There has been a great deal of confusion about what kinds of fat are healthy and what are not. Human beings, since the hunter-gatherer days, have been eating saturated fats from animal sources. But nowadays, mainstream nutrition including the government, health organizations, and the media, advises us to eat a low fat diet and shun saturated fats, particularly from animal sources, because they contain cholesterol. Instead, we have been told to consume more “polyunsaturated” vegetable oils made from canola, corn, and soybean as they are considered healthier.
With so much contradicting information out there, as a consumer who wants to stay healthy, who do you believe and what are you supposed to do?
Fat Is Essential For Health
Before getting into the good and bad fats, you first have to understand that your body needs fat for many important functions. To name a few:
- Fat provides the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormones. Cholesterol is a primary component that provides cell membranes with their integrity. Cholesterol is crucial because the body uses it as raw material from which it makes all sorts of hormones. It also help maintain healthy brain function.
- Fat acts as a carrier for vital fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
- Fat is needed for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A.
- Fat is required for mineral absorption.
- Fat is a factor for satiety, which is critical for someone trying to lose weight.
- Fat is where most of the energy in your body is stored. It is the most abundant energy source available to the muscle fibers.
How Much Fat Do You Need?
It all depends on your body type.
Due to genetic reasons, we are all made differently, so there is no single magic formula for everyone. However, if you are a carbohydrate metabolic type, you may need about 15 percent of your calories as fat. If you are a protein metabolic type, you may need around 50 percent of your calories as fat. If you are a mixed type, you are likely to be in between. This is why it is so valuable to know your metabolic type and eat according to your body needs.
Please contact me if you would like to do the online Metabolic Typing test and find out what your metabolic type is.
The Biggest Nutrition Myth Of The 20th Century
A misguided fallacy that persists to this day is the belief that saturated fats cause high cholesterol, clog your arteries, and increase your risk of heart disease. How did this come about? This totally flawed theory, called the Lipid Hypothesis, can be traced back to the 1950s and a researcher named Ancel Keys.
A hypothesis is a tentative explanation for an observation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point. Then, it has to be tested by experiments or trials that will “objectively” show whether or not the hypothesis hold true under the scrutiny of science. In most instances, a hypothesis is presented with the full intent of conducting the science to prove or disprove its validity. However, “bias” often becomes part of the equation. This was the case with Ancel Keys.
Keys had put forth that a high fat diet, particularly one high in saturated fats, was a major contributor to high cholesterol, plaque build-up, and heart disease. He collected data from 22 countries to prove his correlation. However, in the end, he decided to cherry-pick data from just six countries which supported his Lipid Hypothesis. He then published his analysis in the “Seven Countries Study” – they were the United States, Japan, Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, Finland, and the Netherlands.
Subsequent and independent analysis shows that Keys had omitted a significant amount of data that showed there was actually no correlation between dietary fat, in particular, saturated fats, and heart disease. Furthermore, what Keys tried to establish was merely a correlation between two phenomena, not a causal link. This left open the possibility that something else might have caused the heart disease. Could it be the huge amount of sugar or refined carbohydrates that we consume, or some nutrition deficiency, or a sedentary lifestyle, or some other factors?
Nevertheless, all these factors have been ignored. This may sound too bizarre to be true, then again, politics and big businesses played starring roles in this hoax. After demonizing saturated fats, the edible oil industry started promoting vegetable oils derived from corn and soybean to become the new star. Bear in mind that corn and soybean are two of the biggest subsidized crops in America. As a result, not only are we making oil from them, we are also feeding them to our cows and chickens that are never intended by nature to consume these foods.
The truth is that some 60 years later, there is yet new evidence that supports the Lipid Hypothesis. Nevertheless, this faulty data is still accepted as true by the government, health organizations, and the media.
Last but not least, studies have found that lowering cholesterol with statin drugs in healthy individuals do not prevent heart disease nor extend life, and they come with considerable side effects such as diabetes, memory loss, muscle weakness, stomach distress, and aches and pains. Most people don’t need statins and keeping cholesterol as low as it will go is usually not beneficial for your health. Statin drugs only benefit people with known heart disease to help prevent recurrent heart attacks. To understand more about this topic, please read my previous newsletter on Critical Facts About Heart Disease Prevention.
Why Are Vegetable Oils Bad For You?
Vegetable oils are generally liquid at room temperature, whereas fats are solid. They are in the category of “polyunsaturated” oils. It is a big fancy term but what’s important to know is that they have many carbon-carbon double bonds and they have unpaired electrons in their molecular structures that make them highly reactive and unstable. Because of this, polyunsaturated oils should never be exposed to heat, otherwise, they oxidize and go rancid. Unfortunately, all vegetable oils that you get in the grocery stores have already been refined, bleached and deodorized under high heat. So they are practically rancid even before you consume them.
What’s more, in the 1950s, the edible oil manufacturers started adding hydrogen gas to the oils during the high heat refining process. This turned the liquid oil into solid trans fat, which was more suitable for use in the budding fast food and snack food industries. Not only are these processed hydrogenated fats rancid, they also have altered molecular structures that are different from the natural fats. When we eat them, they damage our DNA, initiate plaque buildup in the blood vessels, and increase the risk of heart disease.
Finally, polyunsaturated vegetable oils are very high in omega-6 fat. When you consume too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3, you increase the omega-6 to 3 ratio in the body. Humans have been eating foods containing omega 6 and omega-3 in the ratio of about 2:1. But in the last 50-60 years, the ratio in America has gone up to 20:1. Too much omega 6 and too little omega-3 promotes inflammatory diseases such as hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune diseases. Now you can see why the “polyunsaturated” vegetable oils are so deadly for your health.
Are Animal Fats Healthy?
Animal fats and their dairy products (butter, milk, yogurt, cheese, and cream)are some of the oldest types of fats in human history to be used as food. Compared to other types of fats and oils, they are typically higher in saturated fats. But the beauty about saturated fats is that they have no double bonds and do not have any unpaired electrons. Hence, they are extremely stable and suitable for cooking.
However, one very important factor to bear in mind is that the animal fat is only as healthy as the animal itself. A cow that is raised in a confined feedlot, eats corn or soy meal laced with pesticides, and shot full of antibiotics and hormones is completely different from a cow that is allowed to graze on green pasture and never given any antibiotics and hormones.
Grass-fed beef is so much healthier than corn or grain-fed beef because:
- It contains 2-3 times more CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which reduces tumor growth, body fat, plaque buildup in arteries, and the onset of diabetes.
- It has 60% more omega-3 fats and provide a much more favorable omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.
- It contains 10 times the beta-carotene of grain-fed beef. Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A which is important for normal vision, bone growth, reproduction, cell functions and the immune system.
- It contains 3 times the vitamin E of grain-fed beef. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant in the body and protects against cancer development.
If you are eating meats and dairy products from factory-farmed animals, it is advisable to avoid the fatty cuts and full-fat dairy because toxins such as pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones tend to accumulate in the fat.
The Good Fats – Animal Sources
Beef and suet (beef fat) – best is from grass-fed cows, second choice organic.
Butter and ghee (clarified butter) – best is pasture butter, second choice organic. Ghee can be used for high heat cooking.
Chicken, duck, goose, and turkey – best is organic and free-range, second choice free-range and raised without antibiotics and hormones.
Eggs – only from organic. Free-range is better than cage-free.
Fish – eat only fish caught from cold, pristine, uncontaminated waters, such as wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, herrings, and anchovies. They are high in omega-3 fat.
Full-fat dairy products – best is raw (no pasteurization and homogenization), second choice organic. If not organic, fat-free is preferred.
Lamb – all lamb are naturally grass-fed.
Pork and lard (pork fat) – best is organic, second choice from pigs raised without antibiotics and hormones.
The Good Fats (Oils) – Plant Sources
Avocados, Almonds, Hazelnuts, Macadamia nuts, Olive oil, and Pecans are all high in monounsaturated fat, also called oleic acid or omega-9 fat. The word “monounsaturated” means it has only one carbon-carbon double bond in its molecular structure, therefore, it is more stable and chemically non-reactive compared to the polyunsaturated oils. Monounsaturated fat is beneficial for the heart, it increases good (HDL) cholesterol and lowers bad (LDL) cholesterol. Olive oil is best used as a salad oil and moderate heat cooking.
Coconut oil, Palm Oil, and Palm Kernel Oil are highly saturated fats and are very stable. They are excellent for baking and cooking. Best is organic, unrefined, cold-pressed, extra-virgin.
Flax seed oil is very high in omega-3 content, therefore, it requires extra care in handling to prevent oxidation. It should never be used in cooking or exposed to heat. Unrefined flax seed oil should always be refrigerated and kept in a dark bottle. The shelf life is about three months, if it is kept cool.
Sesame oil is resistant to rancidity due to its high monunsaturated fat content and the presence of the antioxidant, sesamol. But since it is relatively high in omega-6, use sparingly. Best is cold-pressed and unrefined.
Avoid These Bad Fats & Oils
Any fats from factory-farmed animals that were fed antibiotics and hormones. If you have no better alternatives, it is best to choose leaner cuts of meats and their fat-free dairy products to avoid eating the toxins accumulated in the fat.
Canola oil is relatively inexpensive but it’s not a natural oil. Canola is genetically modified from rapeseed, which is not suitable for human consumption. High heat processing turns the oil rancid. Research shows that canola depletes the body’s store of vitamin E that is essential for heart health. Beware that many restaurants use canola, even Whole Foods use it for their prepared foods and other food products.
Corn, cottonseed, and soybean oils come from mostly genetically modified crops and are often partially hydrogenated during the refining process, making them rancid before consumption. They are also high in omega-6 fat.
Grapeseed oil is derived from the seed of grapes, a by-product of the wine industry. It is a very low-yield oil, so toxic solvents like hexane are often used to extract the oil and traces remain in the final product. Grapeseed oil is a polyunsaturated oil that is very high in omega-6, that means it is unstable even though it has a high smoking point. When you use it in cooking, it gets oxidized before it starts smoking.
Margarine and Mayonnaise – usually hydrogenated and made with some combinations of vegetable oils.
Peanut oil. It is high in monounsaturated fat and its omega-6 content, though high, is much lower than the other bad oils mentioned here. Peanut oil is resistant to rancidity even at high heat. The major problem with peanuts is that they contain low levels of aflatoxin, a carcinogen produced by a fungus that can lead to liver cancer at high dosages. Although we have yet to know the dangers of long-term exposure at low levels, regular consumption is not recommended.
Safflower and sunflower oils. There are two varieties, one high in omega-6 (linoleic acid) and one high in omega-9 (oleic acid). The high oleic variety was developed through mutation breeding and has been promoted as healthy because its composition is similar to olive oil. However, it is very difficult to find truly cold-pressed and unrefined versions of these oils.
Please note that expeller-pressed only means that it uses the mechanical hexane-free extraction method and no external heat is applied during the pressing, however, the temperature can reach up to 470 degrees F depending on the hardness of the nut or seed. Cold-pressed, on the other hand, means the temperature of the unrefined oil is kept at below 122 degrees F.
Walnut oil is high in omega-6. Avoid even the unrefined version unless it is recently pressed and stored without exposure to heat, light, or air. Never use it for cooking.