The Skinny on Fats
For many years there has been a misconception about the fat we eat and the fat in our body. Starting with elevated cholesterol on a blood test, to doctors telling their patients not to eat diets high in saturated fat because it will raise their cholesterol. We are now understanding that it is not fat that increases cholesterol in your blood or contributes to fat in your body, but rather sugar is the biggest culprit. Unfortunately even though we now understand that sugars, and not fats, are the biggest problem with elevated cholesterol and obesity, we still get very little information on how we should be consuming appropriate fats and avoiding hydrogenated fats and oils in our diet.
Fat is vital to human nutrition. It is used in many aspects of our physiology, and it is especially used for energy production. One molecule of fat has 36 times more potential for creating the energy molecule ATP (adenosine triphosphate) in the body than one molecule of carbohydrates. Therefore it is more physiologically beneficial to consume fat to be burned during activity than carbohydrates. This is also why the method of “carbo” loading before long races has been debunked in athletes who participate in endurance sports. The more energy you have stored the more potential you have to create energy when you need it.
This principle is fascinating because in our society we see many obese people that do not have the “energy” to get up off the couch and go for a walk. The physiology is more complicated obviously, even though the potential to use that energy is there, the body is so deconditioned to use the fat as energy therefore it just sits there creating many health problems. The hormone cortisol is the stress hormone that makes us fat. If we were cavemen during a time of a famine our body would want to conserve energy and store it for later when the rations were tight and we still needed to use our bodies for work to survive. Today that same hormone cortisol will store fat, but the stressors causing the release of cortisol are very different. Managing your bodies stress levels, physically, emotionally and physiologically is a big factor in burning the fat in your body and losing weight.
Fat can be consumed in many different forms, with some types of fat being good and healthy for the body, where other types of fat are bad for the body.
The absolute worse type of fat a human can consume is trans fat, also called partially hydrogenated oil. These oils that have been chemically altered by a process of hydrogenation which changes the hydrogen bonding on the carbon molecules of fat (in case you needed a re-fresher from your organic chemistry class), and causes a molecular shift which causes a fat normally liquid at room temperature to now become solid at room temperature. With this molecular shift unfortunately our body no longer can adequately digest and utilize those fats and they can stay in our system for over 100 days. This causes many physiological troubles, essentially gumming up the works, and leading to many problems in our physiology. Products made with trans fats like margarine should be avoided completely.
On the other side there are many fats that should be consumed regularly in our diets that have many health benefits to our energy production, our brains and our hormones. These fats are healthy saturated fats and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats refer to the complete double carbon bond throughout the carbon chain of the fat molecule. Unsaturated fat means that there are carbons in the chain that do not have a double bond; they only have a single bond. This changes the shape of the molecule and how it can be used in the body. Fats from food contain different amounts and types of fatty acids. There are certain types of fatty acids that our body must consume from our diet because they cannot be made by our body and are critical for our survival and physiological function. These are called essential fatty acids, and you most likely have heard them called Omega 3’s, 6’s and 9’s.
When we were cavemen and living as hunters and gatherers, the ratio of consumption of omega 6’s to omega 3’s was 1:1 to 4:1. In our society today it is closer to 20:1 on average. The further your ratio moves away from 1:1 the greater the physiological stress is on the body to maintain all the energy and physiological demands required from the fats in the body. It has a dramatic effect on brain chemistry as well, as many Schizophrenic, Bipolar, ADD and neurologically impaired people often have ratios well over the 20:1. It doesn’t stop at the nervous system however, that ratio also has a dramatic effect on hormones and hormone production and use in the body. Remember that hormones are chemical messengers that help the body communicate and perform physiological functions. You can easily have your fat ratios measured by a Blood Spot Fatty Acid test, which any physician can order to measure your ratio specifically. If the ratio is off your physician can recommend diet changes and supplements to restore the normal balance in the body.
Knowing what fats you are eating is an essential part of being healthy and staying healthy. Eating fats that come from animals that consume a natural, physiologically appropriate diet is critical. The fat ratio of the animal will change based on their diet, just as yours will change based on your diet. For example a cow that is consuming grain as a regular part of its diet has a higher amount of omega 6 in its tissue, compared to a cow that eats grass, which will have a higher amount of omega 3. The same is true for fish, chickens, and any other animals. Remember you are not just what you eat, but you are also what your food eats too.