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The Case for Saturated Fat: Part 1Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
Poor old saturated fat. Itâ€™s been tried, convicted and condemned without so much as a fair trial. Since the mid 1900â€™s it has been â€˜knownâ€™ that saturated fat was actually the root cause of heart disease and that over-consumption would lead to obesity and an early grave! Right? Well, no actually. This may come as a surprise to you, but saturated fat was demonised in the 60â€™s and 70â€™s due to some very faulty (at best) and deliberately deceptive (at worst) research. Most of you will have never heard of Dr Ancel Keys and his 6 country study but this â€˜studyâ€™ was so influential we are still feeling its impact some 60 years later. I will get onto this in part 2 though.
First I feel itâ€™s important to understand a little about the classification of fats. Once again, many of you would have no knowledge in this area so hereâ€™s a little science, but Iâ€™ll keep it simple.
Very quickly, the difference really between oil and fat is simply that when we refer to an oil we are talking about a liquid lipid (a lipid is the technical name for fat). When we refer to a fat we are talking about a solid lipid. Generally, saturated fats are solid at room temperature and unsaturated oils are generally liquid at room temperature.
Dietary fats can be classified into 2 major groups:
The unsaturated fats are then further broken into:
1)Â Â Â Â Â Monounsaturated (including omega 9â€™s)
2)Â Â Â Â Â Polyunsaturated (including omega 3â€™s and 6â€™s)
3)Â Â Â Â Â Trans-fat (a special man-made fat we will discuss in a little bit)
These are diagrams of the fatty acid molecules (a fatty acid is what a fat is broken down into through the digestion process).
Saturated fat gets its name as it is completed saturated by hydrogen atoms. It also contains single bonds in the fatty acid chain, unlike monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Â With the unsaturated fats, note the arrows which are pointing to the double bonds (that saturated fats do not contain). Monounsaturated fats have one double bond (hence mono) and polyunsaturated have more than one (hence poly). With increasing number of double bonds, comes a lower smoking (the smoking point is the temperature at which the fat may sustain nutritional degradation), lower melting point and higher reactivity. Therefore by this reasoning alone, the best fat for cooking would be saturated and the worst would be polyunsaturated.
Ok, so I mentioned something about unsaturated fats having a higher reactivity than saturated fats. What exactly does this mean? Well, because a saturated fat is completely saturated by hydrogen, it makes it very stable and less likely to react with oxygen. This reaction with oxygen is called oxidation and it is what we mean when we say something organic has gone off. When a molecule is complete (it has no open sections â€“ like where the arrows are pointing to in the unsaturated fat molecules) it makes this molecule less likely to interact with other molecules (such as oxygen which is very reactive â€“ just think about rust as an example).Â Polyunsaturated oils are the least stable and oxidise quite easily as they have the most â€˜openâ€™ sections. Â As an example, you can leave butter (which is primarily saturated fat) on your bench top for weeks without any reaction. I had my butter out during a heatwave and the only thing that happened was it melted a little too much. If I was to do the same with polyunsaturated oil (like what we find in margarine) it will go off very quickly indeed. Think about itâ€¦.if margarine goes off with warm temperatures just imagine what it is doing inside our body which is a cosy 37Â°C. Delicious!
At the start I also mentioned a group of fats called trans-fats. Trans-fats are unsaturated fats that are in particular arrangement called a trans arrangement (the other type of arrangement is called cis which is the natural arrangement for a polyunsaturated fat â€“ see previous image). The trans arrangement occurs when the fat is put through a process called hydrogenation (this can be partial or complete).Â Hydrogenation is basically where hydrogen atoms are fired at an unsaturated fat causing it to become partially or completely saturated. With a trans-fat, the unsaturated oil goes through partial hydrogenation which means only some of the carbons end up with hydrogen attached to them. Hydrogenation causes the oil to change shape and straighten out and puts the hydrogens on the opposite side of the carbon double bond. See the image below for how hydrogenation changes the molecular arrangement:
With a trans-fat, the hydrogenation process causes the oil to solidify (or semi-solidify). The more carbons that have hydrogen attached to them, the more dense the oil becomes until it eventually solidifies (hence why a saturated fat is generally solid at room temperature). The major concern though, is that these types of trans-fats are not naturally occurring. There are natural trans fats which are NOT bad for us at all and in fact have been linked to decreasing CVD and cancer risk (wonder of all wonders). Naturally occurring trans-fats occur in ruminant animals and dairy products. An example of a naturally occurring trans-fat is conjugated linoleic acic (CLA). This fatty acid has been studied extensively has been shown to improve cholesterol profile and body composition, improve glucose control and has anti-carcinogenic and anti-atherogenic properties. Man-made trans-fats though are a whole other kettle of fish. These fats have been strongly linked to a number of devastating diseases but none more so than Australiaâ€™s biggest killer; cardiovascular disease. The problem with the trans-fats is the alteration from the cis arrangement into the trans arrangement. This chemical process produces an end product that is so unnatural; the body does not recognise it and cannot do anything with this fat. This causes disruption at a cellular level and leads to a whole range of degenerative diseases and disorders. So Iâ€™m sure youâ€™re asking why manufacturers would produce something like this? Well Iâ€™ll explain in more detail in part 2, but basically trans-fats are very cheap to manufacture and have an incredibly long shelf life. Thatâ€™s cause for concern in itself donâ€™t you think? When even bacteria refuse to eat something (or simply canâ€™t), itâ€™s time to realise that this is not organic, it is not a food and we should not be consuming it either.
Ok, weâ€™re nearly there but just a little more science before we move on. Fats are not simply classified as saturated and unsaturated. Theyâ€™re also categorised by their molecular length which is of VITAL importance. A fat can be a long chain fatty acid (LCFA), medium chain fatty acid (MCFA) or short chain fatty acid (SCFA). Â Sometimes theyâ€™re referred to as triglycerides which is just another word for a fatty acid. Most saturated fats are short and medium fatty acids and are incredibly important for the body. We use them easily due to their length and have been shown to assist in weight loss. I beg your pardon I hear you saying!! Yes, it is true. The dirty little secret of the weight loss industry is that eating the right fats actually promotes weight LOSS and NOT weight gain. Wow! The only issue is, the weight loss industry likes to throw around the term â€˜right fatsâ€™ and by that, they mean polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. This is a flat out lie as mono and poly fats are NEVER medium or short chain fatty acids. They are always long chain. What this means is that the body has to chop up the fats first before they can be used. This tends to lend towards fat deposition rather than fat utilisation. So what am I getting at here? Short and medium chain fatty acids, as found in SATURATED fats, are actually good for us and help us with weight loss. In fact saturated fats have many many health benefits including improving cholesterol profile, reducing visceral fat, improving physical endurance, assisting with appetite control, preventing atherosclerosis (build-up of plaque in our arteries) and improving immune function. Almost unbelievable right? Well I part 2 Iâ€™ll explain how we came to be so deceived on this topic.
Something else to ponder for a moment is that saturated fat is a naturally occurring fat found in the human body. What? Yes! It is true. Our body has a large amount of saturated AND unsaturated fat in it. In fact, we need saturated fat for every single cellular membrane in our body. Our membranes keep everything that is supposed to be in our cells, in; and keeps everything that is meant to be out, out. It is estimated that there are over 100 trillion cells in our body (that is 10 with 14 zeros after it or 100 000 000 000 000) and with each one of these needing saturated fats, the thought to exclude these out of our diets is completely preposterous. So Iâ€™m sure youâ€™re wondering what good sources of saturated fat are; well one of the best is coconut oil. Coconut oil is incredibly high in saturated fat (approximately 88%) most of which is lauric acid, a medium chain fatty acid or medium chain triglyceride (MCT). The health benefits of coconut oil is an essay in itself so just go and do yourself a favour and purchase some extra virgin organic coconut oil and start using it every day. I use 2 tablespoons in my smoothie in the morning. Keeps me full for hours!
I realise thereâ€™s a LOT of information here so I have summarised it for you:
Saturated fat has/is:
|Characteristic:||What this means:|
|Low Reactivity||it will not go off easily|
|High smoking point||high temperatures will not affect it making it great for cooking and Â deep frying|
|Generally SCT or MCT||this is perfect for our body and easily used in cellular processes Â (particularly good for weight loss)|
|Naturally occurring||little â€˜manâ€™ interference in its production which makes it good for Â us|
|Found in the human body||We need it for every day processes such as cellular signalling (our Â nervous system), absorption of vitamins A, E, D and K, our skin, our hair, Â our cellular membranes, energy, temperature regulation and so much more!|
|Many health benefits||Our cholesterol profile improves, our immune function is supported, Â our brain and nervous system works better, our waist line improves, our bone Â density gets better etc.|
So what are some good sources of saturated fat? Well itâ€™s hard to go past coconut oil so Iâ€™d start there. Other great sources include:
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Meat
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Chicken
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Fish
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Dairy
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Eggs
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Butter (not margarine)
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Lard
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Palm oil
With animal products I believe we should buy organic where possible and avoid factory farming. Factory farming is cruel and produces a poor quality product. Wherever possible, organic is the better option and even though it is expensive, youâ€™re getting a better product.
Finally, some food for thought (pardon the pun).This list is basically everything weâ€™ve been told to stop eating because it makes us unhealthy and will kill us. However, if you take a look at health trends since weâ€™ve been â€˜fedâ€™ this information, weâ€™ve been getting sicker and fatter, dying sooner and the incidences of new diseases are on the incline. A little perplexing really donâ€™t you think? I think so, seen as though people have wholeheartedly taken on the low fat and high carbohydrate message. So much so that fat is quite simply the pariah of society and the nutrition world. So, in Part 2, I will explain why saturated fat was demonised and how it has been to the detriment of our health that this vital fat was excluded from our diet. Iâ€™ll also explain why the advice weâ€™re being given is all wrong and the devastating consequences it is having on our waist lines and our lives.
Assuncao, M. L., Ferreira, H.S., dos Santos, A. F., Cabral Jr C, R. & Florencio, T. M. M. T. (2009). Effects of Dietary Coconut Oil on the Biochemical and Anthropometric Profiles of Women Presenting Abdominal Obesity. Lipids, 44(7): 593-601.
Enig, M. J. (2004). The importance of saturated fats for biological functions. Retrieved 17th January 2013, from, Â http://www.westonaprice.org/know-your-fats/importance-of-saturated-fats-for-biological-functions
Houseknecht, K. L., Vanden Heuvel, J.P., Moya-Camarena, S. Y., Portocarrero, C.P., Peck, L.W., Nickel, K.P. & Belury, M.A. (1998). Dietary Conjugated Linoleic Acid Normalizes Impaired Glucose Tolerance in the Zucker Diabetic Fatty Rat. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communication, 244(3):678-682.
Intahphuak, S., Khonsung, P. & Panthong, A. (2010). Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antipyretic activities of virgin coconut oil. Pharmaceutical Biology, 48(2):151-157.
Nicolosi, R.J., Rogers, E.J., Kritchevsky, D., Scimeca, J.A & Huth, P.J. (1997). Dietary conjugated linoleic acid reduces plasma lipoproteins and early aortic atherosclerosis in hypercholesterolemic hamsters. Artery, 22(5): 266-277.
Park, Y., Albright, K.J., Liu, W., Storkson, J.M., Cook, M.E. & Pariza, M.W. (1997). Effect of conjugated linoleic acid on body composition in mice. Lipids, 32(8): 853-858.
Scalfi, L., Coltorti, A. & Contaldo, F. (1991). Postprandial thermogenesis in lean and obese subjects after meals supplemented with medium-chain and long-chain triglycerides. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,53(5):1130-3.
St-Onge, M-P. & Bosarge, R. (2008). Weight-loss diet that includes consumption of medium-chain triacylglycerol oil leads to a greater rate of weight and fat mass loss than does olive oil. American Society for Clinical Nutrition, 87(3): 621-626.
Taubes, G. (2002). The soft science of dietary fat. Retrieved 18th January 2013, from, http://www.second-opinions.co.uk/taubes.html
Ward, D MD. & English, J. (2012). Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs): Beneficial Effects on Energy, Atherosclerosis and Aging. Retrieved 15th January 2013, from, http://www.nutritionreview.org/library/mcts.php
I need to explain the reasoning behind the 12 Week Challenge….
First and foremost, our refined sugar intake is a huge problem…. Well to be more specific, fructose is the problem. Fructose is a naturally occurring sugar found in fruit, veggies and honeyÂ and it is super sweet and super addictive. This is not a fact that food manufacturers are unaware of. They know how addictive fructose is and have extracted it out ofÂ naturallyÂ occurring foodsÂ and joined it with glucose to make a substance called sucrose (commonly called table sugar, caster sugar, brown sugar or raw sugar). Sucrose is in almost all pre-packaged and convenience foods. Most people are unaware they’re eating loads of it every day. If you eat any of the following you’re smashing the fructose:
- breakfast cereals
- most white breads
- most dough products
- pasta/chicken sauces
- low fat foods
If you drink any of the following, once again you’re smashing the fructose:
- fruit juice (it doesn’t matter that it’s naturally occurring, it’s still fructose)
- flavoured milks
- energy drinks
- sports drinks
- tea/coffee with sugar added
Unfortunately, if you eat large amounts of fructose, it is rapidly converted to fatty acids in the liver and can cause high levels of circulating fats in the blood and lead to insulin resistance (you’re only a stones throw from being diabetic then). Fructose messes with our appetite control centre and can leave us feeling hungry all the time which further leads to health problems. In fact, high sugar consumption is what’s causing the current type II diabetes and obesity epidemic and has been linked to:
- cardiovascular disease (CVD – Australia’s biggest killer)
- high blood pressure
- fatty liver disease
- metabolic syndrome
- fertility problems
- some cancers
- and more.
Getting the picture yet? Well there’s more. For years and years the health authorities have been telling us to eat less fat, consume more carbohydrate and moderate our salt intake. We’ve been screamed at that cholesterol is killing us and that it will give us CVD and to avoid being obese we need to exercise more! Have we listened? You bet. There are record numbers of people joining gyms, trying low fat diets, trying every conceivable weight loss product, starving themselves, trying surgery etc etc. And is it working? Well statistics are showing us that it’s not. So if we’re doing as we’re told and it’s not working, then clearly what we’re being told is not correct. This leads to the second point of the challenge. We’re switching to saturated fats like butter, coconut oil, full cream dairy (so long as it adheres to the no sugar rule) and animal fats! It seems crazy I know. I grew up being told fats are bad and will cause CVD yet there is no evidence that directly links saturated fat and cholesterol to causing heart disease. There is loads of evidence that sugar causes heart disease yet for some reason, it’s not making it out to the public. I’ve been eating full fat everything for a very long time (and a reasonable amount of animal meat) and my blood cholesterol levels are so low I’m not even in the range. Hmmmmmmm makes you think, doesn’t it?! Moving on. The next part of the fat rule is avoid polyunsaturated fats. These are terrible for us. They go rancid in the manufacturing process and need to be deodorised and coloured to make them edible. Yum. They’re also linked to cancer so I’m pretty happy to leave these guys out. So say goodbye to canola oil (aka rapeseed oil), sunflower oil and vegetable oil. Can’t say I’ll miss you.
Finally, the last part to the challenge is finding exercise that you enjoy. Keeping fit is so important on many levels. It is good for:
- cardiovascular health
- developing muscle
- bone density
- improving flexibility
- improving coordination, balance and agility
- mental health
- maintaining function
It’s important to note though, exercise it not good for weight loss. Our bodies are way too efficient for us to be able to lose any appreciable weight through exercise. I know there will be people hitting the roof and screaming at me right now but if you stop and thing about it, when people do lose weight, do they ever only exercise and not diet? I’ve never met anyone on a weight loss journey who decided they would continue to eat as they did and only exercise more. Maybe I’m too sheltered but in 2007 the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM – the gurus of exercise) reviewed all the available research on exercise and healthy lifestyles and concluded that 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity 5 days a week would “promote and maintain health benefits”. They did not say to promote weight loss. What they did include was this little tid bit: “It is reasonable to assume that persons with relatively high daily energy expenditures would be less likely to gain weight over time, compared with those who have low energy expenditures. So far data to support this hypothesis is not particularly compelling….” Well I’m hardly going to argue with this. Exercise for the health benefits. Sort out your food for weight loss. Not really revolutionary when you think about it!
So I guess to summarise the challenge:
- no fructose (aka sugar as we know it)
- eat saturated fat
- avoid man-made polyunsaturated fats
- exercise to promote health
Well I’m pretty pumped about the whole thing! Getting some before shots done and if I’m brave I’ll post before and after for you all
In my last blog I talked about the weight loss industry’s deceptive marketing ploys and the profit it makes by keeping people fat with products that simply do not work or even worse, facilitate the yo-yo dieting trend. Today I wanted to talk about why our bodies fight like crazy against weight loss. In saying this, with the combination of these two factors alone, it’s no wonder over 40% of Australians are overweight (National Health Survey 2004-2005).
Our bodies like to be in a state called homeostasis. This is the state the body is in when in balance. Homeostasis is defined as “The tendency of an organism or a cell to regulate its internal conditions, usually by a system of feedback controls, so as to stabilize health and functioning, regardless of the outside changing conditions.” Basically this means the body is always working to keep itself in internal equilibrium against external influences. There are optimal ranges that exists for this balance and all systems of our body aim to achieve homeostasis. Many things disrupt our balance ranging from the everyday stuff such as when we eat through to the more serious things like disease. Examples of things that disrupt homeostasis are: food (our blood sugar levels rise particularly when it is a highly refined carbohydrate), stress (our nervous system and endocrine system can go into overdrive), emotions (being too happy is a disruption of homeostasis believe it or not), disease (cancer, depression, diabetes etc), tiredness (increases the carbon dioxide levels in our blood which triggers yawning), temperature (excessive heat and cold have to be regulated internally by our bodies) and so many more. Our body is constantly at work against these external influences ensuring that our internal systems continue to work optimally.
So I’m sure you’re all fascinated by this information but wondering what does it have to do with weight loss? Well our body mass is just another component of our body that needs to be in homeostasis. Whatever weight this is, it will have the lowest energy cost to it and be the most efficient for the body to maintain. One thing to understand explicity about the human body is that it will not waste anything. If you have more muscle mass than you currently need, it will get rid of it. If you have more bone density than you need, it will get rid of it. It is so important to understand that the body will remove anything that costs it unecessary energy to maintain (bone and muscle tissue have a high energy cost and fat has a lowe energy cost). To illustrate this point: You have 20kg of muscle and 20kg of fat mass. You don’t exercise for 3 months. You now have 15kg of muscle mass and 25kg of fat (if you stepped on the scales you’d be thinking how well you’ve done by not gaining any weight though – very decepetive). Basically the body removed the excess muscle becuase it cost too much to maintain and you gained fat through being sedenatary and the body’s affinity for fat. Want to know more about the body’s affinity to fat and why this could be keeping you overweight (and what the heck homeostasis has to do with all this)? You’ll need to read my next blog hee hee
With Australians set to spend $1 billion on weight loss products by 2015-2016, does it make you wonderÂ just how effective thisÂ industry is? It’s becoming pretty clear to me that there’s more money in obesity and sickness than in health a fact that weight loss industry is certainly clear of. People who are vulnerable and susceptible are being targeted by amoral and highly deceptive marketing strategies that make incredible promises that simply cannot be substantiated. There seems to be very little policing going on and huge amounts of money exchanging hands. I would put it out there that there needs to be some very simple rules that need to be followed for advertising a product:
1. The product MUST have proper independent scientific research backing its claims
2. It MUST have been shown to work in this research
3. The weight MUST be able to be kept off when no longer using the product
4. The results achieved in the research MUST be able to be replicated in a real world situation (i.e. it doesn’t require 8 hours of exercise every day)
Clearly these guidelines need to be more defined but I really think if we started with something like this, we’d see a massive improvement in the quality of the indstry.
The issue of taking supplements is a highlyÂ contentiousÂ and fiery topic.
People who take supplements swear by them yet the science just doesnâ€™t seem to be there for most of them.
My question is then, do we take anecdotal evidence as gospal or do we rely on what the scientific data is saying?
If we do decide to supplement, who do we trust for the right dosage and combination?
The supplement stores selling them (hardly objective) or the people taking them (are they qualified to do so)?
To me it seems like a minefield where these isnâ€™t an obvious conclusion.