Last week we discussed protein in depth, and now we are going all in and discussing FAT! We love fat. Yup, we sure do- BUT, not all fat is created equal. Although fat, regardless of its source, will yield the same caloric output, the way it is processed in our bodies and reacts with our DNA makeup varies greatly.
We want to first give you the lowdown on how we choose fat quantities and then we will discuss more in depth the good and bad aspects of cholesterol, the pros and cons of the different types of fat, as well as touch on the debate over the use of coconut oil.
How do we choose fat quantities for our clients? We first determine a total caloric amount for our client based on a variety of different bio-metric and lifestyle factors and then decide on the amount of protein based on lean muscle mass. We move on to the fat ratio and generally aim for 30% of total calories. This is also dependent on other factors and we adjust accordingly from client to client, ensuring completely customized plans.
Why do we need fat in our diet? We need fat in order to absorb certain nutrients, vitamins, and antioxidants. Fat is a base of our cell structure and helps with cognition and heart function. Not to mention, fat is a dense source of energy for our body. We also covered why fat is needed for training and recovery in a previous blog that will be worth taking a second look at, especially once we uncover fat in more detail coming up.
Before we talk about Good vs. Bad Fat, we want to explain what cholesterol is and how it plays a role in fat decision making. Cholesterol is a naturally occurring fatty acid found in our cells and is needed for many bodily functions- this includes the regulation of our steroid and sex hormones, as well as ensuring the neurons in our brain are firing properly to aid in things like creating memories.
LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) is commonly referred to as “bad cholesterol” and has been linked to the increased risk of heart related disease. The truth is, LDL in and of itself is not that bad for you- in fact, LDL is needed to help with cell repair. How this works is when a cell becomes damaged, a small amount of LDL is released and is used to repair the damage, and then is recycled by the liver – this is an important process where we definitely want LDL around. When oxidation and inflammation are present, however, it disrupts this process and that’s when we start seeing the problems associated with LDL. Here are three very common examples of how oxidation, stress, and inflammation can result in LDL becoming harmful to our body and ways we can avoid it:
- It is the oxidation process of cholesterol through cooking, processing and/or manufacturing that really harms our DNA. A great example of combating these effects would be the way we cook eggs which contain saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats (we will discuss each of these in depth in a bit). Rather than scrambling the yolk (which contains the cholesterol) over heat, try sunny side up eggs for an undamaged yolk. If you are not a fan of runny yolks, try cracking your egg over low heat, allow only the whites to cook, and then remove from the heat and continue to scramble the egg yolk. The heat will allow them to firm up while minimizing the oxidation process.
- When we become stressed, our bodies release endotoxins as an inflammatory response. When this happens, LDL is then released to soak up these endotoxins. When these endotoxins bind to LDL, the LDL is no longer able to be recycled by the liver and instead hangs out in the bloodstream and results in blocked arteries. Less stress will certainly help combat this negative effect of LDL.
- Consuming a high sugar diet has been shown to raise LDL levels. When you have an abundance of glucose in your system, your liver can only store so much. The remaining glucose is then converted to fat which remains in the blood stream as cholesterol, again clogging arteries. We want this fact to resonate with you as we continue the discussion.
HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) is known as “good cholesterol” because of its job in ridding the bloodstream of “bad cholesterol”. As mentioned above, LDL is recycled by the liver, and HDL is what helps to transport the LDL to the liver to be reused. In order to ensure we have enough HDL, we have to make sure we are eating plenty of “good fats”. This brings us to our next topic; Good vs Bad Fats…
The word “fat” has such a negative connotation but in reality, fat is just another name for lipids or triglycerides. Triglycerides are fat in the blood that are used for energy, and those that are not used for energy, are stored in your. The elevated triglycerides in blood that are linked with heart disease, however, do not come from dietary fats- they are made in the liver when we consume excess amounts of sugar *told you we would revisit this fact! This is the reason why consumption of processed, refined sugars should be limited in an effort to keep triglyceride levels at bay.
Saturated Fats are highly stable fats that are either solid or semi solid at room temperature. Because of their stable nature, they do not oxidize (go rancid) when heated. The body creates saturated fat from excess carbohydrates (yet again we are seeing how excess sugar plays a key role here), but you will also find saturated fats in animal products (including butter and cheese) and tropical oils.
Monounsaturated Fats are less stable fats than saturated and are therefore generally liquid at room temperature. They do not easily oxidize when heated and can be used for cooking. The body uses saturated fats to create monounsaturated fat, but can also be found in olive oil, avocado and its oil and various nuts and their oils.
Polyunsaturated Fats are the least stable of the fatty acids and can oxidize/go rancid easily. Our body does not make polyunsaturated fat and is therefore an essential fatty acid. It is either considered an omega-6 or omega-3, which we briefly discussed in a previous blog. What was not mentioned, that we want to emphasize, is how easily these fats can go bad (think back to the egg yolk example). It is very important to make sure that you respect the cooking temperatures and shelf life of our mentioned omega-3 and omega-6 sources. We also want to advise against the use of polyunsaturated fat from vegetable oils like corn, soy, canola, rapeseed and safflower. The oil from these sources are extracted through means that causes oxidation/rancidity and damage before we even purchase them.
Now that we have the 411 on each fatty acid, we want to dig a little deeper and explain the pros and cons of these in our diet. We have been taught that saturated fats are bad and artificially manufactured sources of polyunsaturated fats are healthy for us, but you will soon realize just how misinforming this is.
Trans fats are considered “bad fats”. These artificial fats that are produced through hydrogenation (turning liquid fats into solids) should be avoided. In order to create these types of fats, the cheapest forms of vegetable oil (corn, soybean, safflower, rapeseed and canola oil) which are already rancid are then mixed with a metal component. After several other chemical processes, from emulsifying to bleaching, the newly created product is then sold commercially as margarine and shortening, or will be hidden in our processed food products. These will show up in the processed foods labeled as trans fat, but only if it’s more than 0.5g per serving, so make sure to check the ingredients for either “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oil. Essentially, you will want to be mindful of the vegetable oil ingredients that we just mentioned because of their spoiled nature when being put into these processed foods. A great example of this is Jif creamy peanut butter.
If you notice, the label says 0g trans fat but the ingredients clearly state that hydrogenated oil is an ingredient. If you didn’t quit get the comic strip we used, maybe now you’ll understand a little better. Labels can fool you…
These fats, as mentioned, are rancid to begin with from the extraction process and then chemically altered, wreaking havoc in our cells leading to DNA damage. This translates to things such as premature aging and wrinkles, tissue and organ damage, tumors, and the buildup of plaque. Naturally occurring trans fat do not have the same make up as an artificial trans fat, so small amounts from animal sources are acceptable
It is not the saturated fats that we need to fear, rather these manufactured polyunsaturated and trans fats. In fact, saturated fats are an integral part of our cell make up. They are needed for calcium absorption, they protect the liver from toxins, improve our immune system functions, are needed in order to utilize the essential fatty acids, and they are needed to help protect the delicate balance of bacteria in our gut. This brings us to our next topic, and that’s the debate over whether or not coconut oil is “healthy”.
The American Heart Association recently made a statement that coconut oil is high in saturated fat, leading to an increased level of LDL, and therefore should be not be a part of your diet. Yes, coconut oil is high in saturated fat (which increases overall cholesterol, both HDL and LDL) but saturated fat is not the culprit in heart disease which we hope we have made clear thus far. Without getting into a debate over the AHA (who endorses some of the unhealthiest foods out there) we are just going to give you some facts on coconut oil, an oil that has been used for centuries to sustain life, and let you make your own decision about its importance in your diet.
The medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) found in coconut oil are unique to this fat source in that they are are not digested the same way as other fats, rather they are immediately metabolized as energy by the liver. *Feeling a little cloudy in the morning? Adding coconut oil to your coffee may just do the trick as it will lend its energy right to your brain for mental clarity!
Because MCTs are easily and immediately used for energy, resulting in a burst of thermogenesis, it subsequently increases your metabolism and aids in weights loss. This is not the case with long and short chain fatty acids. This rapid absorption of energy is also unique when it comes to individuals who begin to show signs of Alzheimers, in which their brains begin to lose the ability to turn glucose into energy. They are able to metabolize the energy from the medium chain triglycerides immediately to improve cognitive function.
Yes, the saturated fats in coconut oil raise overall cholesterol, but we have to remember that HDL is needed to transport the cell repairing LDL back into the liver, so this is not considered a negative effect. Coconut oil also has antimicrobial & anti-fungal properties, aiding in the preservation of our gut bacteria and increased immune function. It reduces inflammation, improves dermatitis issues, improves teeth and gum health, prevents osteoporosis, and prevents type 2 diabetes. It is also fantastic to use on our skin and hair with its ability to provide vitamins and moisture to repair damage and protect against harmful UV rays. We strongly encourage our readers to listen to this podcast and browse through our linked sources for the details on these benefits.
*One last note on coconut oil- this needs to be extra virgin coconut oil, NOT hydrogenated coconut oil. We’ve already discussed in depth why consuming hydrogenated oils is strongly discouraged and would agree that the consumption of hydrogenated coconut oil should not be used.
That about wraps things up with regards to fat! We hope through all of this you were able to understand the difference between the good and bad fats and can make better educated decisions within your own diet. If you are ever unsure about what you are about to eat, take a second to Google the food or even shoot us an email! A good rule of thumb is to eat whats natural and minimally processed while being very mindful of the shelf life of your fats. Also keep in mind that too much of any macro can lead to a caloric surplus, so limiting your fat intake overall is advised – better yet, just stick to the macros we give you 😉