Fats: Guide to Meal Planning Part 3

Now that we have covered protein, in Part 1, and carbohydrates, in Part 2, we are going to move on to fats. First things first - most people have a very misguided understanding of fats. Fats provide us with energy and are an essential component of cell membranes, blood clotting, absorbing vitamins, and insulating and acting as shock absorbers for bones and organs. The human brain is made up of 60% fats. We NEED fats to live. So my goal in Part 3 of this series is to set the record straight. I am going to say a lot of things that will most definitely make your jaw drop, you may even get weak in the knees, but trust that I am going to tell it to you straight. For the sake of keeping this posting short and sweet, I am not going to delve too deep into the how’s and why’s of exactly how the reputation of certain fats has gotten so misconstrued. However, if you are interested in learning more, I encourage you to do some digging on your own. For more information, you can start with my resource links at the bottom of this blog entry. Now...I’ve got your attention haven’t I? Let’s get started. The first important item relating to fats, is that it is the type of fat that matters, not the amount. Here are the basics. Saturated Fats Saturated fats are mostly commonly found in animal products such as beef, poultry, dairy, eggs, and seafood, as well as, tropical oils like coconut, palm and palm kernel, and cocoa butter. Contrary to popular belief, saturated fats are not as bad for us as you may think. I bet you would be surprised to find out that there is actually little evidence to support the theory that a diet low in cholesterol and saturated fat can actually reduce the risk of heart disease. What researchers are now proving is that it is the 400% increase in use of vegetable oils like margarine, shortening, and refined (highly processed) oils and the 60% increase in sugar and processed foods consumption that is the silent cultprit.(1) Saturated fats actually protect against toxins and help to support a healthy immune system. Trans Fats In three words. Your. Arch. Enemy. Trans fats are the bad fats. No way around this statement, it is a fact. They are the fats that form when vegetable oil hardens through a process called hydrogenation. This process is performed to keep the fat from going rancid (longer shelf life) and to change the fat from a liquid state to a solid. Partially hydrogenated oils (aka trans fats) block the usage of essential fatty acids, contributing to many issues like sexual dysfunction, immune system disfunction, and bone and tendon problems.(2) Trans fats are also directly linked to heart disease. Hydrogenated Fats Are Found In:
  • Margarine
  • Commercially baked foods such as cakes, cookies, pies
  • Chips
  • Doughnuts
  • Popcorn - microwaved, movie theater, etc
  • Most snack foods
  • Fast food
Polyunsaturated/Monounsaturated Fats Here is where things get even more slippery. For many years, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated oils were touted as the hero. They were the “good” fats. While this is generally true, research is now showing that we are consuming them in the wrong amounts and in the wrong ratios. Polyunsaturated fats are made up of 90% omega-6 linoleic acid. The remaining 10% is made up of omega-3 linolenic acid. What scientists are now finding is that Americans are not getting nearly enough omega-3 fats and way too many omega-6 fats. Importance of the Omega Fatty Acids RatioOmega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, are essential to brain and nerve function. They improve the body’s cell response to insulin, neurotransmitters, and other messengers, and help repair damaged cells. Another misunderstanding with the general public is that we need to aim to consume all types of omega fatty acids (omega-3, 6, and 9). In actuality, we ingest far too many omega-6 fatty acids than we need to, throwing the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats way out of whack. The goal is go have a 1:1 ratio between the two. The average American diet is a a ratio of 15:1. That is average, it has been found to reach as high as 25 or even 50:1. This ratio is astronomically out of proportion. When we are able to achieve a more even ratio, we are can reap the benefits of omega-3 fats such as a reduced risk for heart disease, cancer, depression, diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and other degenerative diseases. Polyunsaturated fats are most commonly found in fish and plant oil, such as safflower, corn, sunflower, and cottonseed. Monounsaturated fats are found in canola, olive, and peanut oil, as well as in most nuts. The best source of monounsaturated fats to consume is extra virgin olive oil, which is rich in antioxidants. Canola oil, due to its high sulphur content, goes rancid easily which is why most baked goods made with canola oil get moldy quicky. Examples of Foods Containing Healthy Fats
  • Ground flax seeds
  • Nuts, particularly walnuts
  • Extra virgin coconut oil
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Avocados
  • Nut butter such as natural peanut butter, almond butter, and cashew butter
  • Eggs, particularly egg yolks
  • Fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel
  • Fish oil (EPA/DHA), cod liver oil
So What is the Right Amount of Fat to Eat? The average modern diet typically contains up to 30% fat, primarly comprised of polyunsaturated fats. Scientific research is now showing that this amount of polyunsaturated fats is actually far too high. The evidence now suggests that we should consume only 4% of our daily intake of calories from polyunsaturated fats, in a ratio of 2% omega-6 to 2% omega-3.(2) This is the ideal amount, which our ancestors used to obtain in limited quantities through whole food sources. 30% of your daily calorie from fats is still a good percentage to shoot for, however aim for this intake to be made up of monounsaurated and saturated fats. What About Cholesterol? Yet another misconception. Cholesterol is actually not bad, we need it to give our cells structure and stability. New research suggests that it actually acts as an antioxidant, which explains why levels go up as we age. Cholesterol is not the culprit behind heart disease, but in reality could be the secret weapon against it. I know, this goes against everything that you have ever been taught, but stay with me. Cholesterol, like fats, can be damaged when exposed to heat. This heat causes the cholesterol to damage the cell walls inside our body and promote build up of plaque in the arteries. Heated cholesterol can be found in powdered egg and milk products as well as meats that have been fried or cooked at high temperatures. Can you see where I am going with this? The cause of heart disease is not cholesterol, but many other modern dietary choices we make everyday, like excessive levels of hydroginated oils, the large amount of calories from refined carbohydrate like white flour and sugar, and not getting enough vitamins and minerals. On the contrary, saturated fats found in meats and tropical oils have been shown to actually provide us with protection against viruses and bacteria that are linked to the pathogenic plaque related to heart disease. We’ve got it all backwards! The best way to prevent heart disease is not to rely on low-cholestrol foods or cholesterol lowering drugs, but to consume animal foods that are high in vitamins B6 and B12, which help to combat against plaque build up in the arteries and clots, consume whole foods that contain vitamins and minerals in general, to stay away from refined carbs, to boost antimicrobial fats (from animals or tropical oils) in the diet, and to refrain from using polyunsaturated vegetable oils in cooking. More Fat Facts You Didn’t Know...
  • The most common cooking oils - olive oil, conola oil, safflower oil - actually become rancid and toxic to the body when heated, releasing free radicals that attack the cells. For this reason, you should try to use coconut oilwhenever possible for cooking/heating, which is not affected by heat.
  • A great source of a balanced ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is full fat butter. This is not a license to eat sticks of it, but in moderation, butter is a better choice than margarine for your health. We touched on this a few weeks back, in this Food Myths Busted post.
  • Flax seed oil is also another great source of omega-3 fats.
  • Until recently saturated fats were lumped in with trans fats in the US databases that researchers used to correlate disease, which is why saturated fats have gotten such a bad rap.
  • Steric acid, the main component of beef fat, is converted to oleic acid in your liver (the same heart healthy, monounsaturated fat found in olive oil), and has been shown to actually reduce cholestrol levels.
  • Margarine’s natural color, unappetizing grey, is removed by bleach.
Where To Start?
  1. Avoid trans fats. Start really reading the nutritional information on packaged foods. Know what is going into your body. Anthing that has the words “partially hydrogenated oils” on the ingredients list, put back on the shelf and walk away. Even if the product lists 0 fats, it could still be on the ingredients list because anything less than 1 gram of fat (i.e. 0.9 grams) is allowed to be listed as “zero fat”. You must read the ingredients list.
  2. Eat more fish! And instead of deep frying it, saute it in a tablespoon of coconut oil instead.
  3. If you don’t like fish, take fish oil supplements. I recommend these.
  4. Cut out all fast food. When you are in a pinch and have no other option besides fast food, ask for a nutritional brochure or use this resource so that you can make informed choices.
  5. Switch to only using extra virgin coconut oil (can be found in most health food stores or online) as your primary cooking oil. Use extra virgin olive oil for salad dressings.
  6. Incorporate more whole food sources of fat into your diet. When I say whole food, I mean one ingredient items like meat, nuts, veggies - foods that come from Mother Nature and not the chips and snacks aisle of your favorite grocery store. Whole food sources should make up the bulk of your diet.
Special Note on Fat Loss If fat loss is your best life goal, you have to be aware that even healthy fats such as certain types of meats, oils, nuts, seeds, avocado, etc are high in calories so you must pay close attention to how much you eat. Be sure to plan out your portion sizes so that you know you are getting an adequate amount of these foods into your diet, but are not blowing your weight loss goals out of the water by overshooting your calorie deficit range. Up next is Part 4 of the Your Guide to Meal Planning Series, where we will begin to put it all together and I will walk you through this overwhleming load of information so that you can learn to easily incorporate this planning into your life. Internet Resources
  1. “The Truth About Saturated Fats - Part 1 of 3.” Mercola.com
  2. “The Truth About Saturated Fats - Part 2 of 3.” Mercola.com
  3. Tierney, John. “Diet and Fats: A Severe Case of Mistaken Consensus.” NY Times.
  4. “Research on Saturated Fats.” Coconut Oil.com
  5. Teicholz, Nina. “What if bad fat wasn’t so bad.” Men’s Health.
Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.