Whether you suffer from Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating, Obesity, emotional eating, or have problems with weight management due to restricting or overeating, you need to know about what fats do in your body once and for all. In other words whether you are obese, underweight or a normal weight, if you are having problems regulating food intake in healthy ways, this series on fat is a must.
For decades, we have been told that saturated fats were unhealthy, and that they were the root cause of the epidemics of heart disease, obesity and high cholesterol in our society. What we know today is that saturated fats are not the problem. It is the polluted and/or processed version of saturated fats along with the overabundance of processed unsaturated fats that are causing the problems. Saturated fats such as grass-fed animal fats and coconut oil, which is mostly a medium chain fatty acid (MCFA) along with unsaturated Omega 3 fats and the naturally occurring trans-fat CLA, are exceptionally good, indeed, healing for the body. Whereas man-made trans-fats and vegetable or seed fats that have been hydrogenated are literally killing us.
So in a nutshell:
Good Fat = saturated grass-fed animal fat, coconut fat (medium chain fatty acid) and unsaturated Omega 3 fats, especially those from natural sources such as flax seed, salmon, walnuts and leafy greens. (See next in series for complete list)
Bad Fat = Unsaturated trans-fats, both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated vegetable and seed fats that have been heated and/or hydrogenated. Corn, soy, safflower, flax, cottonseed, canola, peanut, and sesame oils should be avoided either because they are innately unhealthy or because of the manner in which they have been processed.
Types of Fats
There are several ways to categorize fats: Saturated or unsaturated; Mono or polyunsaturated; Trans or non-transfat; and Short chain (SCFA), Medium chain (MCFA) and Long chain (LCFA). Among the monounsaturated and the polyunsaturated fats there are the Omega fats, which are divided into Essential (Omegas 3 and 6) and Non-Essential (Omega 5, 7, and 9) fatty acids.
Saturated vs Unsaturated Fat
Most fats are either saturated or unsaturated. There are over a dozen saturated fats, but we mainly consume Butyric, Palmiric, Myristic, Lauric and Stearic saturated fats. Unsaturated fats, also called the Omegas 3, 5, 6, 7, and 9 are either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated and either essential or non-essential.
When an oil is saturated, it means that the molecule has all the hydrogen atoms it can hold. Unsaturated means that there are spaces between some of the hydrogen atoms. This can be a problem, because opening the structure of the molecule makes it susceptible to attack by free radicals.
Free radicals damage healthy cells. When unsaturated oils are exposed to free radicals through the process of hydrogenation, the cells in the oil age, and the oils can become rancid. Not only are they capable of becoming rancid in the jar in which they are stored, they may also become rancid in our bodies, which contributes to various cancers including skin cancer. In contrast, unrefined cold-pressed coconut oil, which is primarily a saturated medium chain fatty acid, does not become rancid, and never needs refrigeration, assuming that its structure has not been damaged by processing. (Always buy unrefined, cold-pressed nut and seed oils instead of the refined version.)
Characteristics of Healthy Saturated Fats
Saturated fats from grass-fed, raw or lightly pasteurized dairy (milk, cream, butter, cheese, cottage cheese) grass-fed/grass-finished beef, pastured pork and poultry (that are fed non-GMO grains and are usually organic) coconut and palm kernel oil and cacao have the following health benefits:
- Saturated fatty acids constitute at least 50% of cell membranes. They give cells their necessary stiffness and integrity.
- Saturated fats play a vital role in the health of bones. For calcium to be effectively incorporated into the skeletal structure, at least 50% of dietary fats should be saturated.
- Saturated fats lower lipoprotein – A substance in the blood that indicates proneness to heart disease.
- Saturated fats protect the liver from alcohol and other toxins.
- Saturated fats enhance the immune system.
- Saturated fats are needed for the proper utilization of essential fatty acids. Specifically, omega-3 essential fatty acids are better retained in the tissue when the diet is rich in saturated fats.
Unsaturated Fats (for the geeks)
Unlike the saturated fats that have a single bond between carbon atoms, monounsaturated fats have a single double bond between carbon atoms while polyunsaturated fats have two or more double bonds between carbon atoms. Unsaturated fats are primarily made up of the Omega fatty acids 3,5,6,7, and 9. (Trans-fats are also unsaturated. Stay tuned for our article on Trans Fats.)
Stay tuned for part 2 of this four part series. In Part 2 we’ll talk about Omega Fatty Acids.
Updated on Aug 5 2013.
Dr. J. Renae Norton is a clinical psychologist, specializing in the outpatient treatment of obesity and eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, bulimarexia, and binge eating disorder (BED) and the Director of The Norton Center for Eating Disorders and Obesity in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is the Director of The Norton Center for Eating Disorders and Obesity in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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Source: The Skinny on Fats