Saturated Fat, Framed for the Past 40 Years
Let’s get the hard part out of the way first and talk about saturated fats. I could build common ground on unsaturated fats, but why wait for the good stuff?
As I mentioned in my public relations proposal to fat, that these fats are actually healthy and don’t have the bad rap that people give it. Let’s chat a bit about why this is the case and why including some saturated fat may not be that bad of a thing.
HDL and LDL
First, most people claim that fat, namely saturated fats, is high in cholesterol and will cause heart and cardiovascular problems. But is this true? Is Saturated fat bad for you and does it cause cholesterol issues? Many know that there are two types of lipoprotein particles: HDL and LDL. These lipoproteins are not cholesterol. They are just the ships that carry the cargo known as cholesterol and fat around the blood stream.
It is also thought that HDL is the good one, while LDL is the bad one. Well this is partly true.
HDL is the good one. In fact, it is a stronger indicator of heart disease, than LDL cholesterol. We talked about how this is a major indicator for medical staffs in figuring out heart strength and carb intake. So we want to keep this high by eating fats. HDL fat comes from both saturated and unsaturated fat.
LDL cholesterol is a bit more complicated on the other hand. There are two types of LDL cholesterol. There is a type B, which is a smaller, dense LDL. Then there is a type A, which is a larger, buoyant LDL.
The small, dense LDL is the LDL that kills you. Because it is small it gets stuck in the linings of your arteries and causes the plaque that makes it hard for the blood to flow through. The large, buoyant LDL is too big to get caught. It flows along harmlessly. Grains and sugars create the small LDL, while the large LDL is created by fat, both saturated and unsaturated fat.
In our grain series we talked about several studies that have proven this or have failed to prove that saturated fat is bad for you. The best examples may be anthropology studies of our paleolithic ancestors and studies of similar modern tribes that show diets high in protein and fat, little carbs, and next to no sugar.
They were and are not only stronger, faster, and leaner, but they don’t have the modern western diseases we face with western diets. It starts with metabolic syndrome coming in the form of hypertension, obesity, and diabetes. It then leads to higher risk of a stroke, heart disease, cancer, and all those other things we tend to die from. As my Mexican friends say, “No bueno”.
While fat has more calories per gram compared to carbs and protein, it doesn’t matter how many calories as much as what your body does with what you give it. Ignore thermodynamics; our bodies are more complex than that. Fat storage is dictated by insulin levels, which is ravaged by sugar and grains, not the dietary fat that we eat. Dietary fat promotes retention of lean mass and burning more glucose or fat as energy. Basically dietary fat makes you skinny, while sugars and grains promote fat.
In fact, dietary fat that we eat, including saturated fat, promotes other chemicals that tell our brain we are full: PYY, adiponectin, and leptin. This is why it is good to talk to your appetite controlling hormones like five year old children. I try to build their confidence often by eating plenty of avocados, nuts, seeds, and coconuts. Wouldn’t hurt if you tried that out as well.
Types of Saturated Fats
So that is a quick summary of how fat works. Let’s talk about some of the fatty acids that are in saturated fats and what they do.
What is saturated fat? Saturated Fat is basically a fat consisting of no double bonds in the molecule and a variety of chain lengths depending on the type of fat. They are solid at room temperature and take a long time to oxidate. Here are three of the most common saturated fatty acids you will deal with. Here are some examples of saturated fats.
Lauric Acid: This is a 12-carbon-long saturated fat that is found in coconut milk, coconut oil, and palm oil. It helps to heal the gut irritation that we talked about with grains and the autoimmune issues that comes with it. It is a component found in breast milk to help with infection. It is also proven to fight against everything from chicken pox to helping with HIV.
Palmitic Acid: This guy is a bit dicier. He is a 15 carbon long saturated fat that is found in palm oil and protein products like beef and eggs. Palmitic Acid is also in foods that are commonly recommended by saturated fat haters like poultry and seafood.
Palmitic does raise LDL cholesterol, which is known as the “bad cholesterol”. Just like other saturated fats, it raises LDL cholesterol levels, but only the benign large, buoyant LDL. Palmitic acid does not raise the levels of the small, dense LDL that creates plaque and leads to heart and cardiovascular problems.
Palmitic acid actually has some benefits beyond appetite control. It plays a role in forming new memories and accessing long-held memories. So Rachel McAdams probably should have had more palmitic acid in The Vowto remember Channing Tatum (there you go ladies for your hot, steamy love story reference for this post).
While carbs can produce palmitic acid as well, the amounts of PA in carbs can be unstable and lead to higher food cravings. With fat as a vehicle palmitic acid comes into your body much more stable. The controlled palmitic acid levels in fat in turn balance insulin levels in your body as well. Another reason fat is good, and grains and carbs are more risky.
Stearic Acid: This 18-Carbon saturated fat. Some of the sources of saturated fat include meat, eggs, and dark chocolate. It is also in bars of soap as a skin cleaner. You probably didn’t think about eating a bar of soap huh?
Stearic acid has been shown to increase the necessary HDL cholesterol while decreasing systemic inflammation in the body. It also does a solid job of helping you put on muscle while gaining more energy.
Imbalance of Essential Fats
While I am not as worried about foods high in saturated fat, compared to grains or sugar, there is one aspect of fats that you should be worried about. That is the imbalance from essential fats.
Corn, canola, soybean and other vegetable and seed oils can be kind on the wallet and purse, but are unkind on the body. They are ridiculously high in polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids. Even really, really smart people suggest that the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats is way out of whack and one of the major culprits for life-altering diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disease and even cancer.
See the ratio for the intake of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids should equal 1 to 1. Unfortunately that is not the case. We tend to eat a great deal of grains that are high in omega-6 and we cook a lot of our foods in high amounts of omega-6 oils. This has led to a 16 to 1 or even 20 to 1 ratio in favor of omega-6 in the common American diet.
Another reason we have messed up omega-3 to omega-6 ratios is because a lot of the animal meat we eat was fed grains and corn when it was alive. This is why it is good to get grass-fed protein. The more grass fed the animal, the better balance between omega-3 and omega-6
Omega-6 fats build up in your tissues as I mentioned and become inflammatory to your body. This raises your cortisol and then insulin levels to try to fight this inflammation. In return your body gets more plumpy.
How much should I have?
How much saturated fat per day should you have? Saturated Fat should account for about 10-15% of our calories. Some cultures have gone as high as 40% of their caloric intake, but that is often due to high levels of coconut intake. What is amazing is that there is little sign of cardiovascular health problems with these different tribes.
When looking at eating foods high in saturated fat, I would focus on lauric acid (coconuts and palm oil) and stearic acid (meat and eggs) and limit palmitic acid, or at least avoid refined carbs that contain palmitic acid that can jack up insulin sensitivity. This also goes back to why you should find animal meats and eggs that are grass fed, and not grain fed in order to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
A more important issue is making sure that we get proper omega-3 to omega-6 balance in the foods that we eat in order to prevent cancer, diabetes, autoimmunity, and neurodegeneration. To change this we should eat more grass fed fish & meat. Stay away from seed and grain oils like corn, soy, safflower, and vegetable oils as well.
So the bad fat may not be as bad as expected. Does this mean go “hog-wild”? It is more important to focus on a balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Focus on the animal protein, even fatty animal proteins, and other healthy fats. And finally, I can’t say it enough, stay away from the refined carbs and sugar. The best way to really figure out if this is working is to ask yourself a few things.
- Are you losing body fat? (a body fat test)
- Do you have more energy?
- Are you less moody?
- How are your biomarkers after taking a blood test?
If things are getting better over a month or two, then this is the right move. And who knows, maybe we can give fat a better name.
What’s on Tap?
Next we move to the infamous trans fats. Are they really evil and what does Samuel L. Jackson have to do with it? We will find out.