Photo: Kabsik Park under a Creative Commons license.
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.
Trans fats vs. Non Trans Fats
Another way to categorize fats is whether or not a fat is a trans fat. There are two trans fatty acids. The one that is exceptionally good for us is CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid, which is found in grass-fed animal protein such as beef, bison, venison etc. The other is man-made trans fat, which is a class unto itself. This fat is the industrially-produced, partially hydrogenated fat found in corn, soy, safflower, flax, cottonseed, canola, peanut, and sesame oil as well as that in margarine. There really isn’t much else to say about man-made trans fats, other than that they are very damaging to the systems in the body that regulate eating and fat storage. They contribute to obesity and all of it’s complications, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, the aging process and various types of cancer.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid: Good Trans-Fat
When we think of fats that are unhealthy, we think of trans fats. But one of the healthiest fats, CLA, is a trans fat. Actually conjugated linoleic acid is both a trans fatty acid and a cis fatty acid. The cis bond causes a lower melting point and is apparently the reason for all of the health benefits associated with CLA. One of the reasons that CLA is so healthy, is that it allows us to absorb vitamins D, A and K. These vitamins are critical to our health and well-being, but can only be absorbed from full-fat grass-fed dairy and meat, as both contain high concentrations of CLA. Another reason that CLA is so good for us is that it appears to convert readily to muscle instead of fat.
Grass-Fed Animal Protein and CLA
Most beef sold in the United States is not grass-fed. Instead, most cattle are raised on grain and other types of feed. The majority of these animals are also treated with hormones and antibiotics, which pass through to humans, resulting in higher rates of cancer in women who began their periods prematurely and resistance to antibiotics in the population at large.
How Is CLA Made?
Cows are ruminants, which means that they have more than one stomach. Digestion in such animals begins in an organ called the rumen, where CLA is formed. The animal regurgitates and re-chews its cud and eventually digests the CLAs from the grass, where they enter the meat and milk of the animal. Common ruminant food sources include cattle, goats, sheep and deer as they all graze on grass if left to their own devices.
Organic, grass-fed cows have 300 to 500 percent more CLA than cattle raised on other feeds. This is true of the beef, butter, milk and cheese produced from grass-fed cows. Grass-fed cows are the best source of CLA in the American diet.
The highest concentration of CLA in all foods, however, is contained in kangaroo meat. Raised wild in Australia, kangaroo meat is sold in 55 countries including the United States, though it is relatively difficult to find (in Cincinnati, you can find kangaroo meat at Jungle Jim’s). The meat is typically ground and used in sausage. Kangaroo has only been legal to eat since 1980 and is still not a staple meat in any diet, even in Australia. CLAs are also found to a much lesser extent in poultry. You can read more about food sources of CLA here.
Milk from Grass-Fed Cows is Higher in Vitamin E.
Cows that get all their nutrients from grazed grass—their natural diet—produce milk with 86 percent more vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) than cows fed a standard dairy diet, according to a recent study. The standard dairy diet consists of large amounts of “concentrate,” which is typically a dry mixture of corn and soy. The concentrate does not produce much CLA or vitamin E. In addition, the grains are almost always genetically modified, causing all sorts of problems for humans, not the least of which is obesity.
Some organic dairies raise their cows on pasture grass and supplement them with organic concentrate; others keep their cows indoors and feed them organic concentrate and stored grasses. It’s important to know that the more freshly grazed grass in a cow’s diet, the more vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, and CLA; Organic Valley is a nation-wide organic dairy that emphasizes grazing.
The Higher the Altitude, The More CLA.
Another interesting thing about pastured cows is that the colder the climate, the better the grass, and the more CLA. New research shows that cows that graze at relatively high altitudes may produce the healthiest milk and cheese of all. Milk from cows that graze in the Alps, for example, have more omega-3 fatty acids while also having significantly less saturated fat. The reason? It has to do with plant antifreeze. Omega-3 unsaturated fatty acids stay fluid at colder temperatures unlike saturated fats, which are solid at cold temperatures. A plant that has to withstand the cold needs more of this natural antifreeze to keep its cell membranes fluid in the cold. Cows that graze on this cold climate grass ingest more omega-3s as a result, which they then convert to CLA. In a recent study, cows that grazed in alpine meadows had more than twice the amount of CLA in their milk as similar cows that grazed down in the valley. The lesson here is eat more Alpine cheese!
Natural CLA Vs. Synthetic CLA.
A new study shows that synthetic CLA pills may cause more harm than good. After reviewing 13 randomized studies, a group of researchers concluded that the pills do not reduce body weight or body fat to a significant degree. Worse yet, the researchers found that a kind of CLA found in the pills (CLA (t10, c12) may cause serious health complications, including an enlarged liver, lower levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, and insulin resistance. Meanwhile, the main type of CLA found in meat and dairy products (c9, t11 or “rumenic acid”) has been given a clean bill of health. Once again, when it comes to fat, Mother Nature knows best!
Other Articles in This Series
Fats Explained: Fatty Acids (Infographic)
Fats Explained: Non-Essential Fatty Acids – Omega-5, Omega-7, Omega-9
Fats Explained: Essential Fatty Acids – Omega-6
Fats Explained: Essential Fatty Acids – Omega-3
Fats Explained: Saturated and Unsaturated
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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