Last Updated on March 10, 2010 by Jimson Lee
But what about fats?
Here is a brief overview of the 3 main fats: Saturated Fats, Monounsaturated Fats, and Polyunsaturated Fats, and of course, the terrible Trans Fats that has made headlines over the past decades.
History of Saturated Fats and Trans Fat
During the depression years, and up to WWII, saturated fats such as butter or bread dipped in bacon fat from a frying pan was considered a delicacy.
Back in the late 1970’s, saturated fats and cholesterol were labelled the "killer" based on the increase of heart attacks from current research at the time.
Then came the rise of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, such as margarine. Vegetable oil is a liquid at room temperature, and by pumping hydrogen through it, it becomes a solid. This process is called hydrogenation.
Margarine is also one third the price of butter. so the cost savings and decrease of saturated fats were a win-win for consumers.
This is where the whole scare of the "trans" fats come in. The body can use the "cis" version (I’ll spare you a lecture on organic chemistry, but the cis & trans are simply the angles of the molecules) and it was thought the trans fat was responsible for clogging your arteries. The trans fat molecules were formed during the hydrogenation process.
So here is a brief look at the 3 types of fats
Saturated fats are normally found in animal products – usually red meat or dairy. Sumo wrestlers also eat large amounts of coconut oil to gain weight, which contains huge amounts of saturated fats. (As a bartender, I miss my Pina Coladas, or even the non-alcohol version “Virgin Coladas”!)
Your body needs the "good fats", and saturated fats are required for optimal hormone levels such as testosterone.
People accuse the French for eating high amounts of saturated fats, but let’s not forget the average French diet is 40% fewer in calories than the typical American diet. Take a look at some of the horrific caloric numbers in Fast Foods. Some milkshakes are several meals in a glass, and that is only a drink!
For athletes, consuming saturated fats is okay, as long as the carbohydrates, protein, and essential macronutrients are in order, preferable from whole natural foods.
Monounsaturated Fats, for example Oleic acid found in olive oils, has made the Mediterranean diet extremely popular.
It should be reminded that "fatty foods" like steak contain equal amount of Monounsaturated and saturated fats.
My advice with monounsaturated fats is don’t cook with it – frying oil will change the chemical structure. Add it to salads, or add it afterwards to "steamed meats" in wooden baskets.
Even in Italy, buying canned tuna is packed in Olive oil, whereas in Canada and USA, tuna is normally packed in spring water or light oil.
Common forms of polyunsaturated fats are alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid.
These are considered "essential fatty acids", because they are the precursor of other fatty acids such as gamma-linoleic acid.
I suffer badly (and I mean badly) from mosquito bites, and I find increases of Omega-3 fatty acids and gamma-linoleic acids powerful anti-inflammatory properties. What works for me may not work for you.
Omega-6 is normally very high in North American diets, and I believe ratios are important, thus supplementing with Omega 3 makes a lot of sense. The ideal ratio of Omega-6:Omega-3 is a probably around 2:1 or 3:1, but the average North American diet with fast food is probably about 20:1.
There are some major differences in flax oil (primarily alpha-linolenic acid) and Omega 3. Flax seed or oil is not enough. Flax is mainly alpha-linolenic acid, and he conversion of alpha-linolenic acid to linoleic acid (or EPA/DHA to be exact) is marginal.
I believe healthy average people who eat crushed flax seed and plenty of fish are probably getting enough Omega 3, but athletes may want to supplement with fish oils.
A typical supplement is 3 fish oil capsules daily where a 1 gram fish oil capsule typically contains 180 mg EPA and 120 mg DHA.
Cardio formula “oils” are popular even since they discovered Northern First Nation (i.e. Eskimo or Inuit) had low rates of heart disease despite a high fat diet from fish, seals, and other marine animals. But when was the last time you’ve seen work in an office 8 hours a day eating fast food and junk and driving their SUV to the corner store?
The Bottom Line
Don’t go overboard on saturated fats, use Monounsaturated fats (i.e. olive oil) when possible, and supplement with Omega 3 if your diet is low in it, or if you eat large amounts of Omega 6.
That is probably the best advice I can give to anyone.
Being in Vancouver, Udo Erasmus is the most famous authority when it comes to fats. His book Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill: The Complete Guide to Fats, Oils, Cholesterol and Human Health is a best seller.
Another good reading is Dr. Mary G. Enig’s book Know Your Fats : The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils and Cholesterol. Dr. Enig, a consultant on nutrition to individuals, industry, and state and federal governments, is a licensed practitioner in Maryland and the District of Columbia. This is also highly recommended reading if you wanted to learn more about fats.