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We hear it all the time: more plants, less fat. Sometime in the late 1950s, The Seven Countries Study began, and its entire purpose was to answer questions about eating patterns around the globe, and how they related to heart disease. They hypothesized, “…that the rate of coronary disease in populations and individuals would vary in relation to their physical characteristics and lifestyle, particularly in fat composition of the diet and serum cholesterol levels.” The study happened in three phases, and continued into 2014. They found that the Mediterranean diet “was associated with a 39% lower coronary mortality risk and a 29% lower cardiovascular mortality risk in middle-aged and elderly European men and women in the HALE project“, even though the Mediterranean diet’s primary source of fat is Olive Oil, and they eat a lot of it. Of course, everyone loves Olive Oil these days, and we all know that it’s one of the healthiest fats to eat. Did you know, though, that if they’re removing something from a food, they’re replacing what was removed with something, and in this case it was primarily sugar in some form, or other chemicals.
Lipids have 9 kcals/gram (more than any of the other macronutrients) and are fatty acids, cholesterol, phospholipids, and triglycerides. Lipids are energy dense, and should be 20%-35% of your daily calorie intake. Lipids that are solid at room temperature are called fats, and the liquids are called oils. They are all still fats, and some are healthier fro you than others.
Phospholipids are fats that contain phosphorous (like lecithin),and a necessary part of every cell. They are emulsifiers that allow fats to create a colloidal mixture with water. In plain English, the mixture doesn’t settle. So, milk is a phospholipid.
Cholesterol in this sense does not mean blood cholesterol, but as a bile acid solid that is found as a component of cell membranes that maintains integrity and structure. Cholesterol literally allows us to move, because it allows our cells to change shape as necessary, unlike plant cells. Our bodies make cholesterol, so it’s not essential for our survival. We get cholesterol from animal products. There is no “good” or “bad” food cholesterol, and our daily intake should be less than 300 mgs. per day.
And to answer your questions about blood cholesterol, we get it when we eat fat – especially saturated fats and cholesterol – and it can raise our body’s blood cholesterol. This process happens in the liver, and there is good cholesterol (HDL, High-density lipoprotein) and bad (LDL, low-density lipoprotein).
Back to food cholesterol: your body uses it to make many things, like steroid hormones (testosterone and estrogen), vitamin D, and bile.
We find fatty acids in our food AND our bodies. There are three primary types: saturated, unsaturated, and trans.
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. They come from animal products, full and low-fat dairy, butter, pork/chicken/beef. Anything that comes from animals is high in saturated fat. There is one exception, and that’s tropical oils. They are VERY high in saturated fat. Think coconut and palm kernel oil. The net effect of eating saturated fats raise your total cholesterol by way of raising your LDL.
Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Mono-unsaturated fats are plant fats, and are very effective at lowering your LDL and raising your HDL. Some really good sources of Mono-unsaturated fats are peanut, avocado, olive, and canola oils. You can also get these fats by eating peanuts, cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds, pecans, and avocados.
Poly unsaturated fats are essential fatty acids. As we addressed earlier, essential means that the human body does not make these things on its own, and you need to supplement these if you want them. Poly unsaturated fats are the Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.
Omega-3s have been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack, decrease inflammation and systemic inflation in rheumatoid arthritis, may be useful in treatment of behavioral disorders and brain development, and decrease blood clotting because of their thinning and anti-inflammatory properties. You can find Omega-3s in fish oil, canola oil, walnuts, flax seeds, soybean oil, crab, shrimp, and mussels, among other places. The most-usable source of Omega-3 fatty acids is fatty fish. Women should eat 1.1 grams/day, and men 1.6 grams/day.
Omega-6 fatty acids are found in vegetable oils (safflower, soybean, sunflower), and are responsible for increased blood clotting, increased inflammatory response, and a balance to Omega-3s.
Unsaturated fats lower LDL, and protect against cardiovascular conditions. Most products contain poly unsaturated fats (as soy oil), so using olive or canola oil can provide a balance.
And the black snake in the room:
Right around the time the Seven Countries Study came out, scientists figured out a way to chemically alter fats in edible form, and created industrial fats that were used in margarine, baked goods, and fast food. We went along on our merry way, happy to have shelf-stable butter-like substances and hot, crispy french fries, until one day, WHAM! Scientists figured out that people were becoming ill and dying, and it was the people who were ingesting mass quantities of fried foods and refrigerator-not-needed butterlike salve. After they had enough of this, we were told that there is no amount of trans fat that is safe for ingestion, and it is generally not recognized as a safe food product. As it turns out, trans fats raise LDL and blood cholesterol, and lower HDL. If you’ve been following along, that’s the exact opposite of what we’ve been trying to accomplish. Luckily, in 2015, the FDA mandated the removal of trans fats in the American diet by 2018. Homemade, of course, is a different story.
If you love your trans fats, other countries have legal limits to their content.
If you don’t love your trans fats, because plastic vein blockage, they you’re in luck. Most products have already eliminated the use of trans fats. So, your butter substitute is still (probably) full of saturated fats, but it’s (probably) no longer full of trans fats. This is one of the items on the nutrition label that I pay specific attention to because no amount is a safe amount. Let that sink in for a sec. Then, switch to unsaturated fats, because that’s how to get that gunk out of your body.
Those eating the Mediterranean diet may be on to something, and we’ll cover that in the article about designing your diet in a few days, so stay tuned!
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