For today’s blog, I’d like to focus on the NTA’s foundation of “Fatty Acids". Like all of the foundations, fat is a critical part of our health. It is one of the main building blocks to the structure of our bodies. So let’s start with the basics. Fat is one of the four macronutrients. Carbohydrates, protein and water are the other three. Fat is the most concentrated form of energy when compared to the other macros which means we get more bang for our buck. Fat keeps us feeling fuller longer and slows the absorption of food which can help prevent overeating. It helps us absorb and utilize the fat soluble vitamins A,D,E, and K. Fats play an important role in the production of hormones and my personal favorite benefit of fat is that it simply makes food taste good!
Fat is found in the wall of every cell in the body, it is a primary building block of our cells. If you’ve ever taken an anatomy and physiology course, you may remember something called the “lipid bilayer”.
The lipid bilayer is essentially the wall found in every cell of the body. It protects the cell, allows certain things to pass into and out of the cell and provides the cell with structure and integrity. When looking at this image, notice all of the little blue balls (tee hee), those are lipids which is another word for fat. You’ll notice too, our little buddy cholesterol nestled in the middle of the wall, I’ll talk more about him shortly.
When we eat a wide variety of good quality fats, we are essentially nourishing our body at a cellular level. Conversely, if we eat too many poor quality fats and oils, this lipid bilayer will be replaced by damaged, flimsy and flabby lipids. So let's talk more about this idea of “good fats“ and “bad fats”. The difference between the good and bad here is not necessarily the source of the fat, but rather how it has been produced and processed. Most fats when found in their most natural, whole food form are good for us. The exception here is canola (rapeseed), cottonseed and soy oils. These oils are never safe for consumption and should be avoided.
Another type of fat to avoid is anything that has been hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated. These are highly processed fats. They are produced by taking oils that are liquid at room temp and place them in a big vat. Under the vat, hydrogen is bubbled up through the oil, which transforms the liquid oil into a more solid, spreadable form. This is how products like margarine are made. This process damages the oil, producing trans fats.
Which brings me to the topic of trans fats. I think if there is one thing health professionals can all agree on, it is that trans fats are poison to the body. They are formed when fats and oils have been damaged by heat or during processing. They offer absolutely no benefit to the body and will prevent the anti-inflammatory processes of the healing process which can lead to chronic inflammation. It is best to avoid trans fats.
So let's take a gander at the “good fats”. Omega 3 and Omega 6 Fatty Acids are the two fats that are referred to as “Essential Fatty Acids”, our body cannot produce them on its own and therefore it is essential that we obtain them through our diet. Omega 9 fatty acids are not essential, because our body can produce them on its own but they are still an important part of a balanced diet. These first three fats comprise the group of “unsaturated” fats. Finally, we have saturated fat, which has gotten a bad reputation over the years and wrongfully so.
Without getting into the politics of why saturated fat has been so demonized, let's focus on the facts. The lipid bilayer of our cell walls contain one molecule of saturated fat and one molecule of unsaturated fat. The saturated fat here is what provides the cell membrane with the necessary “stiffness” to maintain shape and proper function. About 60% of our brain is made of fat and half of that fat is saturated (Enig & Fallon, 2005). Saturated fat helps calcium to be effectively incorporated into the structure of our bones. It also protects the liver from toxins like alcohol and over the counter pain relievers (Enig & Fallon, 2005). Saturated fat is the heart’s favorite source of energy, particularly in times of stress. In fact, our heart is surrounded by a layer of saturated fat as a result! There are many benefits from saturated fat, to learn more you can check out the books that I have listed as references or contact me for more information.
Sources of Good Quality Fatty Acids
Omega 3’s : Fish oil, flaxseed/oil, walnut oil, wheat germ, chia, hemp and pumpkin seeds.
Omega 6’s: Sunflower, sesame, black currant and evening primrose oils (note, look for cold pressed and stored in a dark or opaque container).
Omega 9’s: Avocado, extra virgin olive oil, hazelnut and almond oils.
Saturated Fat: Coconut oil, eggs, butter, raw dairy and animal fats from pasture raised animals (tallow, lard, ghee, etc.)
Some important things to note here: Remember, it is not the source of the oil or fat that makes it “good” or “bad", but the way it is processed. Unsaturated fats or the Omegas 3-6-9 are all very delicate oils that are easily damaged by heat, processing methods and light. So, peanut oil for example, isn’t inherently bad. But most peanut oil is processed under high heat extraction methods, which becomes damaged trans fat. Then, in turn, peanut oil is often used in deep fryers which heat and reheat the oil many times, further damaging it and making it harmful to us.
When purchasing any of the oils listed above, look for “cold pressed” and “unrefined” on the label. Also look for oils that are in dark or opaque bottles. Since these oils are damaged by light, even if they have been processed properly, they will be damaged by the bright lights of the grocery store if they are in a clear bottle. It is also best to keep these oils stored in the fridge. Even nuts and seeds are best to be kept in the refrigerator to keep those beautiful omegas in tact. Finally, since these oils are damaged by heat, it is best to use them on salads, eaten in their whole food form or taken via supplementation. Saturated fats are best for cooking, as they are more stable and are not easily damaged by heat.
We also want to strive for a wide variety of all four types of these fats, over consumption of any one can lead to an imbalance. It is important to note that when it comes to the essential fatty acids (omegas 3 and 6) we ideally want to strive for a 1:1 ratio when consuming them. If you look at the list of omega 6’s, many of those oils are used in deep frying methods as well as highly processed foods. It is because of this that Americans tend to overconsume the omega 6’s (in their damaged, toxic form) and be deficient in the omega 3’s.
One reason why I highly recommend grass fed animal products is because those foods naturally have a more ideal ratio of omega 3’s and 6’s. Meat from conventionally raised animals contains no omega 3’s, only 6’s which further contributes to imbalance. Wild caught fish is another example of food that naturally has an ideal ratio when compared to farm raised fish. Eggs from free range chickens also naturally have a more ideal omega 3 and 6 ratio. All the more reason to eat foods that are as close to their natural form as possible!
Let's talk a bit about cholesterol, because although it is not a fat, it is a fat like substance that is absolutely crucial to many of the body's processes. Cholesterol is so important to us, that our body recycles it! I'm sure you've heard of the so called "good" and "bad" cholesterol, or High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) and Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) respectively. What we are referring to here are actually the transport proteins that bring the cholesterol to and from different areas of the body. The "bad" one, LDL, brings cholesterol to sites of injury in the body that need repair. This is because cholesterol plays a big role in our healing processes. The "good" cholesterol is the transport protein that brings it back to the liver for storage.
Calling LDL the "bad" guy here is kind of like saying that ambulances are bad because they always show up at car accidents! But thats just not the case, cholesterol has arrived at the scene to help, but it has been wrongfully accused of problems like heart disease. I'll speak more about this in a future blog about inflammation, which is the true cause of heart disease. For now, just remember that cholesterol is found within the cell wall of every cell in the lipid bilayer and helps provide it with structure and integrity. Among other things, cholesterol is also integral in the production of hormones, the production of vitamin D, production of bile salts which aid digestion, and is needed for the proper function of serotonin the “feel good” chemical. I think it’s time that our friend cholesterol get a little credit for the many beneficial roles it plays in the body!
In summary, we need to consume a wide variety of fats from all 4 categories, Omega's 3-6-9 and saturated fats. Eating too much from any of these categories can create an imbalance. The quality of the fat matters, which includes how it was processed, how it is stored and how the animal was raised if you are eating animal products. Finally, do your best to avoid trans fats, highly processed fats that have been hydrogenated and fats used for deep frying, nobody wants flimsy, damaged cells!
Thanks so much for taking the time to read my blog today! Much love!
Enig, M. G., & Fallon, S. (2005). Eat fat, lose fat: lose weight and feel great with the delicious, science-based coconut diet. London: Michael Joseph
"Put Your Heart In Your Mouth - Natural Treatment for Atherosclerosis, Angina, Heart attack, High Blood Pressure, Stroke, Arrhythmia, Peripheral Vascular Disease" By Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride
"The Big Fat Surprise - Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet" - By Nina Teicholz