • Increase in cholesterol
  • Blood sugar instability
  • Poor tissue repair

Manufacturers are required to list trans fats, over a certain percentage, on their labels, but trace amounts might not be listed. Unfortunately, most companies are using liquid vegetable oils as a substitute, which can also cause health problems, especially when used at high temperatures as in frying. Fast-food chains continue to use hydrogenated oils to fry foods and there are no labels for most restaurant foods.

In Conclusion

“Certain fats should be avoided (rancid, altered, refined, hydrogenated) and, like any food component, fats can be over-eaten. But not ALL fat is bad! Fats altered from the form nature provides are more likely to contribute to the overweight problem since they stress the liver and gallbladder; cannot be handled or used nutritionally as can natural, unaltered fatty-acid compounds; and are toxic. Also, what works for some may not work for others- the amount of fat in the diet should be based on individual needs and make up. However, SOME fats are needed for health and weight loss, and they should be natural, essentially unchanged, unrefined, fresh, (not rancid), and properly processed, or a part of whole foods.”*

        *Nutrition News and Views Vol.10, No.1, Weigh to Go!  By Judith A. DeCava, CNC, LNC