FATS: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Lipids are an essential component of our diet. Our cells would not work properly without them and they are vital for proper brain function, hormone production, they are necessary for the absorption of lipid soluble vitamins (vitamin A, D, E and K), to convert carotene into Vitamin A, amongst other reactions in the body.
What is important is that we focus on is the quality and the quantity of the fat that we consume.
There are different kinds of fatty acids that we can get from our food and they are divided into different categories based on their chemical structure; saturated and unsaturated fatty acids (which are then divided into monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and trans fatty acids).
Saturated fatty acids have chains of carbon atoms which are all interconnected by single bonds each carbon atom also being occupied by hydrogen atoms. These molecules stack easily upon one another and are generally solid at room temperature (coconut oil, for example).
The high-fat and low-carb movements (such as the paleo diet or ketogenic diet) constantly use studies supported by the National Dairy Council in order to back up their claims of saturated fat being healthy for you. Conflict of interest much?
While small amounts are necessary, large quantities are dangerous and should be avoided.
It has been demonstrated that there is a direct relationship between the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet and the incidence of coronary artery disease.
There is also a strong relationship between saturated fat consumption and dyslipidemia, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, type-2 diabetes, erectile dysfunction, osteoarthritis.
Saturated fats are abundant in beef, lamb, pork, poultry, cheese, milk and other dairy products, palm oil, and coconut oil.
The average American gets about 26 grams of saturated fat every day, while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends getting less than 20 grams per day based on a 2000 calorie diet. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends getting a maximum of 6% of your daily calories from saturated fat. In someone who consumes 2000 calories a day, this would be 13.3 grams of saturated fat.
My recommendation is to cut out all animal products and processed oil from your diet in order to get that number down to about 12 grams of saturated fat a day for optimal health. And yes, this includes coconut oil and olive oil.
Unsaturated fats being either cis-unsaturated fats or trans-unsaturated fats depending on the molecular structure of the fatty acid. When we talk about a molecule being either cis or trans we are talking about the direction of the hydrogens bonded to the carbon atoms where the double bond is. Cis refers to the hydrogen atoms being on the same side and trans meaning they are on opposite sides.
Trans unsaturated fatty acids are manipulated in a lab by a process called hydrogenation in which they take unsaturated fat and add hydrogen atoms, making it so that it forms a solid (margarine or shortening for example) so that it is easier to manipulate while cooking, or prolong its shelf life.
Watch out for “partially hydrogenated oil” or “hydrogenated oil” when looking at the ingredients listed on packaged food. This is something we absolutely want to stay away from. You can also find trans fatty acids in meat and dairy, which should be avoided anyways.
The National Academy of Sciences has concluded that the tolerable upper limit intake of trans fatty acids for humans is zero, which is one of the many reasons that all humans should be on a whole food, plant-based diet.
Be careful while reading the nutrition label because if a product has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, they can legally label it is as having 0 trans fat or “trans-fat-free”. You should avoid any product that contains any animal byproducts, partially hydrogenated oils, hydrogenated oils. This is one of the many reasons I tell my patients to always read the ingredients, regardless of what it may say on the front of the package.
Cis fats are divided into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) have one double bond between two carbon atoms, losing two hydrogen atoms, making it so that each molecule does not stack as easily on top of another which is why they are liquid at room temperature.
These kinds of fatty acids are good for us and the most commonly found in nature is oleic acid which we can find them in olives, avocados, sesame seeds, almonds, peanuts, cashews, pecans.
Polyunsaturated fats have two or more double bonds in their carbon chain, making the stacking of molecules even more difficult.
There are two kinds of essential fatty acids for humans meaning they can’t be produced by our bodies so we need to get them from our diet; alfa -linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid, and linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid. These are both very important for our diets, however, in the standard American diet we tend to eat way too many omega-6s and not enough omega-3s.
These are the best type of fatty acids for us. The most abundant source of omega-3 fatty acids is flax seeds, while other plant sources include hemp seeds, walnuts, chia seeds, soybeans, and spinach.
There are high concentrations of omega-3’s in fish oil which is why it has been recommended by the American Heart Association, even though studies show that there is no benefit from taking fish oil capsules. Fish oil gives no cardiovascular protection, decrease in cardiac death, sudden death or stroke.
I recommend that everyone get their daily omega 3 requirements with the help of ground flax seeds, 1-2 tablespoons (depending on the individual). Flax seeds have hard shells which are not usually penetrated by chewing alone, which is why they should be ground and stored in the refrigerator. Flax seed oil is also an option, however, it is more expensive, does not taste very good and goes bad rather quickly, even with refrigeration. Plus to make the oil they remove the fiber and protein from the seeds.
OMEGA 6 FATTY ACIDS
Even though they are considered essential fatty acids, I suggest people limit their consumption of omega-6 fatty acids because we actually tend to get too much in our diets. They should be consumed in the same proportion as omega-3 fatty acids (with a ratio of 1:1), which is not usually the case in the western diet.
These are abundant in vegetable oils such as cottonseed oil, corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, salad dressings with these oils, mayonnaise, fast food, pastries. So whenever we are eating something fried or processed we are eating high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids. This is one of the reasons that vegans who eat processed foods can still get cardiovascular disease.
The Pure Doctor’s Recommendations
- Eliminate meat, dairy, and eggs from your diet to lower your intake of cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fats.
- Limit your saturated fat intake to 12-13 grams per day. This means not including vegetable oils high in saturated fat such as coconut and palm oil in your diet in addition to eliminating animal products.
- Instead of putting olive oil on your salad, try avocado, whole olives or my strawberry vinaigrette.
- Consume ground flax seed every day, 1-2 tablespoons.
- Limit intake of any kind of refined oils, vegetable, palm, coconut, olive, corn, etc.