What would a turkey or roast chicken dinner be without that yummy, crunchy, flavor-filled skin? Or how much would you enjoy your meat without that charbroiled strip of fat down the side of the steak? How bleak would life be if you could never taste those crunchy, rich squares of crispy roasted fat off the top of the ham? And therein lies the attraction協at adds flavor and moisture to most any cut of meat. However, it also adds calories and pounds that your body just doesn’t need. And it’s not just the fat in meats that offers us this flavorful food trap. We find fats that add flavor in most foods we eat and therein lies the second problem; we’re getting more than we need. And don’t forget that dietary fat also promotes cholesterol uptake from the other foods you eat it with.
In defense of fat, it is a major source of energy and helps your body absorb certain vitamins that are fat-soluble. It is central to proper growth, development and brain function. It acts as a shock absorber for your internal organs and keeps you warm. The right types of fats either fire up or cool down inflammation and cholesterol (a type of fat) is a building block for estrogen, testosterone, vitamin D and other important elements the body needs. Even foods like carrots and lettuce contain small amounts of fat which is a testament to how important fats are for life. But all in the right proportions!
Unfortunately, this dilemma goes even deeper than just avoiding fats altogether because to do that would cause a whole host of other problems. There are categories of fats to be avoided and categories of fats to be included in a healthy eating plan. For example, essential fatty acids (EFA’s) are nutrients that your body cannot make on its own, but are essential to its wellbeing nonetheless, so it’s important to include foods that contain EFA’s to maintain proper day-to-day operations inside your body.
Let’s move into the world of fats and take a closer look at the good, the bad, and the essential fats that appear on our plates every day.
The Physiology of Fat
Did you know that the human body has always been genetically programmed to retain a certain amount of fat? Don’t blame your parents; this ability goes back to the cave man. Back then, you never knew when your next meal was going to show up so you had to be good at retaining fat for energy. For today’s modern man, this means that every time you restrict your intake of food, your body wants to hold on to what fat it has because it is programmed to, in case of famine.
Fat cells, or adipocytes, in the body live solely to accumulate fat, and do so very effectively. As you grow and develop, you eventually arrive at your predetermined, adult number of fat cells that never increases or decreases. It seems a little unfair that, as we age, we can lose brain cells but never lose any of those pesky fat cells. However, fat cells are, extremely malleable which means that when they’re not full of fat, they’re flat. But when we’re storing more fat than we need, they plump up nicely and round out our figures.
But what purpose does fat actually serve in the body? Why does the body even need it? There are a lot more reasons than just energy, so let’s take a look at them one by one.
Fat is metabolized in our body when we need energy and is actually a better source of energy than carbohydrates. Our bodies burn what we need in the moment and store the rest for the next time energy is required. Fat also provides a source of “back-up” energy when blood sugar supplies run out (usually after 4-6 hours of being without food).
Fat provides insulation for the body from both cold and heat by working in much the same way as insulation does in your house. An underweight person is more susceptible to the cold and will feel it more quickly. And in addition, your body will actually reduce blood flow to the extremities when energy sources are scarce to save the energy it has left to burn.
Fat helps to store and metabolize fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K, which are insoluble in water.
Vital organs (heart, kidneys, liver) and bones are protected by their surrounding fat from sudden shock or trauma. Fat also provides a certain amount of support for these vital organs.
The insulating factor of fat also translates to nerve fibers, surrounding and insulating the nerve, allowing it to transmit nerve impulses at peak efficiency.
Fat is an integral part of every cell membrane in the body, helping to transport nutrients across the cell membrane and into the cell, and also allowing toxins to migrate across and out of the cell. This is especially true of brain cells.
Consuming dietary fat promotes cholesterol uptake from your food because your body makes and uses cholesterol as a building block for many things, such as hormones. Hormones are important chemical messengers in your body that tell their target organs when to stop and start certain functions. Without these messages, our bodily functions would run amuck and our health would begin to deteriorate.
Fat is your brain’s best friend but it must be the right kind of fat. A study to be published in the Journal of Neurochemistry by a group from Universite Laval in Quebec compared the effects of monounsaturated fats from olive and canola oils with polyunsaturated fats from meat, fish and vegetable oils upon a variety of biochemical changes and electrical properties of cells within a brain region that is critical for learning and memory. After eleven months, the diets significantly changed the profile of fats within the brain. Essentially, a diet high in monounsaturated fats altered the basic chemistry and electrical properties of the brain in such a way that learning was enhanced, age-related cognitive decline slowed and the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease was reduced. A diet high in monounsaturated fats also lead to an increase in the production and release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is critical for learning and memory; the loss of acetylcholine production in the brain leads to the memory problems associated with Alzheimer’s disease.1We’ll talk more about types of fats later on in this chapter.
Zero In on the Right Number For You
If you really want to narrow down what’s right on the money for you, arriving at an accurate, personal healthy-fat-intake-per-day number requires a few more steps than something like researching how much calcium you should be getting each day.
First, you need to know how many calories per day are healthy for you based on your age, height, weight, and activity level. This number is a combination of your Basil Metabolic Rate (BMR) plus the number of calories your daily activities burn.
Your BMR is the amount of calories your body burns in a 24-hour period at a dead stand still. In other words, the minimal amount of calories it takes to maintain your body, at a base rate, on a daily basis. How do you find your BMR? Let’s take look at an example of a sedentary, 200 pound, 5′ 4″, 50-year-old woman. The equation to find her personal BMR would look like this:
For men, the formula looks like this:
This woman needs a minimum of 1590 calories per day just to keep all her bodily functions working at optimal proficiency. We don’t add any calories to this number because she doesn’t take part in any physical activities such as cycling, aerobics, swimming, jogging, etc. If she did, she could add the number of calories she burns hourly during her activity to her BMR number.
Now it would look like this:
If she wants to lose weight, she needs to take in fewer than 2240 calories per day.
A Quick Primer on the Types of Fats
As for fat intake, based on 2240 calories per day, she should limit her fat intake to a maximum of 25% total calories from total fat (560 calories) and 7% calories (156 calories) from saturated fat.
Here’s the next twist in the equation; nutrition labels list fat content per serving in grams. This is going to start sounding like a math problem, however, it really is simple if you know the numbers.
We know that all fats contain 9 calories per gram. If your breakfast cereal has 2.5 grams of fat per serving, that equals 22.5 calories from total fat. Listed right underneath total fat is saturated and trans fats per serving. If your cereal has one gram of saturated fat, that’s still only 9 calories. For a complete chart on calories and fats, CLICK HERE.
Mono, poly, trans… oh my!
It would be so much simpler if fat was fat, but it’s not. However, all you have to remember is which one is best for you and avoid the rest. There are a few different types of fatty acids; saturated, unsaturated, trans fats, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated (the last two are both types of unsaturated fats). We’re getting into a bit of chemistry here, so hang on; it’s not as in depth as high school was.
Saturated and Unsaturated Fats
Think of the term “saturated” as meaning “full”. Saturated, in this context, refers to the number of hydrogen bonds in the fatty acid molecule (fats have three hydrocarbon “tails” called fatty acids). A fat, or triglyceride, having the maximum number of hydrogen atoms attached to the carbon atoms is considered saturated; all the bonds are full. Saturated fats come mainly from animal sources and tend to be solid at room temperature.
Unsaturated fats are fats which are not fully saturated with hydrogen. Each molecule contains at least one double bond between two carbon atoms because these carbon atoms have not combined with all the hydrogen atoms they could carry. Unsaturated fats tend to become rancid more quickly than saturated fats, have a lower melting point than saturated fats, and are usually liquid at room temperature.
Trans fat is a specific type of fat formed when liquid fats are made into solid fats by the addition of hydrogen atoms, in a process known as hydrogenation. Small amounts of trans fats are found naturally in certain animal-based foods. Trans fat was originally added to foods to increase the shelf life. Trans fat comes from the fact that the hydrogen atoms in the double bond are actually across from each other (see below). This comes from the Latin meaning of trans, which is “across”.
Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated Fats
If saturated fats are saturated with hydrogen atoms and unsaturated fats are not, monounsaturated fats have one double bond (mono) in the fatty acid “tail”, polyunsaturated fats have at least two double bonds (poly) in the tail. Both mono and poly are considered unsaturated as well. Monounsaturated fats are generally liquid at room temperature but can turn solid in the refrigerator. Both mono and poly are digested in the small intestine, and help lower blood cholesterol levels, reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke and provide protection to the body’s cells. The most common sources of mono and polyunsaturated fats are olive oil, sunflower oil, and canola oil. Fish rich in polyunsaturated fats include herring, mackerel, salmon and tuna.
Coconut oil is increasing in popularity as more is understood about its unique properties, specifically the fact that it is comprised of medium-chain triglycerides (MCT’s) which are ultimately more bioavailable to the body and are less likely to be stored as fat. You can use coconut oil for frying or in salad dressing. You can even purchase the oil in a “tasteless” version if you dislike the taste of coconut.
Fat molecules are structured in “chains”. (Omega 3 gets its name from the special bond found at the third position from the end of its chain.) As the name implies, medium- chain triglycerides are shorter than long-chain triglycerides. This makes them easier to digest, requiring lower amounts of enzymes and bile acids for intestinal absorption than the long chain variety. As an added bonus, MCT’s are metabolized very quickly in the liver, making more energy readily available to the body while decreasing fat storage. For more information on coconut oil, CLICK HERE.
The Essential Fatty Acids
EFA’s are the basic building blocks of the “good” type of fats. Fats are combinations of many different fatty acids that all play specific roles in the body. They are usually named based on their chemical structure; either “saturated” or “unsaturated”, referring to the number of hydrogen atoms attached to the carbon chain (hydrogen bonds) of a fatty acid. Every living cell in your body needs omegas because every cell has a membrane. The function of this membrane is to allow nutrients into the cell and all toxins to pass out of the cell. A healthy membrane is fluid and flexible. A cell without a healthy membrane cannot retain water or vital nutrients. And, believe it or not, an unhealthy membrane also disallows a cell to communicate with other cells around it, called “cell signaling”. Why is this important? Researchers are beginning to understand that this loss of communication is how cancerous tumors may begin. As all dietary fats become incorporated into cell membranes in our body, a diet high in saturated fats can produce problems with a cell membrane’s ability to stay flexible and fluid as saturated fats become solid at room temperature. To read the complete article on all the omegas, CLICK HERE.
Facts, Fats, and Figures
Nuts (hazelnuts, pecans)
Fresh peanut butter
Sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, flax seeds
Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines)
Chicken with skin
Whole-fat dairy (milk and cream)
Packaged snack foods (crackers, microwave popcorn, chips)
Fried foods (french fries, fried chicken, breaded fish)
From Choosing Healthy Fats3
Embracing the sedentary lifestyle has become the norm over the last few decades. We don’t even have to exert much energy to brush our teeth anymore, the toothbrush does it all for us. However, we’ve neglected to change our eating habits to fit our new slow-paced lifestyle, which has lead to an obesity epidemic in North America. Each two-hour/day increment in TV watching was associated with a 23% increase in obesity and a 14% increase in diabetes risk. The percentage of children and adolescents who are obese has doubled in the last 20 years, fueling an epidemic of type 2 diabetes, and costing the health care system $117 billion a year. 4
When talking about fat, it’s all about location, location, location. There are three types of fat in your body; fat in your blood stream (triglycerides), subcutaneous fat (fat just below the surface) and omentum fat (a fatty layer of tissue located inside the belly). An overabundance of omentum fat, as opposed to fat on your thighs, is dangerous to your health because fat released from this part of your body travels to your liver and eventually ends up in your arteries, which can lead to high LDL cholesterol (lousy) numbers and eventually atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries).
When you look at it through the lens of body shapes, apple shape (carrying all your fat around your middle) is less desirable than pear shape (less fat above the waistline than below) because apple shape means more omentum fat is present.
Genetics and Hormones– Blame it on your jeans/genes
An obesity epidemic in a society that idolizes skinny jeans is a scary thing but those aren’t the kind of genes we’re necessarily talking about. Obesity would not be possible if the human genome did not have the genes for it.5 Human beings are genetically programmed to hang on to fat in case of famine; hardly a concern in today’s environment of abundance. So we continue to consume and our genetic makeup continues to tell our body to conserve. Not the optimal combination most of us are looking for! However, knowing this is half the battle. All we have to do is cut the conspicuous consumption by a substantial amount, in a reasonable fashion, and our body will begin to use up its fat stores to make up for the decrease in intake.
This is where you should employ the “crowding out” method. Crowd out high calorie, low-nutrient foods with low calorie, nutrient-dense foods. In other words, dump the white bread in favor of whole grain and abandon the bacon for leaner cuts of turkey. Fill up on raw fruits and vegetables to ward of snacking and have a large glass of water when you’re feeling hungry before reaching for the refrigerator door. More often than not, you’re not hungry, you’re thirsty because, by the time your body gets the message to your brain “go have a drink of water”, you’re already partially dehydrated.
And yes, you can blame it on your hormones…some hormones stimulate your appetite while others cause you to feel full. Still other hormones prevent excess insulin production (which causes inflammation) by stimulating insulin sensitivity while others decrease insulin sensitivity which can lead to inflammation and increased production of belly fat. When your hormones are off track, you could pack on the pounds. This delicate dance of inter-related hormones seems to be less well-choreographed in obese people than in thinner people.
The condition of insulin resistance occurs when so much insulin is circulating in the blood that the hormone cannot move it out of the bloodstream and into its target cells. The more overweight we are, the more resistant to insulin we become because the extra fat essentially closes the door on the cell, shutting insulin out. And here’s where the vicious circle begins…excess insulin leads to more fat cells, specifically belly fat.
Stress and Lack of Sleep
A lack of sleep can actually contribute to weight gain. In relation to fats, when you’re fatigued you’re more likely to reach for “finger-to-mouth”, comfort foods like potato chips, cookies, and quick snacks that don’t require much energy to produce. Even worse, if fatigue sets in during the day, you’re more likely to reach for caffeine, a donut for a sugar fix, and to fall back on convenience foods with a high fat content (for flavor) from the freezer for dinner.
As for stress, it is becoming a well-researched and documented fact that an overabundance of stress in your life can lead to the accumulation of belly fat. This happens because stress cues your adrenal glands to secrete the hormone cortisol which is stored in your omentum, stimulating its growth.
Fat Retention and Menopause
Ah, those pesky hormones are at it again but this time the guys get a pass. The hormonal changes of menopause may make you more likely to gain weight around your middle (apple shape) rather than your hips or thighs (pear shape) and we’ve already learned that this isn’t the shape you want. In addition, at this time of life muscle mass naturally diminishes, leading to less lean muscle mass in the body and a shift to more fat. Less muscle equals a lower rate of caloric burn and if you don’t do anything to balance this see-saw, fat builds up. This is why diet, at this point in a woman’s life, is so important. Fat intake should be limited to the “good” fats and in an amount which reflects her activity level.
Managing A “Better-Fat” Diet
Your body absolutely requires a measured amount of the right fats to function normally. These fats should only comprise up to 25% of your daily intake of calories, limiting up to 7% coming from saturated fats. The trick is to moderate the low-quality fats and maintain regular ingestion of high quality fats.
Symptoms of a Fat-Deficient Diet
Don’t Cut Out, Crowd Out
You can actually eat more food every day by eliminating the lower quality foods and incorporating higher quality foods.
Crowding out is a term which describes how to eat in a healthy way so that you never even have the chance to feel hungry. You literally crowd out the junk you think you want to eat by choosing to eat key foods throughout the day so that you’re always satisfied. This seems preferable to depriving yourself of foods and white-knuckling it all the way. Here’s how it works: All you have to do to get started is to add healthier choices to whatever else you’re already eating, i.e., a huge salad or bowl of soup before a steak dinner.
Before you dig into whatever it is you really want to eat, have something with some natural fiber in it — ideally, an apple — because in all the medical literature, the one dietary component most associated with weight loss is fiber consumption. The reason fiber helps us control our weight is that it fills the belly yet yields few calories since fiber is, for the most part, not something that we can digest. It also slows down the digestion of food, so you get a slow and steady source of glucose minus the rollercoaster ride of blood sugar crazies and the cravings that follow. You can probably hear your mother’s voice right now saying, “Don’t eat before supper, you’ll spoil your appetite.” Mom was right, but in this case, that’s the exact outcome we’re looking for.
As you gradually add in nutrient-dense, fiber-rich foods, you simply stop feeling cravings. You run out of space in your belly for the old junk and instead of cravings, you feel full, fulfilled, and content.
Regulating the Fats in Your Diet
Even if the majority of your diet is fruits and vegetables, it’s still possible to ingest enough good fats to ensure your body gets what it needs. Have a look at the following foods as examples…
Considered a superfood, one cup of avocado contains 39.1% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of fiber, 160mg of omega-3 fatty acids, and 233 calories. Avocados are loaded with healthy oleic acid monounsaturated fat which may help lower cholesterol.
Exciting new research done at the University of Ohio in 2009 shows how safflower oil that is high in linoleic acid (different than the commercially available grocery store variety, which is high in oleic acid and is suitable for cooking) was beneficial in reducing belly fat. Safflower oil was found to reduce fat in the belly (trunk) area by 6.3%, lowered blood sugar, and increased lean muscle. 5a
Nuts and seeds are a simple way to incorporate healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats into your diet. Walnuts are a rich source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. One quarter cup of walnuts contains 94.5% of our RDI of omega-3’s and only 163 calories. Other nuts to incorporate into your diet include hazelnuts, macadamias, and pecans. Sunflower seeds can help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and pumpkin seeds are high in unsaturated fats, as are the oils from both these seeds. Chia seeds are high in polyunsaturated fats, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Flax seeds are one of the best sources of omega-3 in the world of seeds. Try using flax seed oil in your next homemade salad dressing.
Omega-3’s are highly concentrated in the brain where they play a vital role in cognitive functions such as memory, problem-solving and emotional health. Omega-3’s also increase your ability to remain focused, alert, and even-tempered (balance your mood). For these reasons, it is important that your diet supply an adequate amount each day. Omega Swirl is an absolute revolution in omega-3 nutrition and is superior to traditional omega-3 supplements. In a clinical study conducted by The Center for Nutritional Studies, Barlean’s Omega Swirl was found to be 900% more bio-available than standard fish oil, with the total percentage of oil that reached the blood stream 9x greater with Omega Swirl than the same does and type of fish oil. Because Barlean’s proprietary Swirl technology significantly reduces the size of fish and flax oil molecules, it allows the oil to more efficiently pass through the intestinal wall and into the blood stream. Theoretically, it could take up to 20 standard fish oil gelcaps to equal the amount of omega-3 from just a two teaspoon does of Omega Swirl. Plus, you have to taste it to believe it!
Conditions and Diseases
Other ways of ensuring adequate intake of good fats include:
- Eating cold-water fatty fish such as wild salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, or anchovies 2x/week.
- Borage oil supplements for omega-6.
- Dark green, leafy vegetables are a good source of omega-3.
- Avoid refined heat-processed oils and stick with cold-pressed walnut, olive, and/or coconut oil. Best bet is high linoleic acid safflower oil as a daily supplement.
- Free-range meat contains higher levels of omega-3’s than grain-fed meat.
We’ve already covered how the more overweight we are, the more resistant to insulin we become because extra fat essentially closes the door on the cell, shutting insulin out. The resulting high blood insulin levels lead to a diagnosis of diabetes when your fasting blood sugar level is higher than 126mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter). Eating good fats in place of saturated fat can also help prevent insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.
Fatty Liver Disease
Fat from a person’s diet is usually metabolized by the liver and other tissues. If the amount of fat exceeds what is required by the body, fat is stored in the fatty tissue. A fatty liver is the result of the accumulation of excess fat in liver cells. Fatty tissue slowly builds up in the liver when a person’s diet exceeds the amount of fat his or her body can handle. A person has a fatty liver when fat makes up at least 5-10% of the liver. Simple fatty liver can be a completely benign condition and usually does not lead to liver damage. However, once there is a buildup of simple fat, the liver becomes vulnerable to further injury, which may result in inflammation and scarring of the liver. The most common cause of fatty liver disease in Canada is obesity. 7
Hypertension (HBP), Stroke and Heart Disease
Chronic intake of saturated fats causes several reactions in the body. After a meal of saturated fats, triglyceride (measurable fats in the bloodstream) levels rise. Triglycerides make up most of the fat that you eat and that travels through the bloodstream. As the body’s main vehicle for transporting fat to cells, triglycerides are important for good health. But as is the case for so many things, an excess of triglycerides can be unhealthy.
High triglyceride levels increase the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart problems. Saturated fats also raise the level of cholesterol in your blood which, in turn, increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Trans fats are worse for cholesterol levels than saturated fats as they fire inflammation, an over-activity of the immune system that has been implicated in heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. They contribute to insulin resistance. Even small amounts of trans fat in the diet can have harmful health effects. For every extra 2% of calories from trans fat daily, the risk of coronary heart disease increases by 23%. 8 Trans fats are found in fried foods, baked goods, processed snacks, margarines, beef fat, and dairy fat.
Joints and Fats
The good fats, such as flax seed and omega-3’s, are essential if you are suffering from joint pain and stiffness as they help reduce inflammation, lubricate your joints, and help to ease joint pain. As noted above, saturated fats can actually make inflammation worse.
Stress and Weight Gain
Mission: Good Nutrition – Healthy Fats
Healthy Fats with Peggy K
What’s New and Beneficial about Walnuts
Fats and Cholesterol: Out with the Bad, In with the Good, Harvard School of Public Health
Choosing Healthy Fats
In Beer Belly Blues, Nutritional Expert and Best Selling Author Brad King uses humorous anecdotes as well as concise layman’s prose to explain the complex underlying cause of age-related changes in men, and shows how, when armed with knowledge and an enlightened strategy, we can safely recapture the energy and even the body of our youth.
(Available at most Nutter’s locations and Amazon)
Belly fat not only looks bad, but it can shorten your life by 15 years! The Belly Fat Breakthrough provides you with a proven plan to help you make these important lifestyle changes.
(Available at most Nutter’s and Amazon)
This book provides a good overview of the different types of fats and oils there are, how much of each we should be eating, and which fats we need to avoid. In short, we need to eat lots of different types of natural fats and avoid heavily and carelessly processed fats and oils and unnatural trans fats.
(Available at most Nutter’s and Amazon)