Types of Fats

What You Need to Know About Fats

Nutrition Label
Nutriton Label Showing Fat Amounts

Chapter 6 of our book Eat to Save Your Life was the most difficult chapter to research and write. We named it "Baffled by Fats," because the nutritional information was so considerably influenced by economics, politics, and government and media fear-mongering, we struggled to find information to confidently share with our readers.

What we found may be a little unexpected and may even contradict some common myths about fat. Perhaps most surprising to many people is that the best research from credible sources shows that saturated fats (such as butter, lard, and coconut oil) are not as harmful as once thought, and they actually can be beneficial when eaten in moderate amounts.

You see, your body uses saturated fats for cushioning and lubrication. In addition, some fats (such as coconut oil) are made up of medium chain fatty acids. These fatty acids are highly accessible to your cells, and solid research shows they can benefit digestive, endocrine, and immune systems and may help protect against cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and many degenerative diseases.

Conversely, the refined vegetable oils often recommended in place of saturated fats can actually interfere with your cells and foster disease. The problem with refined vegetable oils is that they are easily damaged by heat, light, and air. When that happens, they oxidize (become rancid), and rancid fats create HUGE problems for the body as they release damaging free radicals that wreak havoc at the cellular level.

When it comes to fat, don’t believe all the fat free hype you hear (complete with drum rolls and dancing models). The fat free hoopla often is about marketing (not health) or it’s simply old information that new research has proven to be incorrect. Instead, follow these tips for including beneficial fats and oils in your diet while avoiding the harmful ones:

  • Eliminate fats and oils that may have oxidized (turned rancid) during refining or through improper storage or handling that has exposed them to too much heat, light, and air. Those clear bottles of vegetable oils sitting on the grocery store shelves? Forget ‘em. Light shines right through the bottles, and the oils are on their way to oxidation right there under the store lights.
  • Choose cold-pressed vegetable oils in dark bottles that protect against light, and make sure to store these oils in the fridge and use them quickly so they don’t turn rancid.
  • Eliminate trans-fats. We think you likely have heard a lot about these fats over the past few years. For more information or to learn why they are so bad for you, see Chapter 6 of our book.
  • Choose coconut oil and moderate amounts of other saturated fats such as butter and lard, and avoid fat-free milk, yogurt, and other fat free dairy products that have been over-processed within an inch of their nutritional lives. Moderate amounts of saturated fats are not your enemy.
  • Eliminate food supplements containing oxidized fats and oils. Chapter 2 of our book discusses the problem of rancid oils turning up in supplements. Query manufacturers about how they make their food supplements, and avoid brands that damage their oils with harsh refining practices.

The tips we have shared above are, for us, the bare minimum to help you make informed choices when it comes to dietary fat in your food and food supplements. There is more—much more—in our book that we cannot include on a short web page, so we encourage you to read Chapters 6 and 7 to learn more about fats and essential fatty acids and the important role they play in your nutritional status.

In the meantime, just remember to “eat small" throughout the day, making sure to include a variety of fat sources, especially the Essential Fatty Acids.

Glossary of Terms

Before we finish, here’s a short glossary of terms that you may find helpful:

Essential Fatty Acids
Essential Fatty Acids

Essential Fatty Acids. "Fatty acids" are not the same thing as "fat," at least for scientists. The rest of us use the terms interchangeably (and incorrectly) to make our lives simpler.

Technically, however, all fats are composed of fatty acids. There are many groups of fatty acids, and all these groups have sub-groups. Your body produces some of them (such as Omega 9), but cannot produce others. In the case of fatty acids that your body cannot produce, it’s essential to get them from food, so they’re called Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs). Our book features two groups of EFAs that are particularly important: Omega-3 and Omega-6.

 

 

Steak Stearic Acid
Left: Steak
Right: Molecular Structure of Stearic Acid
Saturated Fats. Saturated Fats are comprised of rigid fatty acid molecules that make the fat solid, even at room temperature. Think butter, lard, and other animal fat—including your own love handles. Think, too, of tropical oils such as coconut oil and palm oil. The graphic of a saturated fat molecule shows these molecules to be strong, rigid structures.

 

Olive oil with olives Oleic Acid Structure
Left: Olive oil with olives
Right: Molecular structure of oleic acid
Mono-unsaturated Fats. Mono-unsaturated Fats (MUFAs) are comprised of fatty acid molecules with one bend in them. “Mono” means “one”. Notice the single bend in the graphic of the molecule. As a result of this bend, MUFA molecules are a bit flexible, so the fat is solid when refrigerated, but liquid at room temperature. Think olive oil and canola oil. (Canola oil is about 60% mono-unsaturated fat.)

 

Corn on the cob with corn oil Molecular structure of linolenic acid
Left: Corn on the cob with dish of corn oil
Right: Molecular structure of linolenic acid
Poly-unsaturated Fats (PUFAs) are comprised of fatty acid molecules with more than one bend in them. “Poly” means “many”. PUFA molecules are really flexible, so these oils are liquid even in the fridge. Think of vegetable and seed oils such as corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, and flaxseed oil.

The molecular structure that makes PUFAs so fluid also makes them unstable—which means they can be easily damaged. Expose them to light or air, fail to refrigerate them, or heat them, and the oil will oxidize. Oh! Oh! There’s that word “oxidize” again. Oxidized oil is rancid oil, and that means it’s toxic to your cells.

For a more complete understanding of fatty acids, fats and oils, nutritional benefits, and tips for buying and handling, read all of Chapters 6 and 7 in Eat to Save Your Life.

Freaky Fact

If you heat any fat or oil until it smokes, you’ve oxidized it—which means you will be introducing unnecessary levels of free radicals into your body. Free radicals wreak havoc with your cells. Throw out that smokin’ oil and start over.

Related Supplements

Take a totally terrific plant-based anti-oxidant complex to fight free radicals. The manufacturer of the complex should publish an ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbency Capacity) score that indicates the complex will protect you against a wide range  of free radical groups. See Chapter 12 of Eat to Save Your Life.

Eat to Save Your Life BookEat to Save Your Life answers the hard nutrition questions.

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