Your genes expect you to consume a variety of healthy fats as a significant part of your diet. Fats are among the most important molecules found in the human body. Cell membranes are comprised largely of fats; your brain is mostly fat; fat protects your organs and transports fat-soluble vitamins; and we store valuable energy in the form of saturated fat.
Most dietary fats found in their true natural state – even saturated fats – are good for us, but clearly some of the dietary fats we encounter in the modern world are bad, and it’s very important to distinguish between the healthy and the harmful fats. Trans and partially-hydrogenated fats are among the more dangerous foods you can eat. These highly toxic fats (also known as industrial fats or “Franken fats”) are created by chemically treating vegetable and seed oils at high temperatures to render them solid. It’s an inexpensive way to enhance the shelf life of all manner of processed and frozen foods. Contrary to popular belief, these agents do not even improve the flavor of food; it’s all about shelf life and thus increased profits for the manufacturer, at the blatant expense of your health.
Trans and partially-hydrogenated fats oxidize to form free-radical chain reactions that have been shown to damage cell membranes and other tissue in your cardiovascular system, immune system, nervous system and brain. Consumption of these agents has long been associated with cancer, heart disease, obesity, inflammation, and accelerated aging. They should simply never be consumed – sobering when you consider the widely-cited estimate that 40 percent of the processed, packaged, frozen, junk food items in a typical supermarket contain these ingredients.
Another class of fats that warrant concern are polyunsatured fatty acids, also known as PUFAs. Excessive intake of PUFAs, (found in industrial oils such as canola, corn, safflower, and soybean; margarine and butter sprays and spreads; and assorted baked, frozen, packaged and processed foods) can also compromise health. These fats also oxidize easily and may contribute to systemic inflammation, as the immune system tries to deal with the oxidation. They may be a major factor in arterial oxidation and inflammation. Your endocrine system is especially sensitive to PUFA consumption, which can lead to symptoms such as a slowed metabolism, low energy levels, and sluggish thyroid function. PUFAs are also thought to be major players in metabolic syndrome and cancer. They should be replaced with more stable saturated fats (butter, coconut oil, palm oil, lard, and tallow) for cooking, and tasty grass-fed animal fats, wild-caught fish, and high-fat plants that contain monounsaturated fats (avocados, macadamia nuts, olives/olive oil).
Trans and partially-hydrogenated fats and PUFAs contain high levels of omega-6 fatty acids. Grain-fattened CAFO meat is also higher in omega-6 fat, as are many types of nuts. While omega-6 fats offer some health benefits, we tend to consume them in excessive amounts while not eating enough of the complementary omega-3 fats. An omega-6:omega-3 imbalance promotes a pro-inflammatory condition in the body. O6:O3 ratios have recently become a hot topic in progressive health circles, and it’s worth making a concerted effort to get your ratio more in line with your genetic requirements for health than with the obscene imbalances produced by SAD habits.
While bumping up your omega-3 intake with oily, cold-water fish and fish oil supplements is a sound strategy, it may be even more important to reduce your omega-6 intake by cutting out grains and grain-based processed foods, the PUFAs found in seed oils, and chemically-altered fats.
Quick Fat Summary
- Healthy high-fat and cholesterol-containing foods are critical to optimal metabolic function and general health.
- The Conventional Wisdom “lipid hypothesis of heart disease” is relevant only if you are a sugar burner, with high levels of insulin and glucose in the blood promoting oxidation and inflammation.
- Trans and partially-hydrogenated oils (processed, packaged frozen, junk foods) and PUFAs (vegetable and seed oils, margarine, buttery sprays, baked and packaged goods) disturb healthy cellular function and promote systemic inflammation, obesity, and all manner of serious disease. Total elimination of objectional PUFA oils and Franken fats I critical.
- Emphasize intake of healthy fats, including saturated animal fats (ideally pasture-raised/grass-fed, or organic), oily, cold water fish (high in omega-3), and monounsaturated fat plant foods (avocado, macadamia nuts, olives/extra-virgin olive oil). A healthy “high-fat” (by SAD standards) diet supports optimal hormone and cellular function, promotes satiety, and raises HDL.
- Strive to improve O6:O3 balance by eliminating bad fats, moderating intake of CAFO animal products and nuts (except macadamia), and increasing omega-3 foods and supplements.