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Chew On The Fats Of Life -Part 2

nuts__legumesIn the hugely popular health website, Dr. Joseph Mercola, MD, discusses a study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition (3) that emphasizes the importance of avoiding processed carbohydrates (not good fats) in order to minimize one’s risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease.   Dr. Mercola states:  “When you replace saturated fat with a highercarbohydrate intake, particularly refined carbohydrate, you exacerbate insulinresistance and obesity, increase triglycerides andsmall LDL particles, and reduce beneficial HDL cholesterol. The authors state that dietary effortsto improve your cardiovascular disease risk should primarily emphasize the limitation of refined carbohydrate intake, and weight reduction.” 

Dr. Mercola goes on to say:  “In a nutshell, eating fat and protein does not make you fat—carbohydrates do. I firmly believe the two primary keys for successful weight management and reducing your risk for diabetes, heart disease and other weight-related health problems are: 1.Severely restricting carbohydrates (sugars, fructose, and grains) in your diet, and 2. Increasing healthy fat consumption”

4 Different Types of Fat

Just a touch of chemistry (not my favorite subject either) to hopefully help clear up the confusion over the different types of fats.

Most fats (or lipids) in our body and in the food we eat are in the form of triglycerides (3 fatty acids chains attached to a glycerol molecule)   Triglycerides are made in the liver and do not come directly from dietary fats, but rather from excess sugar that has not been completely used by the body.  The source of the sugars is carbohydrates, but particularly refined sugars and processed carbs.  

There are 4 basic types of fats:

1.       Saturated Fats:  Saturated fatty acids have no double bonds and are stable as all the carbon atoms are occupied by a hydrogen atom.  Saturated fats are solid at room temperature.  Examples are butter, coconut oil (92% saturated), palm oil, beef and dairy.     

2.       Monounsaturated fatty acids such as those found in olive oil have two carbon atoms double bonded to each other and therefore lack two hydrogen atoms.     Example of monounsaturated fat: olive oil which contains a high amount of oleic acid,  an important component of cell membranes and protects other fatty acids from oxidation. 

3.       Polyunsaturated fatty acids:  Polyunsaturated fatty acids have two or more pairs of carbon bonds and so lack 4 or more hydrogen atoms making them unstable and more susceptible to rancidity.   Polyunsaturated fats remain as liquid whether refrigerated or not.  Oil that becomes rancid or unstable is categorized by free radicals on the double bonds which can cause damage to our DNA and RNA.   Sources of polyunsaturated oils are: vegetable oils, corn oil, safflower oil.

So now one might conclude (as I did) that all polyunsaturated fats are bad. That is until we learn that Omega 3’s (good fats) fall into this category.  

Essential Fatty Acids: Omega 3’s and 6’sfall into the polyunsaturated category.   They are called essential fatty acids because the body cannot manufacture them.   In this country we usually take in too much Omega 6 and too little omega 3 (typically a ratio of 20:1) which can lead to inflammation, hypertension, irritation of GI tract, decrease immunity, weight gain and cancer. However, for optimal health, a ratio of 1:1 (between Omega 6’s to Omega 3) is considered optimal.   Omega 6’s are found in vegetable oils and Omega 3’s are found in fish oil.

4.       Trans fatty acids:  these are created in a laboratory when chemists add hydrogen to unsaturated vegetable oils to make them solid at room temperature.  Although this unnatural hydrogenation process involving: nickel oxide, a soap like emulsifier and bleach, make trans fats more stable and so give the foods a longer shelf life they have been linked to coronary artery disease.  Examples: margarine and Crisco shortening (which have been linked to heart disease and cancer).

Given the shifting understanding of the important role and functions of healthy fats (including the fact that they are essential for healthy cell membranes, optimal brain function,  healthy immune and hormonal systems (cholesterol is necessary for the formation of all of our sex hormones), their role in  the absorption of fat soluble nutrients etc,) and the fact that our ancestors included them in their diets and had far less chronic illnesses,  it seems a reasonable addition to optimizing one’s health would be to  include them (chosen with care) from the sources listed below. 

The Fat Wars:

 “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge.”

As the author of this quote (Daniel Bornstein) implies, although many nutrition experts claim they have the definitive answer, I do not believe we have figured out the entire fat equation.    On one side of the fat fence, we have the author of the China Study Dr. T. Colin Campbell, and brilliant physicians like Dean Ornish, MD and Joel Fuhrman, MD recommending that we not consume animal proteins, nor should any more of  10% of our calories come from fat.   On the other side of the fat war are equally smart individuals such as author Sally Fallon from the Weston A Price Foundation, Dr. Joseph Mercola, MD, popular nutritionist and author: Ann Louise Gittleman, and others recommending we eat grass fed beef, organ meats, eggs (including the yolk) and consume other sources of healthy fats so that a much higher percentage (50—70% ) of our calories come from fats.    

I’m not the first to complain that these fat wars are a major source of confusion and frustration.   But rather than add to the confusion, let’s take from these studies, debates and discussions the gems that they offer.

1.    I do believe there is enough good science and information on the important roles of good fats to include more of them in our diets (see list of healthy fats below). 

2.    These good fats need to be added to a mostly plant based, whole food, organic, non GMO diet.

3.    There is also enough information on both sides of the fat controversy to remove all sources of man-made, trans fats and hydrogenated vegetable oils (typically found in fried foods, margarines, crackers, store bought muffins, chips and other processed food)

4.    Low fat or fat free diets, especially when those fats are replaced with processed carbs and sugar can result in disastrous health consequences including ironically enough obesity, depression, dementia, hormonal problems, anxiety, poor concentration etc.  Processed foods, sugar and foods that convert to sugar should be drastically reduced.


Healthy Fats:

*       Organic cold-pressed olive oil(use for salads and sautéing at low temperatures.) When possible, purchase, organic, cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, as the high heat typical processing treatments destroys many of the nutrients.

*       organic virgin coconut oil(great for cooking at high temps),

*       buttermade from grass fed organic milk,

*       raw nuts(soaking first will help with digestion making their nutrients more bio-available)

*       organic eggs(including their yolk)

*       avocados

*       organic, grass fed meats(if you eat meat), lamb, turkey, chicken

*       unheated organic nut oils.

*       Animal based Omega 3 fats(such as fish oil)








1.    Nourishing Traditions reference: US Dept of Agriculture Statistic and The Kellog Report, 1989 The Institute of Health Policy and Practice

2.    Castelli, William,, Archives of Internal Medicine, 1992

3.    Siri-Tarino, PW, Sun Q et al, Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease.Am J. clin Nutr 2010 Mar:91(3):535-46 Epub 2010 Jan 13 4

4.    SPatty W Siri Tarino, et all Saturated fat, carbohydrate, and cardiovascular disease, Am J Clin Nutrition Dece 3, 2009


Additional Reading:

The Omega 3 Connection:  Andrew L. Stoll, M.D.

Nourishing Traditions: Sally Fallon,

Fat Flush Plan:  Ann Louise Gittelman, M.S., C.N.S. 



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