Everything About Fat
Tue, 28 Jun 2011 16:11 CDT
Probably More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Fat and Thought You Already Knew, But Didn't
Ideas seem to have a way of ingraining themselves in mass consciousness such that it is difficult, if not impossible, to uproot them. Get enough people behind an idea and the idea becomes "truth", even if it has no basis in objective reality. Like some kind of weed that grows in the gardens of people's imaginations, ideas, even if they're wrong, can be quite persistent. Gardeners of truth may work hard in the garden of the mind to remove these weeds, yet their deep roots may often evade the well-intentioned gardener. Tireless efforts often seem successful, only for the same tired idea to poke its head up through the undergrowth once more. This brings the stark realization that the weed was never gone at all, but its roots were merely hidden from view, growing ever more expansive beneath the surface.
After nearly a century of the 'fat is evil' weed, gardeners of truth may finally be making some headway in the garden of the collective mind. Since the inception of the 'lipid hypothesis', researchers, nutritionists and journalists alike have been pulling up this weed, exposing the logical inconsistencies of tying natural fats to disease.
Decades of low-fat diets have failed to slow a rising obesity epidemic or stem the tide of widespread chronic disease. In fact, new research presented at the American Dietetic Association's Annual Food and Nutrition Conference in Boston shows that a low-fat diet is actually dangerous. Swapping out natural high-fat foods for their processed counterparts leads to a diet high in refined carbohydrates (sugar), additives and other dangerous ingredients that are probably the actual culprits in our growing epidemic of poor health. Thankfully, some of the more aware among us are beginning to realize that the dietary recommendations given to us by our governments, our doctors and our dietitians over the past 3 generations simply do not work.
Yet the roots of the weeds are still present. Never in the history of human nutritional science has one macronutrient been so maligned, so misunderstood and so falsely accused as fat has been post-World War II. The idea that fat not only makes you fat, but blocks up your arteries, raises your cholesterol to dangerous levels, gives you diabetes and heart disease, and causes strokes and all sorts of cancers is not easy to vanquish. Even when presented with the science, the logical arguments that show eating the right fat is neither dangerous nor unhealthy (and mightily delicious at that), people are still extremely tentative in their consumption and experts are still ultra-conservative in their recommendations.
In the days of our great-grandparents, before obesity epidemics and plagues of chronic disease, fat consumption was abundant. Animal fats were valued for their ability to withstand high temperatures and add delectable flavor and texture to meals. It wasn't until the rise of seed oils - oils much less fit for human consumption in large quantities and removed from their original whole source - that our health began to fail. The advertising of these seed oils propagated then, and still to this day, tries to convince us that they are the healthy alternative to 'dangerous' animal fats. And yet, as their consumption increases, so too do chronic disease rates.
Recommendations from the 'experts', firmly entrenched in this seemingly unmovable meme, have continued to demonize animal fats in favor of vegetable oils. If you're getting sick, you're obviously not following these recommendations to the letter. And if you are, then it's time to make the recommendations even more stringent, allowing for less animal fat; indeed, less fat altogether.
As time has worn on in this anti-fat regime, 'health foods' have become more and more bland in favor of lower target numbers of fat on nutrition labels. Every chef knows that fat equals flavor. To replace these natural flavorful nutrients, it's necessary to fool our tongues with something. Thus these flavor-enhancing chemicals, particularly monosodium glutamate, have become a necessity for anyone to actually moderately enjoy what essentially amounts to low-calorie, low-fat cardboard. Sugar, or, more likely, high-fructose corn syrup, now saturates every processed food on the grocery store shelf. All in the name of your 'health', of course.
The question is, can we go back to a time when fats were valued for what they are - delicious, nutritious, nutrient-dense components of our diets? There is abundant research showing the benefit of fats, saturated fats from animal sources in particular. Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes, Know Your Fats by Dr. Mary G. Enig, 'The Whole Health Source' blog done by Stephan Guyenet, a number of articles by Dr. Joseph Mercola on www.mercola.com
, along with thousands of other books, blogs and articles, present the well-reasoned, scientifically-grounded arguments for abundant fat consumption. These arguments are reaching millions. And still, we hesitate.
In a way, this hesitation is understandable. We're still surrounded on all sides by half-truths and misrepresentations when it comes to the topic of fats. Advertising copy, rumors and hearsay make up most of the sources of information on health and nutrition in the modern landscape. On the other hand, we have doctors untrained in nutrition and articles written by journalists with only a peripheral understanding of this complex topic. Most information heard in the media is simply a retreading of previously-heard information, while little critical thought or analysis is added to the debate. Indeed, no critical debate seems to exist.
But the word is getting out. Some have switched back from margarine to natural healthy butter. Some have even gone so far as to ditch the highly-refined vegetable oils supposedly good for cooking in favor of coconut oil (gasp, a saturated fat!). Some experts are petitioning the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. to remove the total fat counts from nutritional labels.
Yet few have truly embraced the new fat renaissance. You still have to search far and wide in North America for preservative-free, non-hydrogenated lard, for instance. Ask your butcher for beef tallow and he's likely to raise a brow before 'seeing what he can do'. Animal fats, while available by the quart in France for example, are only found in high-end food stores here in North America, in small quantities and for high prices. Because seed oils are still the norm, it just can't be imagined that someone would want to use animal fats for anything other than the most indulgent treat on the rarest of occasions, despite the fact that grandma used to use it for everything from frying taters to making pie crust.
Know Your Fats
Despite an increasing appreciation for dietary fat, using fats in the wrong way can, indeed, lead to ill health and damage the body. There are fats out there that can have all the negative effects which fat as a whole has been accused of having for the past several decades. Likewise, healthy fats treated in the wrong way can be as equally damaging. The fat revolution doesn't imply that extra mayo should go on that BLT, and it certainly doesn't suddenly transform fast food joint french fries into a health food.
Understand that the vast majority of what we hear about fat - in the media, from our friends, even from our doctors - is simply wrong. The 'fat-is-evil' weed is so ingrained in our collective consciousness that fat recommendations are still overcautious. Even alternative health professionals often hedge their recommendations with warnings about eating too much fat and it's still rare to find an 'expert' recommending saturated fat consumption. Word is spreading, but it has yet to reach everyone and, unfortunately, the people with the loudest voice seem to be the last to get hip to the truth.
Thus, the first order in getting our society turned around on fat is education. To get a healthy relationship with fat, we need to have a healthy understanding of fat. Knowing the rules, and why the rules apply, means never being confused about which 'health' foods are actually healthy and which 'junk' foods are actually the ones to be eating. Seeing through the hype on fats is key.
Before we get into the technical details on why some fats are good and some are bad, here's a quick rundown on how to identify certain fats and oils and how best to deal with them:
Polyunsaturated Fats - These are usually from nut and seed oils. You can tell whether an oil is mostly made up of polyunsaturated fats if it stays liquid even when it's put in the fridge. They are often referred to as 'essential fats' or 'essential fatty acids' (EFAs) because they are needed for the proper functioning of our bodies, but they cannot be created from other fats. You also hear them referred to as omega-3s or omega-6s. However, polyunsaturated fats should never be used for cooking or otherwise heated. These fats are quite delicate and can easily go rancid, turning them into harmful oils which promote disease. As such, they need to be protected from heat, light and even air. Polyunsaturated oils should be sold in a dark bottle, only be 'cold pressed' (i.e. no heat is used in the extraction process) and should never be used as a cooking oil. Unfortunately, the oils from the grocery store sold in clear plastic bottles for the express purpose of cooking are all polyunsaturated oils!
Polyunsaturated Fats include - safflower oil, grapeseed oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil, hemp seed oil, flaxseed oil, borage oil, fish oils
Best used for - cold applications only: salads, smoothies, supplements (as with flaxseed or fish oil)
Look for - dark bottles, sold in the refrigerated section, cold pressed, organic
Monounsaturated Fats - These fats are found in some vegetables, nuts and fruits and make up a good part of the fats found in meats. They are a little bit heartier than polyunsaturated oils and can be used for some light-heat applications like light sautéing or baking. The most common vegetable-sourced monounsaturated fat is olive oil. You can tell whether an oil is mostly monounsaturated fats because it becomes gelatinous and sludgy when put in the fridge but stays liquid at room temperature.
Monounsaturated Fats include - olive oil, avocado oil, walnut oil, hazelnut oil
Best used for - cold applications like salads, dips or pestos; light sautéing or some baking
Look for - dark glass bottles, cold pressed, organic
Saturated Fat - Don't believe the hype - saturated fat is good for you! Despite almost a century of dietary recommendations against intake of saturated fat, the public is finally starting to catch up with what some researchers and holistic health professionals have known all along: that saturated fat consumption actually promotes health. Saturated fats are found in meats, some dairy products, and eggs, as well as some tropical vegetables. They are ideal for cooking as they can withstand much higher temperatures than other oils. You know a fat is saturated if it is solid or semi-solid at room temperature.
Saturated Fats include - duck fat, goose fat, beef tallow, butter, ghee, lard (pork fat), coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and red palm oil. Note: duck fat and lard actually have a higher content of monounsaturated fats than saturated fats but are grouped in with saturated fats since they make up a third or more of their total fat, and because everyone thinks that animal fats are entirely saturated; an unfortunate misconception.
Best used for - all high-heat applications including searing, frying, deep or shallow-frying, baking, etc.
Look for - organic
Fats to avoid at all costs - all polyunsaturated oils sold for cooking, anything sold in clear plastic bottles, margarines or other tub spreads, any hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, trans fats, interesterified fats, vegetable shortening, 'vegetable oil', cottonseed oil, all genetically modified oils like canola oil, corn oil and soy oil.
There were, more than likely, a few surprises for the reader in the above outline. The truth about how to best use fats has been so subverted that we don't recognize it when we see it. The vast majority of the fats and oils on my "No" list are the exact oils you find in 90% of processed foods on the market. We're encouraged to cook with the fats that are most easily damaged by heat, thereby causing harm when consumed, while we're told to avoid the fats that are actually good for cooking!
The remainder of this article is going to be looking at why the outline above is true. In order to do that, we first need to examine the chemistry of fats. The molecular structure of fats is what gives them their unique properties; what makes some right for cooking, others right for supplementing and others good for little more than oiling your bike chain.
Firstly, the nomenclature. Lipid is the scientific name for fat. The term fat generally refers to lipids that are relatively solid at room temperature, while those that are liquid at room temperature are called oils. This isn't a hard-and-fast rule, however, as the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, and the term fat is often used to denote any lipid.
On a microscopic level, fatty acids are bonded carbon chains connected to an acid group (carboxyl group). The carbon atoms in the chain are either bonded to other carbons or to hydrogen atoms. A carbon chain which has all available bonds taken up by hydrogen atoms is said to be saturated, because no more hydrogen could possibly be added to the chain. But, if some of the available bonds are used to form double bonds with carbon atoms in the chain, these fatty acids are said to be unsaturated, since more hydrogen atoms could potentially still fit in. A fatty acid with one double bond is called monounsaturated, while fatty acids with more than one double bond are polyunsaturated.
Read more: http://www.sott.net/articles/show/230686-Everything-About-Fat