Health authorities and many GP’s still believe eating saturated fat makes us fat and contributes to heart attacks and strokes; why? Because bad science promoted a myth, that was repeated over and over again until it became fact. Even to the extent that now whole populations believe that eating fat makes us fat and increases our risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Real medical science has proven this to be false.
Here are the up to date scientific facts (if anything can be an absolute fact). There are three main classifications of fat being, saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats.
Mostly found in dairy products (whole milk, butter, cheese, yoghurt) and animal fats (lard, and the fat surrounding cuts of flesh and within the flesh of animals). Current real science determines that saturated fat does NOT increase one’s risk of heart attack, stroke or all cause mortality. There is no truly scientific evidence to suggest that it does, and some other evidence that suggests it might be even helpful in extending life spans.
Saturated fat is highly stable and is not randomly oxidised by free radicals to form harmful cell damaging molecules.
That being said the cells we are made of are protected by a membrane that encases the cell and performs numerous functions. Like we have livers hearts and lungs, each of our cells has different organelles that perform the functions needed to keep our cells alive and healthy, these are also protected by a membrane. These membranes are made up of lipids (a fancy name for fats) and in the lab (petri dish) membranes take up fat from their surroundings to help construct and maintain that membrane. Membranes with a high proportion of saturated fat lose some flexibility and become stiffer, and this may not be healthy for the cell and therefore us. This is very young science and whether or not this actually affects human longevity or health in the real world is yet to be established. This being said, there is no credible evidence that saturated fat increases the risk of heart attack and stroke as we have been led to believe since the 1960’s, that was based on a false premise and bad science.
Is also found in dairy products and animal flesh, but as well it is found in many plant oils as well. In plant seeds, nuts and certain fruits (for example avocado and olives). This being said plant sources as well as containing monounsaturated fats can and often do contain high proportions of polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fat is also highly stable and is not oxidised by free radicals, as is the case with saturated fats. It has a potential advantage as the lab experiment described above found, that unlike saturated fat, monounsaturated fat did not affect organelle membrane flexibility, and hence could not degrade cell performance.
We have been told that these are the healthy fats, and are often referred to as Omega fatty acids. They are mostly found in seafood, spreads (margarines) and vegetable oils. Unlike the fats above these polyunsaturated fats are highly fragile and are easily attacked by free radicals and other oxidising chemicals present in our bodies. These fats when oxidised are converted into what is known as lipid peroxides and then into groups of chemicals that have similar effects as those known as Advanced Glycation End products, which biochemists and medical researchers shorten to AGE’s. This is a particularly poignant acronym as AGE’s damage cells and accelerate cell ageing and hence our own ageing, thus increasing the risk of being diagnosed with age related chronic illness earlier than otherwise may have been the case.
Polyunsaturated fats are a double edged sword because they are essential, we must eat some of them. They are essential “fatty acids” because our bodies build many other essential molecules like sex and other hormones, allow us to see in colour, plus molecules that initiate and stop inflammation, and are critical healthy brain growth and function.
So we want the good provided by polyunsaturated fats without the bad, how do we do this? By not over-consuming polyunsaturated fat.
Firstly just about every natural edible whole food contains these essential Omega polyunsaturated fats. For example let’s look at some ‘fat free’ foods.
Apples – Have no saturated or monounsaturated fats but 100gms of apple contains 38 mg of essential Omega polyunsaturated fats.
Celery – Has no saturated or monounsaturated fats but 100gms of apple contains 75 mg of essential Omega polyunsaturated fats
Peas – Have no saturated or monounsaturated fats but 100gms of peas contains 175 mg of essential Omega polyunsaturated fats.
Cauliflower – Has no saturated or monounsaturated fats but 100gms of cauliflower contains 145 mg of essential Omega polyunsaturated fats.
Potatoes – Have no saturated or monounsaturated fats but 100gms of potatoes contains 42 mg of essential Omega polyunsaturated fats
Lentils – Have no saturated or monounsaturated fats but 100gms of lentils contains 344 mg of essential Omega polyunsaturated fats
Cheese – And while cheese is about 25% fat, 100 gms of cheese contains 1,240 mg of Omega polyunsaturated fats.
Source: Data for this listing was provided by USDA SR-21 Database
The question then remains; how much of these essential Omega polyunsaturated fats do we need to eat? Well it seems the general science says we need Omega 3’s for brain growth. Our brain grows rapidly from birth to about age 5 from whence the is little more growth. The first six months of life is critical and traditionally this growth is fed by human breast milk.
Human Mature Breast Milk – contains 444 mg of essential Omega polyunsaturated fats, per 100gm.
This is not much more than lentils, and far less than the same amount weight of cheese.
The Bottom Line
We should get all the essential Omega polyunsaturated fats we need if we eat a wide variety of whole natural foods, vegetable or animal (including fish), required to maintain a healthy body weight.
Consuming too much Omega polyunsaturated fat is a chronic toxin, its all about balance. We eat too much when we eat processed food that contains them. These foods usually include the words “vegetable oils” in the ingredients list on the label. Avoid margarines and vegetable oils. Vegetable Oils is a convenient misnomer used by the processed food industry, vegetable oils are derived from plant seeds, NOT vegetables and should be called seed oils!
NOTE: Every time we overeat food, the excess food is converted to fat. It doesn’t matter what type of food it is, any extra energy consumed beyond our energy requirements is converted to fat and stored. It’s that simple.
Which is the healthiest fat to add to food or cook with?
For me the answer to this question easy. Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil, it is 75% monounsaturated fat that is stable and can’t be attacked by free radicals while at the same time not inhibiting the flexibility of cell membranes. It also contains plant molecules (phyto chemicals) which, according to numerous reports, provide extra health benefits.
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