Dietary fat was once vilified but has made a better reputation for itself in recent years. It was portrayed as the major cause of disease in the United States so many tried to eat low-fat diets for health and weight loss. Not only did our food get a lot less tasty but it also became more processed and less healthy for us. We saw an increase in insulin resistance, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and obesity.
Now we see people eating mainly fat and protein for their entire diet. People drink their coffee with butter and coconut oil; some go to the extreme to only eat meat. Many people drop excess body fat fairly quickly using this diet method but long-term adherence isn’t great so will there really be any improvement of chronic disease trends? Guess we’ll find out in a few years.
So it seems that just like many other topics in life, fat is another polarizing subject so it’s no wonder everyone is a bit confused on where their opinion should be on dietary fat.
What is fat?
Fat is a type of macronutrient the body can use for current energy needs or for energy storage. Fat is also used for hormone production, storage and transportation of vitamins, basic cell functions, nervous system function, inflammation control, immune system functions and body protection. Dietary fat comes in a few different forms.
Saturated fat is a type of fat that has very few double bonds in its molecular structure. Saturated fats have a stable molecular structure when compared to unsaturated fats.
Saturated fats can be broken down further into three groups- short chain fatty acids, medium chain fatty acids and long chain fatty acids.
Interestingly, short chain fatty acids (SCFA) are a type of fat that’s made in our gut by the gut bacteria in the large intestine from fermentation of indigestible fiber and resistant starch. SCFA seem to have a positive impact on the lumen (aka lining) of the gut and play a big role in a healthy immune response as well as regulation of inflammation.
Medium chain fatty acids (MCFA) and long chain fatty acids (LCFA) are both dietary fats. You probably hear MCFA’s referred to as medium-chain triglycerids (MCTs). Examples of food with MCFA are butter, coconut oil, palm-kernel oil, feta cheese and coconut milk. Unfortunately, MCFA’s generally have a low temperature smoking point so they aren’t great for high heat cooking. The positive of MCFA’s is that they’re much more easily broken down to be used as an energy source than LCFA which means they’re less likely to become stored body fat.
LCFA’s are not easily used for energy but instead are taken by transport vehicles in the intestines named ULDL through the lymph system and blood stream to be stored as body fat. There is almost no chance this type of fat is used for energy unless you’re in a starvation mode or have an energy deficit. LCFA’s will make your serum triglycerides increase.
If adipose tissue needs to be used for energy, the fat molecules are broken down to fatty acids and glycerol then taken through the usual cycles for energy production. You can imagine, this process takes a lot longer than using carbohydrates, protein or even MCFA’s for energy production. Because of this, the body prefers to use other sources of energy.
The types of unsaturated fats are monounsatured, polyunsaturated and trans fats. Again, these are named to describe their molecular structure. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the types of fats that raise our “good” cholesterol and help prevent things like heart disease.
Monounsaturated fats are found in foods like olive oil, peanuts, avocados, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds and vegetable oils. Polyunsaturated fats are found in walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds and fish. The popular omega fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat.
Trans fats are the worst kind of fat for the body. Trans fats were banned from the US several years back after they were found to increase heart disease. These were commonly used because they’re shelf-stable. You can still find them in small amounts in baked goods, margarine, non-dairy creamers, fried foods, shortening, microwave popcorn and refrigerated doughs. The amount in these foods has to be small enough to not be reported on the label (<0.5g/serving) but if you’re eating several servings of these daily it’d be enough to negatively impact your health.
When Fats Go Bad
Even healthy fats can end up being bad for your body if they’ve been highly processed or they’re introduced into an inflamed body. This risk increases even more when the body has too much energy to meet its needs. For example, eating a highly heated fat with a large source of carbohydrates (ie. pizza, fries, doughnuts) causes an insulin release to transport the carbohydrates to be used for energy. Insulin and carbohydrates that are broken down to sugar then cause inflammation to the endothelial lining of your blood vessels. This injury causes your vessels to get smaller which increases your blood pressure. The increase in blood pressure can cause further damage to the lining of your vessels and create an inflammatory/immune response causing deposition of plaques on your vessel walls by using the extra fat molecules that are being circulated. The extra fat molecules are there because your body got all the energy it needs from the carbohydrates in the meal so it didn’t have to go through all the work to break down the fat to an energy source. Instead, it floats around until it’s stored in fat cells on your body.
Application of Knowledge
In summary, you should avoid LCFA’s, trans fats, highly heated and highly processed oils. You should eat mono and polyunsaturated fats as well as MCFA’s. It’s also great to eat a good amount of fiber so your body can make SCFA’s. It is possible that you have a liver that makes more cholesterol than you need. If this is the case, discuss your diet with your healthcare provider. Otherwise, you can eat things like eggs, nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocado oil and fish as part of a healthy, well-rounded diet.
Fat is an important part of the FFP meal building method because it increases satiety and plays an imperative role in hormone balance. When you consume fat your body sends your brain signals to tell it that you’ve had enough food and you should stop releasing hunger hormones. You can also get a balanced dose of the hormones that make you feel good (serotonin and dopamine) when you eat fat.
Now you can understand how fat got vilified and why it’s actually good for you to eat certain types of fat. If you have any questions, I’d love to hear from you by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.