Fantastic and Incredible Fats, We Need Them!
Why is it that something so “bad” for you, makes you feel so good? I’m sure you’ve heard someone ask that question, or maybe you even muttered it yourself. When it comes to fats, though, they aren’t necessarily so bad for you. Fats are fantastic and essential to life.
Fat has gotten such a bad rap that I think it’s time you really understood what are the good fats, the bad fats, and the Trans fats and how each impact your body. So get ready. This is definitely going to be a shift in your thinking!
What is fat, really? We think of fat as blobs that hang on our hips and thighs, arms and belly, clog our arteries and cause all sorts of problems. Like the picture here. It is not eating fat that makes a body look like this. Fatness is a symptom that your body is not well. You’ll understand this much better once you read through these next two articles (this one and "Good Fats Gone Bad"), which also will show you how the fat really does collect on your body.
The fat on our bodies really is tissue (called adipose tissue) that holds fatty acids. Fatty acids are the basic units, the building blocks of fat. When there is not enough sugar available for the body to use for energy, it will burn fatty acids instead.
Fatty acids are good. We can’t live without them. Every single cell in your body has a membrane (the outside “skin” of the cell) that is made from fatty acids. So if there were no fatty acids, there would be no cells, and ultimately no life. It’s that basic.
Let’s take a look at some of the bodily functions and how they use fatty acids:
- Heart: 60% of the heart’s energy is from burning fatty acids, and fatty acids help keep the heart beating in regular rhythm.
- Brain: 60% of the brain is made out of fat. Fat in the brain helps to move nervous signals quickly.
- Eyes: Eyes have a high percentage of fatty acid in them, specifically the rods and cones, where images need to be transmitted into the nervous system rapidly.
- Nerves: The nerves are surrounded by something called a myelin sheath which surrounds, insulates and protects the nerves, keeping the electrical impulses in and speeding up their transmission. The myelin sheath is made up of fatty acids.
- Hormones: Fatty acids are the basic building blocks of hormones.
- Soft skin & hair: When you feed oil to a dog, its coat gets all shiny. The same is true for humans. Fatty acids are like an internal moisturizer, so much better than any product you could put on your skin.
- Lungs: There is fluid in the lungs called lung surfactant that enables the lungs to work and keeps them from collapsing. This fluid has a high concentration of saturated fatty acids.
- Digestion: Fat in a meal slows down the digestive process so that the body has enough time to absorb the nutrients from the meal. Specifically the Vitamins A, D, E & K require fat in order to be absorbed. The slow down also provides a nice constant level of energy instead of the shooting up and down that happens with a high carbohydrate (sugar), low fat meal. Moods are better and the slow down keeps you from getting hungry longer. Did you know that there is actually a shut off mechanism in your body that stops you from eating too much fat? That is why you can’t eat a cup of olive oil without getting sick.
- Energy: The body burns fatty acid for fuel and stores extra fuel in the adipose tissue. Adipose is the perfect storage medium for energy. It’s light weight. If the body was to store the same amount of energy in the form of carbohydrates it would weigh twice as much and take up more space. The adipose also cushions and protects organs (like the kidneys) and acts as insulation, keeping us warm.
Fat, is one of the very things keeping us alive. This is only scratching the surface of the functions of fat in the body. Think about how central fat is to keeping the body functioning, and then think about the insanity of a nation that is so fearful about eating fat!
Fats and oils are made up of fatty acids. Each type of fat or oil is a mixture of different fatty acids. They are categorized into Fatty Acid Families:
- Saturated Fats
- Mono Unsaturated Fats
- Poly Unsaturated Fats, if it is a Poly Unsaturated fat it is either an:
- Omega 3 or
- Omega 6
Each family has its unique traits and characteristics. But each member of the family has its own unique traits and characteristics as well. In the simplest of terms what separates the characteristics of the different families is the number of bends the fatty acid molecule has. Let’s take a look:
Saturated Fats molecules have no bends:
Mono Unsaturated Fats have one bend:
Poly Unsaturated Fats have more than one bend:
Omega 3: first bend happens in one spot (position 3)
Omega 6: first bend happens in a different spot (position 6)
Note: Omega 3 and Omega 6 is just a numbering system that scientists use to determine what family the fatty acid is in. It has nothing to do whether a fat is good or bad.
The Big, Bad Saturated Fat–Or Is It?
Making blanket statements like saturated fat is bad and should be avoided is like saying the rain, wind, or sun is bad for you. It’s only bad if you get too much of it. Too much of any of the fatty acid families is going to cause problems.
The bends in the fatty acid molecules give them very different characteristics. The more bends the fatty acid has the more alive, electric and vibrating it is. Alive, electric and vibrating is important because in your body there are high activity areas and low activity areas. Your body uses the appropriate fatty acid to do the correct job. For example, the Poly Unsaturated fatty acids (multiple bends) are used in the areas with the highest activity, like the brain and the eyes. Saturated fatty acids (no bends) are used more for stability and structure, like maintaining cell and lung function. This tells you that one fatty acid is not more important than another. The body uses the fatty acids from all of the families.
You’ll also be surprised to know that saturated fat is a family of fats; there is not one big evil saturated fat. Members of the family are not all created equal. Some of the members protect us from disease. So avoiding the entire family of saturated fats is not a good idea.
Saturated fat is so important to proper function and good health that nature has incorporated saturated fat into almost all of the foods we eat both of animal and plant origin. A lot of people believe that the less saturated fat we eat the better. But this is simply not true. Nature doesn't put saturated fat in vegetables, mother's milk, and other foods for kicks, it's there for a reason. We need ALL the fatty acids and ALL fats are good if they are natural. The closest to their natural form the better they are for you. The following chart shows you where to get your fatty acids straight from nature.
The Ratio Of Fats In Foods Is Very Important
In nature, foods will never contain only one type of fat, they will contain some combination of all three of the families. Here are some examples:
Avocados: 68% Mono Unsaturated, 19% Saturated, 12% Omega 6 and 1% Omega 3
English Walnuts: 51% Omega 6, 23% Mono, 11% Omega 3, 10% Sat
Some foods contain more of one kind of fatty acid than another, so you may get the impression that a particular food only contains one type of fat. For example, flax seeds are very high in Omega 3 and sunflower seeds are high in Omega 6.
Also macadamia nuts are high in Mono Unsaturated fat (78%) and coconuts are high in Saturated fat (92%).
All Saturated Fats Are NOT Created Equal
Coconuts are 92% Saturated fats, and 65% of the Saturated fat is what is called “medium chain” (there are short, medium and long “lengths” of fatty acid molecules, each working differently in the body). Medium chain has unique characteristics that put them in a different category from the other fatty acids.
Medium chain fatty acids don’t require bile from the liver to digest so they are quickly absorbed into the body. Since they are absorbed rapidly, the body uses these fatty acids for ENERGY instead of storing them away for later use as adipose tissue. They also protect us from disease by disabling and killing viruses, bacteria and parasites.
Until recently coconuts have been given a bad rap. Scientists and nutritionist have begun to realize their extraordinary benefits from the medium chain fatty acids they contain. Manufacturers have started extracting specific compounds from the medium chain saturated fats. The three medium chains in coconut are Lauric, caprylic and capric acids. Here’s the breakdown:
Manufacturers pull out caprylic and capric acid and label it as MCT oil (Medium Chain Triglyceride) on their products. So that is a triglyceride with 3 medium chain fatty acids. (see what are What are Triglycerides, below.)
Manufacturers are also starting to use the terms EPA, GLA, LNA, EFA, DHA, LA, and Omega. These are fatty acids in the Poly Unsaturated Fatty Acid Family. Let me sort this out for you:
Remember that the Poly Unsaturated fatty acids are broken up into 2 families, Omega 3 and Omega 6. Each of these families has a parent. The parent for each is:
Poly Unsaturated Fatty Acids
[table id=1 /]
Essential Fatty Acids (the stuff you need to eat 'cuz your body can’t make it)
So as long as you have the parent the rest of the family can be made. The body can’t make the parents (ALA and LA) so they are called essential fatty acids (EFA). Whenever the body can’t make something it is referred to as essential has to come in food from an outside source. So if you aren’t eating Omega 3 and Omega 6, you don’t have it available in your body and your body isn’t making the other fatty acids in the family. Good sources for these are:
[table id=2 /]
Have you heard of EPA and DHA? EPA and DHA are two fatty acids we hear about a lot. Here’s why– Remember that the more bends a fatty acid has the more electric and alive it is. EPA and DHA have more bends than any of the other fatty acids. They are very alive, vibrating and electric – and very concentrated in the areas of the body where things need to happen fast: like the brain with all the neurons firing off, the eyes where images need to be made in a split second and the heart where we need to keep it beating in a regular rhythm.
Fat is key to making things happen fast. Exactly the opposite of what we have been taught! Based on what you’ve been told about fat, you’d think that if we had fat in our brains it would be slowing things down, not be key to speeding things up.
EPA and DHA are so vital to the functioning of the brain, that if it has a shortage it will rob these fats from wherever it can to the detriment of the rest of the body. There are only two things known to leach these fatty acids from the brain: alcohol and a fetus.
In order for the fetus’ brain to grow, it needs EPA and DHA, especially in the last trimester of pregnancy when the brain is doubling in size. After the baby is born, breast milk is high in EPA and DHA. So if mom isn’t getting enough, the baby will take it from the brain.
So once you start leaching EPA and DHA from the brain, brain functions start to be affected like mood, memory, learning abilities. Two traits associated with alcoholism and pregnancies are memory and depression/postpartum depression.
The brain, eyes and heart need the Omega 3 fatty acids. It’s essential that we eat them.
Our Superheroes: Prostaglandins
Poly Unsaturated fatty acids are superheroes. The body takes fatty acids from the Omega 6 and Omega 3 and transforms them into powerful substances called prostaglandins. You have Omega 6 prostaglandins and Omega 3 prostaglandins. These have an enormous impact on our body.
To understand how these powerful prostaglandins impact our bodies, we need to first take a step back and learn how our body manages itself. We have all this stuff inside: cells, blood, organs, tissue, etc. All of this needs to be managed and regulated; communication needs to happen between the systems. The body does that in two ways:
- The nervous system through short fast electrical impulses sent through the nerves.
- The endocrine system through chemical hormones in the blood stream and body fluids.
We have hormones to manage just about everything. The basic mechanism behind this is that a hormone gets secreted by a gland and circulates around in the blood to communicate to various cells and orchestrate a particular task.
There is also micro-management that occurs on a moment to moment basis and that is done with the prostaglandins. What happens is anywhere something needs to be done the body will take some fatty acids, turn them into prostaglandins and get the needed job completed. The prostaglandins are used only for that single job, and then they break down. Prostaglandins are used in every tissue cell and organ in the body to regulate and control, even down to the cellular level, like moving calcium in and out of the cells. They have so much responsibility that scientists are still uncovering their functions, to the point where they are now referring to fat as an endocrine (hormone) gland.
Prostaglandins are particularly useful in emergencies where the body needs something to happen fast and it doesn’t have time to wait for a hormone to be circulated around in the blood. For example, if you get injured. The body will take the fatty acids in the tissue that was affected and create prostaglandins and quickly provide inflammation to isolate the injury. Prostaglandins are very much like hormones in the way that they regulate and control cells. Frequently they are called tissue hormones, but unlike hormones they aren’t secreted by a gland and circulated in the blood.
So think about how incredible that is. The source of one of the most fundamental ways the body manages itself doesn’t come from a particular gland or the brain, but from the food we eat. And all the body requires is that we get a good balance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 coming in so that it can use the prostaglandins to fine tune the work that needs to be done. The problem happens when these two fatty acids get out of balance, particularly if there is more Omega 6 coming in than Omega 3. Because it is the Omega 6 fatty acids that are responsible for providing the inflammation, and the Omega 3 that brings the inflammation down.
If you have more Omega 6 coming in then Omega 3 this inflammation can get out of control. This is exactly what is happening in America. Most Americans are getting a 20:1 ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3. So inflammation is rising in the body and all these inflammatory conditions are happening: joint pain, asthma, arthritis, etc.
It is important to make sure that all the fatty acids you eat are in good balance. This is one of the reasons a good fat goes bad—too much of one and not enough of another. The next article talks more about why we get more Omega 6 than Omega 3 and other reasons good fats go bad…
Continue on by reading the next article: Good Fats Gone Bad…
Also read Fat Dietary Guidelines. Here's a summary of "eat this, not that" on fat.
I want to acknowledge all the research and instruction provided by Mary Toscano, a certified nutrition educator and Weston A. Price Foundation. All the information presented here was taken from these great resources.
What are Triglycerides?
Triglycerides are the chemical form in which fat moves through the bloodstream to your body's tissues. They are derived directly from fats in your diet and are also made in the body from other energy sources such as carbohydrates. A Triglyceride is basically three fatty acids attached to a Glycerol molecule (an alcohol substance). When calories you consume are not used immediately, they are converted to triglycerides, sent through the blood stream and then stored in fat cells. Hormones are used to regulate the release of these stored fats to meet energy needs. Although they contribute to the calculation of total cholesterol, triglycerides themselves are neither bad nor good. They’re either too high or they’re not.
High triglyceride levels can be genetic, and may be related to obesity or untreated diabetes; however your diet plays a huge role in their levels. Carbohydrates in the diet are the main factor affecting triglyceride levels in the blood, especially quick-digesting ones such as processed foods. In many people, these foods elevate insulinlevels, (Insulin is the substance that regulates the sugar in the blood. The higher the sugar in the blood the more insulin is needed to regulate it.) and insulin affects triglyceride production and the storage of fat. High triglyceride levels usually accompany low HDL cholesterol and often accompany tendencies toward high blood pressure and belly fat. These are the conditions that increase the risk of developing insulin resistance, a very common disorder underlying obesity and increased risks of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
In my opinion, the conventional medical recommendation for a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet to lower triglycerides and bring down cholesterol is dead wrong. Instead you want to be eating a healthy combination of fats, proteins and carbohydrates.
Links to other articles about eating the right types and ratios of food:
What's Wrong With Eating Sugar?