Do Fats Make You Fat?
If you are trying to lose weight and you believe that means that eating fats and oils is a no-no, you might be in for a surprise. Fat is a vital component of a balanced diet and is necessary for your body to function properly. Inflammation is often involved in preventing weight loss, and the right kinds of fat can help reduce inflammation. Having said that, too much or the WRONG fats can be a problem. With all the information out there on diet, it’s important to understand not just fads, diets, and tips but the actual needs of your body.
Given how many “experts” purport the benefits of their approach and dismiss the science of others, it can be tricky to figure out which foods are best for our own needs. In fact, it can feel like there’s a new discovery about the best way to eat every week making us question if we’re ‘doing it right’!
Lately, it’s the popularity of the Paleo and Keto diets that has turned prevailing knowledge on its head, largely because of the emphasis these protocols place on eating significant quantities of healthy fats.
No matter what diet you follow, newer science is showing us that there are more benefits to eating higher quantities of healthy fats than we previously thought. In fact, research is showing that the body is built to use these as a major source of energy – some evidence even suggests that fat is a better energy source than carbohydrates! It’s a fact that fat is also vital to a wide variety of normal bodily functions.
What are the Different Types of Fats?
What does monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated mean when it comes to fats? These terms refer to the molecular structure of the fat. Fats are made up of long chains of carbon molecules connected to each other by bonds and also bound to hydrogen molecules. These bonds can be either a single bond or a double bond. Saturated fats contain only single bonds. Monounsaturated fats, like oleic acid found in olive oil, contain only one double bond. Polyunsaturated fats, like linoleic acid found in sunflower oil, contain multiple double bonds.
Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFA’s)
MUFA’s are liquid at room temperature. Because of the double bond that they contain, they can be unstable and prone to oxidation.
Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA’s)
PUFA’s are also liquid at room temperature and because they contain more than one double bond, can be highly unstable and even more prone to oxidation. Oxidation creates “free radicals” that can cause damage to our bodies. Oxygenated derivatives of linoleic acid, known as Oxlams, have been discovered and found to have potent inflammatory effects. For this reason, it’s preferable to get PUF’A’s and MUFA’s from whole foods, rather than as processed oils.
Saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature. They are more stable because they do not contain any double bonds and therefore are amongst the safest for cooking purposes. Excessive intake of saturated fats can increase the amount of insulin your body produces, which would not be good. While there is no need to avoid saturated fat altogether, it’s best not to overdo it either.
These are the least healthy form of fat. Trans fats are those that are artificially produced through a process known as hydrogenation. It is the process that turns a liquid oil into a solid, such as converting sunflower oil into margarine. These create inflammation in your body, which is linked to heart disease, strokes, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.
Rancidity refers to when a fat or oil has gone “bad”, meaning it has developed an unpleasant taste or smell. When unsaturated fats become oxidized they generate peroxides. The decomposition of peroxides is what causes the rancid taste or smell. Rancid oils can create harmful free radicals in your body that can damage your cells.
Essential Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acids are healthy fats that we have to get from our diet because our body can’t make them. These are also called Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. The signs of an essential fatty acid deficiency include dry, scaly skin, skin rashes, hair loss and low platelet counts. In children and infants, a fatty acid deficiency can cause intellectual disability. The Omega 6 fatty acids include linoleic acid, gamma-linolenic acid, dihomo gamma-linolenic acid and arachidonic acid. The Omega 3 fatty acids include α-Linolenic acid, Eicosatetraenoic acid, Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Supplementation with essential fatty acids is used at our clinic for skin problems like eczema and psoriasis, allergies, mood disorders and inflammatory conditions like arthritis.
What do “Good” Fats Do?
Help to build a strong cell membrane or outer layer for each of your cells
Help to build healthy sheaths surrounding nerves
Assist in maintaining normal blood clotting
Aid in controlling inflammation
Are essential for absorbing certain vitamins such as A, D, E, and K, and minerals like calcium, chromium, iron, magnesium, and zinc
Can promote weight-loss
Help encourage blood sugar stability
Are a key factor in achieving hormonal balance
Play a critical role in brain function, memory, and attention span
Have a direct impact on the quality of hair, skin, and nail growth
These reasons should be enough for all of us to realize how important it is to include these healthy nutrients in our nutrition plans!
But I thought fats were bad?
For a long time that was a common way of thinking. The reality is that the reason fats have been stigmatized was because our understanding of how they work was still developing and because we’d been eating too much of the wrong ones!
We understand now that not all fat sources are created equal – just like not all vegetables are equal (just compare iceberg lettuce with it’s dark, leafy counterparts, romaine, and spinach). There are different kinds of fats and to make understanding them easier, we like to think of them as being on a continuum. On one end of the continuum are good fats like MUFA’s and PUFA’s (when they are found in whole foods) and on the other end are bad ones like industrial-made trans fats in processed foods. Saturated fats fall somewhere in the middle.
So which fats should you be eating?
Start by choosing mostly fresh monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found naturally in whole foods, followed by a moderate amount of naturally present saturated fats from whole foods. Those of the trans variety should obviously be avoided – which will probably be easier than you think because they’re mostly present in treats and junk foods that you wouldn’t want to rely on anyway!
Recent studies on coconut oil have found it to be useful in the reduction of body fat in the belly as well as helping to reduce Body Mass index (BMI). Just like any other nutrient, consuming a variety of fat sources is key to finding balance in your nutrition. Not only because variety is important in any diet, but because different foods are more than just a kind of fat, they offer different beneficial vitamins, minerals, and fibre too!
10 Sources of Healthy Dietary Fats
- Dark Chocolate
- Whole Eggs
- Fatty Fish
- Raw Nuts
- Chia Seeds
- Fresh Cold-pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Coconut & Coconut Oil
- Full Fat Yogurt
We recommend adding fats to your diet slowly, especially if you’ve been avoiding them until now. Digesting anything well requires that the body has certain underlying requirements met including healthy gut flora and enzyme production. This is true in the case of fats as well. We’ve talked about gut flora at length in previous blog posts, but enzymes (like lipase, the enzyme that helps break down and digest fats) are also a vital part of healthy digestion – and are the subject for another time.
Are you eating right for your mind, hormone production, your metabolism? Get out of the “fat-free” cycle and into a healthier diet that includes good fats. We have tools to analyze your body’s nutrient needs and can help you experience optimal health every day through nutrition that’s ideal for you. Call us at 416-481-0222.
The Team at Forces of Nature Wellness Clinic
Gibson RA. Musings about the role dietary fats after 40 years of fatty acid research. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2018 Apr;131:1-5. doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2018.01.003. Epub 2018 Jan 6.