Feed Yourself Smarter | Fat Facts
Fats are next up in my series on the core foundations to diet, the macronutrients. There was a time when fats were demonised “eating fat makes you fat” which has now been debunked. In recent years fats have been glorified and celebrated with the interest in ketogenic type diets. Knowing your fatty acids, the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats, the role fats play in your body and the oils to use for cooking
Core Foundations To Diet, Demystifying Nutrition and Diet, Good and Bad Fats, Knowing your Fatty Acids



07 Feb 2022, Posted by Angela in FYS News
5 bottles of oil, butter, coconut oil, lard, milk

Fats are next up in my series on the core foundations to diet, the macronutrients.

There was a time when fats were demonised “eating fat makes you fat” which has now been debunked. In recent years fats have been glorified and celebrated with the interest in ketogenic type diets.

I am often asked:
What fats should I cook with?
Should I eat more healthy fats? or
What is the best oil to use?

A typical pattern I see is that people eat a high level of good fats alongside a high level of carbohydrates and that is where problems can arise.  You can think of that as kind of “cancelling out” the whole benefit of a higher fat diet.

In the spirit of de-mystifying nutrition and diet, let’s look at fats in a bit more detail

The role of fats in your body 
The fats we consume in our food serve many vital functions in the body. They can be used for energy or to store energy, they provide “cushioning” and they transport other nutrients. Plus, they form the membrane of every cell in your body, which is pretty important!

Fat as an energy source 
Fats are an energy source, they contain more than double the calories per gram compared to the other macronutrients, protein and carbohydrates. There is a big proviso coming up…

While your body can burn fat to make energy it much prefers to burn glucose (from carbohydrates). This means, if there is plenty of carbohydrates (and sugars) your body will burn those and “save” the fat into “storage” and it is this storage that doesn’t get used up which can lead to issues.

What we need is  “metabolic flexiblity” in order to be good at burning fat as well as carbohydrate, which is one of the key things we work on in my Food for Thought programme.

Know your fatty acids 
Fatty acids are the basic units of all fats (a bit like the amino acids in protein). The physical characteristics and nutritional activity of fat depends on the kind of fatty acids it contains. A fat is classified as saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated according to the type of fatty acids it contains in the greatest quantity.

Fats from an animal source, such as butter or meat, have a higher ratio of saturated fatty acids. Fats from plants and vegetables tend to have a higher ratio of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, but often still contain some saturated fats. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature while unsaturated ones are liquid

The saturated fats are considered “bad” fats and the unsaturated ones are considered good fats as you can see in this table.

  Name   Trans fat
Damaged fats*
  Saturated fats   Mono-
of where
they are
Fried fast foods
Packaged baked
goods like
cookies & pies
  Red meat
Coconut oil
  Olive oil
  Fish oil
  Bad fats   ——————————————>   Good fats

*There are certainly some fats that have zero benefits, such as trans fats, which are “damaged” fatty acids that occur in heavily processed foods. They are definitely in the “bad” category.

It’s all about context
“Good” and “Bad” is a bit black and white; we need to put some context around that. A small amount of saturated fat is good, if the rest of the diet is quite modest in carbohydrates and you are metabolically flexible.

What I often see is people following a keto-type diet but actually consuming a level of carbohydrates that mean they are probably not challenging their cells to be metabolically flexible.

The promise vs the reality
The other thing to consider is that the poly unsaturated fatty acids are less “stable” than the monounsaturated and the saturated types. This means they are more vulnerable to damage which can happen when we heat it.

There are also additional compounds in the fats over and above the fatty acids, these include vitamins and phytonutrients, which play a role in the health benefits of a fat or oil.

Part of the benefit of olive oil comes from all the polyphenols it contains, which are maximised in an extra virgin type (EVOO). Sunflower and rapeseed oil are often considered poor cousins but if they are also unrefined and unfiltered they can contain some fantastic vitamins and polyphenols as well as the essential fatty acids.

Cooking with fats
When we heat the vulnerable poly unsaturated fatty acids they can become damaged, there is, however, still some uncertainty around this topic. This study showed that the smoke point is NOT the best way to measure the stability of oil when heated and goes on to show extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is stable when heated.

What oils do I use?

  • My go-to is olive oil. I use this for cooking with (sauté, stirfry and roasting) and cold as a dressing. I use this because I live in Spain and have access to high quality oils. I use EVOO in all cases, heated and cold. If a recipe says coconut I usually switch to olive oil.
  • I use a small amount of coconut oil, mainly as a teaspoon in coffee, blended. I like the taste of it but I am careful not to use too much.
  • I have one copy of the APOe4 gene so I need to pay attention to total saturated fat and I am always considering my metabolic flexibility
  • I also eat eggs, fish (salmon, sardines and some tuna), a little cheese, nuts and seeds, so I have plenty of saturated fat source and hence I am quite careful with the amount of coconut oil I use.
  • If I were living in the UK I would add a high-quality virgin rapeseed or safflower oil for dressings from a taste, fatty acid and polyphenol side

I hope this is helpful, if it is, please let me know in comments, along with any questions you may have. I will try my best to answer them; plus it helps me know how to shape my content and blogs.

Health and happiness

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