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The Fat Story
Fat. Even the word itself oozes with negative associations. Just say it out loud. Fat. What comes to your mind first? I doubt it is something cute or enjoyable. FAT. We’ve been given so much bad (and wrong) information about fat, that we tend to fear it, avoid it, and remove it even from foods that are naturally fatty (skim milk, anyone?). We are cutting the fatty pieces off of our meat, we are looking for low-fat options in the yogurt aisle, and we are constantly looking for a way to remove those fat layers even from our own thighs and bellies. We were taught to diss fat in every way, shape, and form. Fat makes you fat! we hear, or animal fat will clog your arteries. These dogmas were born over a hundred years ago, after partial hydrogenation was invented in 1900, and greater market saturation followed when margarine production doubled from 1920 to 1950. But now it is time to put these beliefs to sleep, just as we did the Earth is flat opinion in the past (and that one was believed to be true even by the smartest people back then). Forget everything you think you know about fat and learn about why avoiding healthy sources of fat might be the thing that’s blocking your path to optimal health and mental well being.
Fat is one of the three macronutrients we recognize, along with proteins and carbohydrates. From a chemical perspective, fats and oils are large molecules called fatty acids, composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms in a variety of patterns. We classify fats by either chain-length (depending on the number of carbon atoms, we divide these into short-, medium- and long-chain), and also by saturation. This is where it gets really interesting. Every fat source on the planet is a blend of three types of fat in different ratios saturated fatty acids (SFA), polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), and monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA). And it is only the oil that is present in the blend in the highest amount that determines whether we call that particular fat saturated or unsaturated. Lard contains some saturated fat and some unsaturated, so does olive oil. But olive oil is mostly monounsaturated, so that is what we call it, even though it does contain the same saturated fatty acids as lard or coconut oil.
Fat is vital for our health. Every cell in our body needs fat: it is a crucial building block of our cells, along with cholesterol (we will talk about that later). The quality of the fat we consume in our diet reflects the quality of our cells, tissues, and organs. Our brain is composed of almost 60% fat, so eating quality fats is important for proper brain development and function. Our bone marrow is also made of saturated fat, so in order to have these organs and tissues rebuilt, we need to eat saturated fat. And of course, we cant forget the role that fat plays in the quality of our skin, hair, and nails. Like we said before every cell in the human body needs fat. Whole grains will not replace the need, unfortunately for food manufacturers. The saying you are what you eat gets a completely new meaning here. Fat is a building block for cell membranes, hormones, and the nervous system. Neurons are covered in protective coating (called myelin sheaths it’s like the plastic coating on electrical wiring that keeps the signal on course) that is 80% made of fats, and a very low-fat diet can actually damage our nervous system by not giving us enough nutrients. Some have suggested there may be a link between dementia and low fat diets.
Fat is our primary source of stored energy, so when we run out of sugar in the bloodstream, our body starts burning stored body fat for fuel (and voila! Healthy fat loss). Fat is also more satiating than protein or carbohydrates, because it stays in your body longer, as it needs to be broken down through multiple processes in the body (in stomach, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, and pancreas). Fat will also give your body more than double the energy than the same amount of carbs or protein, because fat contains 9 calories per gram, while protein and carbohydrates only contain 4 calories per gram. Fat helps with digestion (provided your gallbladder isn’t compromised). It is not soluble in blood and it stores all the fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K in our liver. Without fat, our body could not absorb and use these vitamins. In nature, fat usually comes along with fat-soluble vitamins. For example, raw milk is full of fat and these vitamins. If we remove all the fat from milk to get a low-fat skim milk, we basically only get a white liquid with no significant nutrients. So usually vitamins are added back to the milk after all the fat is removed. This may sound smart, but without the fat, our bodies will not be able to digest, store, transport, and use these vitamins so its a total waste.
There are plenty of options on the market when it comes to fats and oils, along with general confusion about which of them are healthy and which are even dangerous. The truth is that most health recommendations about fat consumption are based on myths that were considered true for a very long time, even by medical authorities, and they often times still resonate with people, standing in our way to healthy living. But most of these myths started for the one and only reason profit. Food manufacturers care about profit, not human health. Mother Nature has everything ready for us, everything we need. Every nutrient we will ever need to thrive and stay healthy comes in the natural packaging of either plant or animal. You can get plenty of good fat from plant sources, but you have to consider the source and manufacturing process. With animal fats like lard and tallow, you want to consider what the animal was fed because toxins accumulate in fat stores.
We know we should avoid gluten, sugar, and highly processed dairy products, but we tend to forget about the dangerous oils in our diet. When we eat out, it is relatively easy to ask for a gluten-free option or to stay away from sugary desserts, but we usually don’t even think about the oils they use to cook our steak or veggies. Even homemade French fries are usually made with these processed, industrial, damaged, unsaturated oils like soybean, corn, cottonseed, canola and more. These oils can be more dangerous than sugar or a little bit of flour (of course if you have a Celiac disease, NO amount of flour is safe for you), they are highly inflammatory and one of the dangers is the fact that we do not really think about them as dangerous, because they were pushed as heart-healthy for so many years.
With fast food fries it is not the potato that is the problem, not even the process of deep-frying, it is all about the oil used for frying. McDonald’s used to use lard or tallow back in the day. The reason for them to stop was not because lard was bad in any way, but vegetable oils were way cheaper, trendier, and also people who do not consume animal products did not want their potatoes cooked in animal fat. If McDonald’s started using lard for fries again, would you get some from time to time? I sure would not fear to eat a few occasionally, but the current use of processed crop oils in Happy Meals for small children scares me!
Saturated fats are called saturated because they have strong bonds within the molecule and contain the maximum possible number of hydrogen atoms. These fats are usually solid at a room temperature (think lard, tallow, butter, or coconut oil), while unsaturated fatty acids are very unstable, fragile, and generally come as a liquid at room temperature so we call these oils. Unsaturated acids are then recognized as either mono- or polyunsaturated, depending on a number of double bonds between atoms. The more double bonds it contains, the more unstable and prone to oxidation the fat is. Stable fats like SFA are a great choice for cooking, because they stay stable even at a high temperature, while MUFA and PUFA do oxidize easily even on a very low temperature, creating free radicals that cause inflammation in the body by damaging our cells.
If you have a bottle of a flaxseed or olive oil at home, did you ever wonder why is it sold in a dark bottle? It is because even sunlight makes these unsaturated oils oxidize. If your cooking oil is in a transparent bottle, chances are the oil is rancid already, and you didn’t even open the bottle yet. Heat, air, and sunlight damage those unstable structures even more, so I highly suggest NOT to cook with these fragile, highly processed oils. Extra virgin olive oil is a great choice for a salad dressing, but if you love your sweet potato fries once in a while, do not cook them in vegetable oil. Vegetable oils are highly processed and they are cheap for a reason. They do not give you any nutrients and they might potentially hurt you. See, I used the usual term vegetable oil.
In fact, these frankenoils do not even deserve to carry that name soy is not a vegetable, its a legume. Corn is a seed, not a vegetable. Canola and cottonseed oil are made of seeds. Soy, corn, canola, and cottonseed are also among the most common GMO crops produced with disturbing amounts of pesticides and herbicides. Margarine and trans fats are NOT made of vegetables either! They are all so highly chemically processed because there is no way you can get oil from these plants just by mechanical processing, like cold pressed oils (like olive and coconut). Trans fats and margarines were made as a substitute for butter. At the end of the 19th century, a French chemist was asked to create a cheaper alternative for butter, using beef fat and skim milk. While this creation worked for a while, very soon partial hydrogenation was developed, a chemical process that was able to create never melting, plastic-like, odorless, and tasteless industrial oil shortening. While saturated fats like butter or lard melt at room temperature, these new hydrogenated trans fats didn’t.
It was easy to spread them on toast even straight from the fridge and they were easy to make. The idea here was, that solidified vegetable oils would not be as prone to oxidation as their liquid alternatives, but the chemical structure of the fatty acid is broken during processing, creating a whole lot of unexpected and unwanted damage in the body; they are really poisonous and dangerous for our cells. And we know that what hurts our cells, hurts the whole body! There is a trans fat called CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) that is the naturally occurring trans fatty acid our body actually needs and can get from sources like coconut oil or animal fat. Man-made trans fats are not a substitution for CLA, they are a criminal in disguise.
If you feel like throwing away all the processed crop oil and margarine from your kitchen, don’t hesitate to do so.
Saturated fat used to be demonized because sources of SFA are also high in cholesterol. Cholesterol is one of the most important compounds in our bodies. It is not a fat as many believe, it is a waxy steroid. The word steroid has a bad reputation as well, but don’t confuse it with something chemical or illegal. Steroids are actually building materials, like for example vitamin D, hormones, or our new friend cholesterol. Our brain contains 25% of our total body cholesterol. It is the raw material for making hormones like progesterone, testosterone, cortisol, and estrogen, but we also need it to make our own vitamin D from sunlight (a particularly important vitamin for lowering inflammation).
Cholesterol is actually produced by our liver and our body is able to self regulate the cholesterol production, so if we eat too much cholesterol in our diet (which is again NOT a bad thing), our own production decreases. Very high levels of cholesterol are a symptom of some underlying problem in the body, not the cause. If your doctors say you have high cholesterol, you might want to look into why that inflammatory marker is there, but you actually should not freak out at all. Cholesterol is a health-promoting substance, and we want to have it in the body for sure. Dietary cholesterol (from the foods we eat) and cholesterol that is listed on the paper after our blood tests are two completely different things.
When we eat less, our body produces more; when we eat more, our body produces less. Eating more cholesterol than our body is able to make is actually beneficial, because it unloads the burden from our liver making cholesterol is not an easy task and by eating some from quality sources like egg yolks, seafood, or meat, we help our bodies to be able to focus on different tasks (like healing, if necessary). Also, cholesterol always comes in one package with vitamins and minerals we also need to build hormones, tissues, and individual cells. Our cholesterol levels increase with age, which is only logical as we get older, we need more building material and healing support and that is what cholesterol provides by nature. As we grow older (actually, not that old, the decline starts around the age of 25 or even sooner), our body starts producing less and less Systemic Enzymes we need to breathe, heal, grow, and digest properly. If we don’t get enough enzymes, we are more prone to injury, inflammation, all kinds of diseases, and even our healing processes get slower. So we need not only more cholesterol to fix any potential damage, but also to get enough systemic enzymes from our diet or supplements. We covered this subject in depth before, so be sure to read up on it as well.
If you read your blood work reports, you can see the LDL and HDL numbers in the cholesterol section. These are usually referred to as bad (low-density lipoprotein LDL) and good (high density lipoprotein HDL) cholesterol, but the truth is somewhere else. LDL and HDL are lipoproteins they are particles that carry cholesterol. When there is a situation in the body that requires healing, rebuilding, or cell repair, LDL takes cholesterol to the damage and HDL takes cholesterol away from it. So there is no good or bad cholesterol. They are just a bunch of guys with specific tasks assigned, doing their jobs pretty well. Lipoproteins work like an ambulance, and cholesterol is like a doctor sent to heal the inflammation, so having high cholesterol is more like a sign that you have lots of inflammation that needs lots of doctoring. The reason cholesterol and saturated fat were demonized in the past is most likely because cholesterol is ALWAYS present when inflammation is happening, so it was misunderstood.
But we do not blame firemen for starting the fire just because we see them near fires, right? Cholesterol does not CAUSE the inflammation, it always comes to heal. When the inflammation is on-going, the body sends more cholesterol to the rescue and it starts to accumulate around the artery, and eventually may clog it. It is time to fix cholesterols reputation and blame the real problem inflammation. Doctors like to prescribe cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins. What these do is basically limit (or even kill off completely) our body’s ability to naturally produce cholesterol, which basically means limiting our bodies ability to repair and create new cells! Statins also have a long list of side effects, but I hope we all agree on the fact that a drug-free, anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle is way safer, more natural, and sounds more enjoyable than popping pills with side effects for the sake of heart health. Once and for all cholesterol is our friend. Don’t throw away your bacon fat or egg yolks ever again, get rid of the Crisco. Your body will thank you!
We’ve probably all heard about Omega-3 and Omega-6, the imbalance of these fatty acids, the recommended ratios, and the fish oil hype. Omega-3 and Omega-6 are two main types of polyunsaturated (PUFA) fats, both fragile and vulnerable to damage from heat, light, and oxygen. Omega-3 fats are found in fish, seafood, and some nuts, while omega-6 fats are found in industrial oils we call vegetable. Omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory fatty acids and we know three types of Omega-3: EPA, DHA, and ALA. ALA (Alpha-Linoleic Acid) is a precursor to the first two, which means that our body can manufacture EPA and DHA from consumed ALA, but it does not work the other way around. Animal sources of Omega-3s contain EPA and DHA and plant sources contain ALA.
If you eat enough seeds and nuts, your body can certainly create some EPA and DHA, but the conversion rate is very low and it was also proven that it is even less efficient in people who consume a lot of Omega-6s. All three Omega3 types have their own benefits, so we really should reach for consuming all of them. It is not very clear what the right ratio of Omega-6:Omega-3 should be, and people tend to really stress about it, focusing more on the ratio than the actual amount or sources. We don’t need highly processed crop oils to get our omega oils, no matter what the colorful label on the clear bottle says. Just consuming less vegetable oils, going easy on nuts and seeds, using more saturated fats for cooking, and eating more wild fatty fish is the way to go here. Omega-3s are also prone to oxidation, so it is always a better option to eat fish than popping some fish oil capsules that have been exposed to light and heat.
Unhealthy fats will never make healthy cells, and unhealthy cells will never build a healthy body. There are three major concerns when it comes to oils and fats in your diet the amount of processing, stability, and nutrient density of the fat source. The more its processed, the more harmful for the body it can be. The less stable the oil, the more damage in can do within our very cells. And the best part natural, quality fats come with precious nutrients, are delicious and nourishing, and will give you a healthy heart, brain, and skin. Nature created perfect food for us and we are meant to eat them in their natural state there is no factory required in the process. Your health is a product of your nutrition, not any food or drug manufacturing. You don’t have to be perfect, just make educated decisions. If you still don’t feel particularly well after a breakfast rich in fat, the reason might be that your body doesn’t work well with fatty option being your first meal of the day. Different people react differently to the same meal what energizes one can make other sleepy.
Even though we are all humans, there is a certain individuality in our nutritional and metabolic needs. The Metabolic Typing method will help you determine your own needs very easily. Once you know when to eat your fats, you can move on to a great selection of available fats. Choose stable fats that are delicious and full of nutrients. Choose meat from properly raised animals, and don’t fear the fatty parts. Eat your bacon, chicken skin, and pork chops. Lard, tallow, ghee or clarified butter are perfect and stable for high temperature cooking, and coconut oil is perfect if you absolutely don’t agree with consuming animal products. Olive or sesame oils, when cold pressed and unprocessed are full of antioxidants. Avocado is a fruit that contains 77% fat, and most of it very healthy fat. Make that guacamole tonight! Nuts and fish bring your omega fats in their purest form, so eat them whole. And eat the whole egg, both yolk and white. Or even better make your own healthy homemade mayonnaise! There are plenty of recipes out there, here is my personal favorite.
Listing all the benefits of each individual seed oil available would be a question for another whole post, but we should talk about the best ones. The line of oils made by Activation Products are pure, carefully pressed seed oils, mostly from European sources, meaning that no seeds used are genetically modified to ensure the best quality and that they will be the healthiest source of fatty acids for our bodies. Their flagship product is called 5 Seed Oil Blend and it’s a blend of sunflower, flax, sesame, coriander, and pumpkin seed oil that is an amazing tool for healing your body from within, helping with inflammation, feeding you with vitamins and essential fatty acids, and even improving your complexion. It has a delicious nutty aroma and flavor and you can simply pour it over your salad (or of course take a spoonful of it at a time straight from the bottle) to get all the benefits from these carefully crafted oils. All products are sold in high quality dark glass bottles that ensure no sunlight exposure, preventing these precious oils from oxidation. Activation Products also offer individual oils, like high quality Black Cumin Seed Oil or Amaranth Oil. All their oils can be either ingested or used topically and they should play a major role in the daily routine of those concerned about peak health and well being.
Supplementing with real food supplements is not a bad idea, especially if you are unable to get really quality fat from your diet. Sometimes you can try very hard, but it can be challenging to find a decent quality source. If you can’t get a good quality fish to nourish your body with Omega-3 fats, you can opt for something like Flax-Borage Oil, a blend of Omega-3 and Omega-6 with 9 essential fatty acids provides the necessary nutrients in the proper balance. Fresh pressed flax and borage oils come along with a few milligrams of vitamin E added to protect against rancidity of the oils. There were absolutely no chemicals used in the processing, so this blend supports our rule of minimal processing.
There is also a lot of recommended reading you can do! Books like Eat the Yolks by Liz Wolfe or Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz are great sources of information available to everyone, Cholesterol Clarity by Jimmy Moore is a fun but geeky read focused on cholesterol and for even more geeky readers out there, I would recommend the work of Chris Masterjohn or Mary G. Enig. Now let’s say the word again. FAT. Sounds better, right?