Health fats can be an extremely confusing subject. It often feels like they media changes it’s mind every few months around which “superfood” or “healthy” fat we should be eating, whether eggs are in or out, and if it’s avocado, coconut, or olive oil we should be using. Plus the everything that is reported to happen when you eat the wrong fat is flat out scary; cancer, diabetes, weight gain, and on.
When you are beginning to follow a Paleo diet, it is very important to have good understanding and healthy relationship with good fats. Which, of course, starts with knowing what those fats are. The good news is, it’s really not as complicated as pop culture news likes to make it out to be.
A couple points to start out:
- There are only three groups of fats: saturated fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats. The commonly known omega-3 and omega-6 are part of the polyunsaturated fats.
- The source of the fats doesn’t matter, the monounsaturated fat in your avocado is the same monounsaturated fat found in beef.
- And the foods you’re eating are made up of combinations of fats. Beef is not purely saturated fat and avocado oil is not purely monounsaturated.
Saturated fats are most abundant in animal products and tropical oils (coconut and palm). They are highly stable and resistant to oxidation. That translates to them not going rancid when exposed to high heat as is done in cooking, which is pretty big benefit, as well as being less likely to oxidize in our bodies after we’ve eaten them. Oxidized fats can contribute to issues such as plaque buildup and inflammation in the arteries.
They also play an important role in the structure of our cells and in our brain function. In fact, the majority of our brain is made of saturated fat so getting enough of them is important for cognitive health and function. In our cells, cell walls composed of saturated fats are flexible and supple while other fats can cause them to become brittle.
Saturated fats are also the fats the media often demonizes. But does eating these fats really cause weight gain, heart disease, or cancer? Slowly mounting evidence points to a firm ‘no’. The current fear of eating saturated fats is based off of epidemiological studies that are great for finding correlation, but cannot be used to determine causation. And there haven’t been any well run clinical trials that have shown fat to cause weight gain or ill health. That means that advice to limit the saturated fat you’re eating has been based on very shaky science. Over the past 50 years many studies have been done looking to prove that saturated fat creates any negative health effects but so far all of them have failed. That’s a lot of studies to have nothing to show for it. Nina Teicholz’s best-selling book The Big Fat Surprise covers the entire history of the misplaced crusade against saturated fats and how nutritional advice went wrong from start to finish.
On the Paleo diet, saturated fats are encouraged. This recommendation is based off of the evidence that these fats are not only beneficial, but have a long history of being part of the human diet. Unlike vegetable oils, we humans have had a long and healthy relationship with saturated fats. Because saturated fat plays an important role in our health and is found in whole foods, this is where much of your fat should come from on the Paleo diet.
Monounsaturated fats are found in animals and plants. 40%-50% of the fat found in beef is monounsaturated and 50%-75% of fat in chicken. Avocados and olives are well known plant sources of monounsaturated fat that are encouraged on the Paleo diet. Monounsaturated fats are less stable than saturated fats and more likely to oxidize when exposed to heat so they are best to use cold, like on salads, or at low to medium cooking heat.
Polyunsaturated fats are the most unstable fats. They are very likely to oxidize when exposed to heat. They are found abundantly in vegetable oils such as canola and corn oil which are heavily processed at high heat to make them shelf stable. This makes them likely to already be oxidized by the time you purchase them or likely to oxidize in the body and trigger inflammation in your arteries. They are also high in omega-6s which triggers inflammation throughout the body.
Polyunsaturated fats can also cause your body to produce more insulin which causes you to overeat and your fat cells to keep storing fat rather than burning it for fuel. It’s best to avoid these oils on the Paleo diet. You’ll get as much polyunsaturated fat as your body needs when you eat healthy forms of fat like meat, cheese, avocados, and olives that have just a little polyunsaturated fats and a good balance of omega-3s to omega-6s. Remember, no food contains just one type of fat so when you are eating a whole foods diet you’re getting all the nutrients and healthy fats you need. Don’t follow the hype and avoid red meats out of fear of fat; eat a good balance of red meats, lean meats, and veggies.
Source: Rx Primal Blog