The Wild Guide To Fat (Lipids)
“The simple answer as to why we get fat is that carbohydrates make us so; protein and fat do not” -Gary Taubes, Why We Get Fat
Debunking The Greatest Nutrition Lie Ever
One of the most significant lies ever sold to Western culture is that fat is bad for you.
If you have been sold this lie—to no fault of your own—what I will share with you today will challenge your beliefs about food.
Fat contains more calories per gram than carbs or protein—9 calories per gram compared to 4 calories per gram—but beyond that, it has a few things going for it that make it an excellent and essential nutrient that humans need to eat to stay alive.
If you don't eat dietary fat, you'll die.
🤔 Isn't it curious how something we need to live has been demonized by pop Science/culture?
What is dietary fat?
First, fat doesn't spike hormones like carbs and protein do. Without going down the rabbit hole of hormones right now, know that glucose and insulin are two of the big players in the fat gain and fat loss game, and the fact that carbs, and to a lesser extent, protein, trigger their release while fat does not, is a massive WIN for fat.
The second thing that fat has going for it is its vital role in many processes in the body. Back to that "eat it, or you'll die" thing.
Here are a couple of these body processes that fat is necessary for:
- Regulates fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K
- Converts to energy more efficiently than any other form of calorie, making it our body's preferred fuel source
- Provides a source of essential fatty acids (ones you need or you'll die); Provides insulation and protection of your vital organs; is needed to manufacture adrenal and sex hormones
- It is required to manufacture adrenal and sex hormones
On top of all that, fat helps regulate hormones, especially insulin. Have you ever heard how an insulin spike is terrible and can make you fat?
Even though I think that's a little too simple, chronically high insulin (and cortisol) levels are one of the main causes of diabetes in the modern West.
And since insulin is the body's primary storage hormone, spiking insulin signals your body to store calories as body fat for later use.
Since most of us don't need to store body fat for later—because we have a fridge, restaurants, and our modern food system—controlling our hormones is almost always ideal.
Dietary fat also has a hand in your cholesterol levels. By itself, cholesterol isn't necessarily bad, but it can negatively impact your overall health when there's too much.
Maintaining a healthy ratio of good HDL to bad LDL cholesterol is critical for lowering the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. Higher levels of LDL clog arteries, and if your levels are too low, you can be at increased risk for cardiovascular complications.
The most significant way to keep your cholesterol in check is to understand the types of fats you are consuming. You then want to emphasize replacing your bad fats with healthy fats.
How most people think about fat
- How to adequately heat the good fats, so they stay good for you
- How to incorporate more good fat into your diet
- Which fats to avoid
Types of Fats
All fats are a combination of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. This is where it can get complicated and a lot to remember.
For simplicity's sake, the two primary factors for determining good fat versus bad fat are:
- The makeup of the fatty acids—mostly omega-3 and omega-6—and making sure to consume enough of the "good" stuff and not too much of the "bad" stuff.
- Ensure you aren't oxidizing—turning rancid—the fatty acids (rancid fat consumption has been shown to increase disease).
Fatty acids in Food
These fats can give you energy, keep your body warm, build cells, protect your organs, help your body better absorb the vitamins in your foods, and make hormones that help your body work how it should.
Essential fatty acids: "Essential" means our body does not produce them and needs them to survive. Essential fatty acids come in the form of omega-3 fatty acids and Omega 6 fats and are necessary to live.
Omega-3s: Found primarily in fatty fish, algae, pastured red meats, flax, and nuts (each containing different amounts).
Omega-6s: Found primarily in fish, grain, soybeans, vegetable oils, nut and seed oils, and most processed food.
EPA/DHA: Essential fatty acids are found primarily in fish and some nuts and seeds. Important in the formation of brain tissue, especially for babies in fetal development. Low levels of EPA/DHA have been linked to the onset of Alzheimer's and other dementias. Promote heart health, reduce inflammation, and protect against disease. (Hint: eat as much of this as you can.)
ALA: The other essential fatty acids commonly found in nuts, seeds, and flax. Due to its widespread presence in plant and animal life, ALA poses no threat to most of us. Furthermore, the human body needs to improve at converting ALA into EPA/DHA, which makes it a poor substitute for eating sources high in EPA/DHA (like fatty fish).
- Vegetable and seed oils contain more unsaturated fatty acids, making them more susceptible to oxidation. They also tend to have high levels of omega-6 compared to omega three fats.
- Animal fat contains more saturated fat.
- Saturated fat is less susceptible to oxidation and more suited for cooking at higher temperatures.
- Because our Western diet and food supply are so lacking in omega-3s—specifically EPA and DHA found in fish and fish oils—always try to eat more omega-3 and less omega-6. Here's a nifty chart by Mark Sisson
- Don't eat "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" food on the label. Research on why you should follow this advice can be found here.
What fat is healthy?
Healthy fats include monounsaturated and saturated fats.
Polyunsaturated fats are too prevalent in the Standard American Diet, so it's best to avoid them. (And def avoid heating them.)
Healthy fats are pivotal in many functions, including mood management, combatting fatigue, and weight control.
Understanding the difference between bad fats and healthy or good fats is essential to know how to change your diet. This change can boost your energy and help you lose weight if these are two of your goals.
Healthy fats offer an assortment of fantastic health benefits that include:
- A lower risk for stroke and heart disease
- Lower harmful LDL cholesterol levels
- Increases good HDL levels
- Can prevent abnormal heart rhythms
- Lowers the triglycerides that are linked to heart disease
- Help fight inflammation
- Lower your blood pressure.
- Prevent the hardening and narrowing of your arteries.
Foods with healthy fat
Some high-fat foods, including dairy products, eggs, and plants, are packed with essential nutrients your body needs to benefit overall health.
Many foods we will list below contain a fair amount of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals you need for optimal performance.
Avocados have a ton of fat. They are approximately 80% fat, are considered one of the best sources of potassium, and have many antioxidant compounds for healthy eating. One study found that consuming just one avocado daily for five weeks yielded favorable results on a person's cholesterol profile.
Dark chocolate is nutritious. It is high in fat and contains fiber and nutrients like iron and magnesium—two nutrients many people already don't get enough of.
When choosing your dark chocolate treat, make sure to find one that is labeled as having at least 70% cocoa. Anything lower could be packed with excess sugar and won't have all the nutrients and antioxidants you want.
Fatty or Oily Fish
Fatty or oily fish like salmon, herring, trout, mackerel, and sardines are animal proteins packed with heart-healthy Omega 3 fats and many vitamins and minerals. Consuming oily fish like this has been shown to enhance cognitive function, regulate blood sugar levels, and also decrease your risk of heart disease.
Eggs are nutrient-dense, full of protein, and also contain choline, a nutrient the brain needs that we often don't get enough of. If you are trying to lose weight, eggs are a great option because they are so high in protein which helps you stay full for longer while reducing the consumption of excess calories.
Grass-fed beef and pastured red meat
Ruminants do something miraculous: they convert sunlight into energy and nutrition that predators need to thrive. We are predators, so it's no wonder that red meat has
Is Animal Fat Healthy?
Fat from healthy animals is an integral part of the human diet. This is irrefutable and is easily shown by looking at all the essential nutrients—fats/protein—that the human body needs to ingest and looking at nature to find where we find these nutrients.
(Hint: some essential nutrients are only found in animals.)
Of course, not all animals are the same. Certain animals have a better omega-3 to omega-6 ratio than others.
Then, when you factor in the industrialized factors of raising animals for food, you get even more problems—further skewing of omega-3 to 6, toxins and antibiotics in the animal, and so on.
For example, grain-fed beef—which is not beef's natural diet—has shown to have an omega-3 to omega-6 ratio of 1:20. Compare this to grass-fed meat, which has around a 1:3 balance!
How the animals were raised, e.g., what they ate and how they lived, plays the primary role in how healthy the animal is eaten.
Cattle are raised on antibiotics, and large factory farms have a less healthy omega-3 to omega-6 balance. You shouldn't buy this meat because it supports unsafe, unsanitary, and inhumane practices.
Keywords to look for when shopping for animal products:
Friends of the sea
You also find better nutritional makeup in ingredients such as chocolate and coffee beans grown in natural conditions—among forest canopy—than mass-produced on factory farms.
What Makes Lipids / Fats Hydrophobic?
Lipids do not mix with water (insoluble), making them hydrophobic. Lipids comprise long chains of hydrogen and carbon with the same electronegativity. They also share electrons in covalent bonds.
While insoluble in water, lipids are soluble in organic solvents. Lipids include cholesterol, phospholipids, fatty acids, fats, and oils like triglycerides and triacylglycerols.
Foods with these lipids include heavy cream, butter, soft cheese, bacon, beef fat, and poultry skin. The difference between lipids and healthy fats is in the way they are structured.
Consuming lipids leads to higher harmful LDL cholesterol levels and are trans fats that you don't naturally find. While they increase LDL cholesterol, they also can reduce good HDL cholesterol levels. This can cause fat particles to attach to your artery walls, restricting blood flow.
Saturated lipids should account for less than 10% of your daily food intake. Replace any saturated fats with healthier unsaturated fats.
Remember that different lipids will have other effects on the body. The body can use all fat types in small quantities, but trans and saturated fats are bad for your health when consumed in more significant amounts rather than in moderation.
Heating Fats and Oils
The main thing you are trying to avoid when heating fats or oils is oxidation, which can lead to rancidity. When fats oxidize, the nutrients degrade, and the unsaturated fats turn rancid.
Studies have proven that rancidification can produce toxic compounds with adverse long-term health effects.
The most common way fats oxidize is through the cooking process. Keeping the heat below the "smoke point" of respective fats and oils will help prevent oxidation.
Below is a list of oils and their smoke points. (Hint: If oil is smoking in a pan, take it off the heat.)
Oils to Avoid
Fats to avoid are often highly refined and contain more essential omega-6s. They are usually not easily found in nature in large quantities—a sign you shouldn't be eating them—and require sizeable mechanical production methods.
Any butter substitute: Margarine, Shortening, Crisco, etc
Any trans fat
Vegetable oil is sometimes labeled as heart-healthy and is an excellent alternative to lard and butter. Vegetable oil is a polyunsaturated fat that has been linked to a person's reduced heart disease risk and other heart problems.
The justification for the anti-saturated fat campaign that has raged on for half a century is essentially baseless.
Even if saturated fat does increase (large, fluffy) LDL, it increases protective HDL right along with it, and cardiovascular mortality has never been explicitly demonstrated to increase with saturated fat intake.
Simply put, saturated fat or dietary cholesterol is not what causes heart disease and modern disease. Read more about these topics here and here.
How Many Fats Should You Eat a Day?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans state that fats should comprise 25 to 35% of your daily calorie intake. This includes monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. You can avoid an essential fatty acid shortage by limiting your daily fat intake to.05 to 1 g if you want to lose weight.
Understanding the complexities of fats and oils requires some time and effort to master.
A couple of things to remember:
Eat healthy animals that consume their natural diet—e.g., cows that eat grass and wild fish.
Stay away from highly processed oils, especially seed oils
Fat is not bad for you, although some fats are
Saturated fat is an essential nutrient and has been wrongfully demonized (the same goes for cholesterol)
Pastured butter (try Kerrygold brand) is a miracle food, while margarine and shortening-like products are poison.
Avoid cooking most oils and fats at too high of temperatures, and if it smokes, remove it from the heat because it's too hot.