What Is Dietary Fat?
Along with protein and carbohydrates, fat is an essential macronutrient. We need fat for energy and to absorb certain vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K, plus calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and zinc.
Our bodies run on fat more or less depending on our metabolic type, and different types of fat support different physiological and neurological functioning. For example, omega 3 fatty acids and certain types of saturated fats help build myelin, which insulates our nerve fibers and supports healthy brain function. If myelin breaks down because of inadequate fat consumption, we experience mental instability, anxiety, and lack of drive.
Fat has had a bad rap in the past. It was generally considered terrible for you and to be avoided at all costs because it caused weight gain. Thankfully, nutritional science research has debunked such claims since then and has instead become more discerning about types of fat and their health implications. Since the ketogenic diet became a popular weight loss solution, we know that fat can help shed the pounds rather than contribute to them.
Good Fats Vs Bad Fats
What is Saturated Fat?
Fat is made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen molecules. Saturated essentially means that the fats are saturated with hydrogen molecules that have a single bond between carbon molecules. It’s easy to identify saturated fats because they are solid at room temperature––think butter and bacon fat. Palm and coconut oils, and animal products, like milk, butter, cheese, and meat contain saturated fat.
There are different types of saturated fat, which depend on their carbon chain length, and each one has health implications. Without getting too into the science of it, it’s enough to know for nutritional health that consuming an excess of saturated fat is generally unhealthy for several reasons, including increased inflammation and mental decline. It also increases bad cholesterol, which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Also, saturated fat is present in many processed and high-calorie foods, leading to weight gain.
That doesn’t mean avoiding saturated fats at all costs. Rather, we need a certain amount of it to maintain several physiological functions. For example, it’s the basis for our precursor hormones––testosterone, progesterone, human growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor, thyroid stimulating hormone, and Vitamin D. While there is controversy in nutritional science circles over whether we should avoid saturated fat, moderate consumption is recommended.
The keto diet is heavy on fat-rich foods, such as grass-fed butter and ghee. The healthy fats provide the body with an alternative fuel source effective for weight loss and enhanced cognitive function. When combined with intermittent fasting, in which eating is restricted to an 8-hour window, the body makes more efficient use of fatty acids.
What is Unsaturated Fat?
Unsaturated fat has at least one double bond between carbon molecules. Nutritionally, this is the healthy fat that has numerous health benefits, such as better brain function. There are two types of unsaturated fat: polyunsaturated and monounsaturated.
Foods like avocados, peanut butter, certain nuts and seeds, and plant oils, like olive, peanut, safflower, sesame, and canola oils are sources of monounsaturated fat.
Omega 3s and 6s are polyunsaturated fats. They’re found in foods like soybean, corn, and safflower oils, walnuts, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, and certain types of fish like salmon, tuna, and trout.
Unsaturated fat elevates our good cholesterol, which we need to support hormone function previously mentioned. It also helps to sweep out bad cholesterol via the liver. That's why you want a diet that has a high ratio of HDL (high-density lipoproteins, aka the "good fats") to LDL (low-density lipoproteins, aka the "bad fats"). But bear in mind that this doesn’t mean good fats counterbalance the bad ones. Think replacement rather than supplementation.
What is Trans Fat?
Trans fat is manufactured artificial unsaturated fat created during hydrogenation––a process that solidifies liquid vegetable oils by adding hydrogen. Many fast-food enterprises use this type of oil because it’s more convenient and less costly. Trans fats occur naturally too, such as in dairy products and meat, though in small amounts.
Don't be misled by the word "unsaturated"––trans fats are incredibly unhealthy fats. They are generally considered the worst types of fat to consume because, like certain types of saturated fat, they raise bad cholesterol and lower the good.
What's the problem with bad cholesterol? It collects as fatty deposits in arterial walls and can tear or rupture, which may block blood flow to the heart (causing a heart attack), or the brain (causing a stroke).
There has been a major movement to remove this trans fat from the global diet. The FDA eradicated partially hydrogenated oils from the national food supply in 2015. This type of oil, found in processed foods, is recognized as unsafe for consumption because it contains artificial trans fat. There is now movement by the WHO to eliminate trans fats from the global food supply by 2023.
The Health Benefits of Dietary Fat
Supports good cholesterol
Reduces the risk of heart disease
Supports cell growth
Helps line the intestinal tract
Supports neurological functioning
Contributes to the health of our precursor hormones
Helps build myelin which enhances cognition
The Healthiest Source Of Fat
Omega 3 is regarded as the healthiest type of fat. EPA and DHA are dominant omega 3 fatty acids that protect cognitive function and neurological health. They also support circulation, help to reduce heart disease, and are a powerful anti-inflammatory.
Plant-based sources of omega 3 include marine phytoplankton, blue-green algae, chia seeds, and hemp seeds.
It’s interesting to consider that tribal communities residing near the sea evolved more quickly because of their access to marine sources of omega 3 fatty acids. Although there is widespread belief that fish and fish oil are the best sources of omega 3, it’s a bit misleading. Fish feed on krill, which feed on phytoplankton––the original source of omega 3 fatty acids. That’s the basis for vegan and vegetarian diets––they go straight to the source of essential nutrients.
Omega fats are usually lumped together as "healthy fats," which is also a bit of a misnomer. While omega 6 fats are nutritious, they are abundant in many foods, which results in overconsumption. Moderation is key at about a 1:2 ratio to omega 3s. Eggs are an excellent source of long-chain omega 3 fatty acids, especially if they're organic, pasture-raised, grain-free.
Fat or Fiction
The lowdown on fat is essentially this: Don’t be afraid of it. Stay away from trans fats, eat saturated and animal fats in moderation, and consume an abundance of original (plant-based) sources omega 3 fats.
Have you heard of ghee? It’s a delicious source of healthy fat, and it contains fat-soluble vitamin K2. It’s also considered a superfood in Ayurvedic medicine and nutrition. Learn more about why ghee is the better butter and how to make it at home.
From our kitchen to yours, we wish you happy, healthy-fat-filled meals and snacks!