Fat – A Life Saver?

Fat. We all fear it. We all loathe it, but does it really deserve the bad rap?

I say no. First of all, fat has several roles that are absolutely necessary for good health.

  • Fat insulates your body. The thinner the layer of fat, the harder it is to control body temperature. In other words, the Olsen twins would become hypothermic popsicles on a chilly day. Honestly.
  • Second of all, fat helps to protect the vital organs. Without an adequate level of fat, organs are liable to shift positions and cause irreparable damage. Also, organs such as the kidneys, the liver, the heart and lungs are more likely to sustain an injury without adequate fat.
  • Another role of fat is its ability to provide the energy necessary to keep our hearts beating and our lungs breathing, our digestive tract working, and our nerves sensing. Approximately 66% of our daily energy expenditure comes from fat. In instances where people eat too little, fat and muscle is used to keep the brain working. This is bad news since the body is essentially feasting on its self. Don’t be a cannibal. Even during those afwul low calorie diets, fat plays a role in “keeping you afloat”.
  • Fat is also partly responsible for hormone production, most notably estrogen.

Bodyfat vs Your Estrogen Levels

Menopause News

After menopause, fat becomes a woman’s #1 source of estrogen.

Women below 11% bodyfat are more prone to osteoperosis, BUT…

Obese are 50% more likely to get breast cancer from too much estrogen caused by fat.

Conclusion: Eat a balanced diet.

Here’s an interesting fact concerning fat levels and estrogen production: A heavyset woman AFTER menopause produces MORE estrogen than a skinny woman BEFORE menopause. After menopause, fat becomes a woman’s number one source of estrogen.

In cases where women dip beneath the 11% bodyfat minimum for prolonged periods, they will notice a disruption of the menstrual cycle, even a complete cessation. All this is due to seriously low fat levels which influence estrogen levels which then influences bone density.

But, not to sound irresponsible, the obese are 50% more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer due to the excessive amount of estrogen that accompanies the fat. The goal is to eat a balanced diet that incorporates fats and not to fear them as if toxic. Skinny does not necessarily translate as healthy. The American public already knows that being obese is unhealthy, but many still fail to realize that the supermodel look is almost equally destructive, if not more so.

Anorexia can lead to kidney failure and permanent heart problems as well as irreversible bone damage, and anemia. Now, do you still want “zero percent” body fat? I didn’t think so.

Types of Fats

Now that we know the various and important roles that fat plays in the body, let’s discuss the different kinds of dietary fats, which are good, which are bad, and in which foods they can be found. Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first.

Saturated Fat Is Evil

Saturated fats are typically fats coming from animal origin, such as butter, meat fat, milk fat. It would be wise to avoid these as best as possible since they can lead to heart disease, atherosclerosis, and elevated blood cholesterol levels. However, some feel that the culprit of America’s obesity epidemic and health issues is not saturated fats, but another kind that’s barely a notch above poison.

Of course, if you watch the news, you know that I’m speaking of trans fat, or trans fatty acid. Trans fat is actually an unsaturated fat that adopts similar qualities of a saturated fat once the unsaturated fat is hydrogenated and given an extra hydrogen atom. This then leads to a longer shelf life for baked good, plus, it’s a cheaper route than for companies to be using butter or lard, but is in many ways more detrimental to the body than saturated fats.

Clinical Study: 80,000 Women vs Trans Fat

Dr Walter Willett

Dr. Walter Willett

  • Chair, Department of Nutrition, Harvard.
  • Professor of Medicine, HMS

This study was conducted by Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition.

It was concluded that after having studied 80,000 women that…

  • Eating 2% more trans fats caused a 93% higher risk of heart disease and 39% higher risk of Type II Diabetes.
  • Eating 5% more saturated fat only caused 17% higher risk of heart disease and no increase in Type II Diabetes risk.

Experts Conclusion: Less than 10% of daily calories consumed should come from saturated and trans fats combined. So read the labels and read them carefully.

Sadly, many foods list hydrogenated oil (trans fat) as an ingredient. Anything from margarine and shortening, to fast food and salad dressing can have trans fat in it.

Yes! There Are Healthy Fats Too 🙂

Monounsaturated

These foods are high in monounsaturated fats. Ever tried Avocado frosting on a cake? 😉

  • avocados
  • olive oil
  • peanut oil
  • canola oil

Not all fats are so detrimental to your health. Good sources of fat are unsaturated. Unsaturated fats can be grouped into either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated, depending on the number of chemical bonds.

Monounsaturated Fats

Studies have shown that monounsaturated fats can lower blood levels of tryglycerides, the chemical form that fat takes in the bloodstream before being stored as fat. Also, monounsaturated fats have been known to lower chances of breast cancer. So, when in doubt cook with olive oil or add some sliced avocado to your salads.

Polyunsaturated Fats

Another important kind of fat is of the polyunsaturated variety. Polyunsaturated fats, or essential fatty acids, can be classified as either Omega-3 fatty acids or Omega-6 fatty acids and are essential because our body can’t produce them naturally, so they must be a part of our diet. Essential fatty acids are recommended for those suffering from arthritis, tendinitis, or any other joint problem.

Omega 6 Fatty Acids

Hot Tip – Omega 3’s

These fats are essential to your overall health, especially heart.

Quality sources of Omega 3:

  • Salmon/Tuna
  • Mackerel/Herring
  • Dark Leafy Veggies
  • Walnuts
  • buffalo Meat

Omega-6’s are more commonplace in the American diet, so it should be less of a concern.

Omega 6 found in all vegetable oils, such as safflower, sunflower, and corn oils, most grains and beans, as well as eggs and poultry.

Unfortunately, vegetable oils are typically partially hydrogenated, so try to avoid at all costs in that case.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3’s, on the other hand, are harder to come by and more important nutritionally.

These fatty acids serve as a natural joint and tendon lubricant and can be found primarily in coldwater fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines.

However, omega-3’s can be found in dark leafy vegetables as well as walnuts and buffalo meat. It is believed by some researchers that another reason we owe a lot of our maladies, and orthopedic ones in particular, to our poor diet is because of the imbalance between omega-6 and omega-3 consumption. The average American diet has about a 20:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Ideally, one should aim for a 1:1 ratio.

According to the American Heart Association, one should try to eat some of the aforementioned coldwater fish twice a week to help ensure that enough omega-3’s are consumed. Otherwise, fish oil capsules will work fine if fish is not your favorite.

But Will Fatty Foods Make Me Fat?

Some still believe that eating fat will make us fat, but it is simply not true.

However, a gram of fat provides 9 calories as opposed to the 4.1 and 4.3 calories of protein and carbohydrates. So, it’s not the fat but the calories IN the fat that can tack on the pounds. Healthy ranges for daily fat(both good and bad kinds) intake typically fall anywhere between a low number of 15% of total calories to 30%, depending on where you get your information.

How Much Fat Should I Eat?

This study was conducted by Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition.

It was concluded that after having studied 80,000 women that…

  • The World Health Organization advocates a daily fat consumption of no less than 15%, but no greater than 30%
  • The American Dietetic Association advocates for something around the 25-30% range

Shocking Revelation: The Inuit (Eskimos) consumer more than 98% of their daily calories from animal fat and meat, but are healthier than most americans. This is because they maintain a BALANCE of 1:1 Omega 3/Omega 6, while most Americans eat 20x more Omega 6 than Omega 3.

Expert Conclusion: Balance The Omegas

Try to eat similar amounts of Omega 3 and Omega 6, keeping them in a 1:1 balance most of the time. A great program to help you do that is Mike Geary’s Truth About Abs.

I also joined his wife’s site "Fat Burning Kitchen" and got a bunch of DELICIOUS balanced 1:1 recipes, but you don’t have to do that. Truth About Abs is packed with info on eating right.

As mentioned earlier, researchers believe that their omega-3 to omega-6 ratio is approximately 1:1, and, as a result, they have extremely low rates of heart attack and low rates of other inflammatory diseases, such as asthma, arthritis, and psoriasis. Furthermore, type II diabetes, strokes, and cancer are nearly nonexistent in isolated Inuit communities.

But don’t run down to the butcher for some whale blubber just yet. There are some deficiencies with their diet, most notable of which being the Inuit’s high susceptibility to osteoporosis. But, this was just to prove that eating fat does not necessarily cause fat storage, which could lead to type II diabetes, heart attacks, and so on and so forth.

In summary, fat’s bad rap is not warranted in some ways and is warranted in others. I personally believe one is worse off with a diet consisting of no fats than a diet asking for fat levels higher than most recommended numbers. But the goal

is to find a happy medium somwhere in between. To me, fit doesn’t mean gaunt and skinny. It means eating right and exercising several times a week. That’s how one achieves a fit and healthy appearance.

Follow typical nutritional guidelines and you’ll be doing great, but make sure you choose your fats wisely, for your lhealth depends on it.

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1 Response

  1. Susan Pesek says:

    This is an excellent article, Ian! Thank you!