Poor fat. It took a beating over the past couple of decades. The US Surgeon Generals office, American Heart Association and the USDA lead the thrust of the fat-burning-frenzy-witch-hunt. (I’m sure those older than 25 remember the low-fat fad of the 80s, and this reference:)
Obesity and heart disease were on the rise and, well, SOMETHING had to be the culprit right? After a quick glance (scientifically speaking), scientists found that the plaques building up in American’s arteries were composed of fats and that certain countries with diets high in animal fat also had higher rates of heart disease. Naturally, fat was their answer. (nevermind the fact that we were becoming more sedentary, eating more processed crap and streamlining the food industry to make it cheaper (and thus unhealthier), read Omnivore’s Dilemma.) Unfortunately, science has failed to produce any REAL evidence that fat, eaten from non-industrialized and fiddled-with sources and in healthy quantities, causes anything negative. Huh, a macronutrient that humans were created to ingest and process doesn’t actually harm them… weird.
Anyway, the point of the above paragraph is to tell you to eat your fats. Nix the “low fat” or “fat free” junk and just eat real fat from real food. Certain fats, yes, do make us sick (thank you trans fat) but most fats actually offer cardiovascular protection (how’s THAT for irony?), improved body composition and alleviate depression. (see? Fat can make you happy!)
Fat also supports metabolism (it’s amazing HOW MANY processes in the body depend on fats), the health of various body tissues (like your brain. Kinda important.), immunity, hormone production, the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K and cell signalling (think nerve impulses and all the microscopic interactions between your cells. Yep, there’s a VAST network of intricate communication going on without your knowledge. It’s like Harry Potter discovering there’s a whole ‘nother world composed of wizards.)
I’m going to explain some fatty terms and in the next post, we’ll get into the practical applications of all this information.
Fatty Acid: organic molecule composed of a string of carbon and hydrogen atoms. There’s three flavors: saturated, mono- and polyunsaturated.
In saturated fats, all the carbons have their 2 hydrogen buddies attached (except for the ends, but don’t worry about them.) Monounsaturated fats (MUFA) contain 1 double bond (meaning two carbons wanted to hold hands and exclude the hydrogen atoms. Meanie pants.) Polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) have more than one double bond (aka, meanie-pants-carbons). Due to their chemical structures, each type of fatty acid acts differently in the body and out (sat fats are solid at room temp while MUFA and PUFA are liquid).
Triglyceride: 3 fatty acids + 1 glycerol (organic compound) = 1 triglyceride. TGs are just the packaged form in which fatty acids travel. Mainly in our dietary fat sources but it’s also how they’re stored in our body too. TGs are broken down in our digestion system and the fatty acids are incorporated into other tissues (cell membranes), used in some sort of metabolic process or are repackaged into another TG and stored in the body for later use.
Omega-3 or -6 fatty acids: PUFA with the first double bond at either the 3rd or 6th carbon, respectively. The body can’t make them, so they’re considered “essential fatty acids,” or if you me, “super-special fatty acids.” Three main o-3 acids are: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The main O-6 is linoleic acid (you’d think that whoever named the two would have given them more distinctive names…). We’re suppose to have a ratio of 1:1- 4:1 (o-3: o-6) but the average Western diet is closer to 1:20-30. Whoops, might be why we all feel kinda off all the time.
Trans fat: PUFA mutated into horribleness by the injection of more hydrogen atoms than it should hold (partially or fully hydrogenated oils). These do funky and sinister things in the body. They’re like the muttations from Hunger Games.
Okie dokie, so there’s the basic vocabulary associated with fat. Next time we’ll go over how to incoporate fat into your diet. Until then, go eat a fried egg (cooked in coconut oil) sandwich with a slice of avocado on top!