by Susan Blake, NTP, BS, CGP
For years we were told to limit our fat intake in order to maintain healthy weight levels. The result is people end up often eating more carbohydrates. Even if choosing “healthy” carbs, when in excess, can lead to a variety of conditions including metabolic imbalances, leaky gut, and inflammation.
The problem is the body is not designed to store much sugar. It is however, able to convert the excess sugar into fatty acids and cholesterol, substances it depends upon to create and maintain cellular integrity and replication. Fatty acids are vital for other reasons, too, particularly saturated fatty acids, which:
- Create a protective surfactant in the lungs
- Mobilize calcium into bones
- Reduce the levels of lipoprotein A (a CVD risk factor)
- Help protect the liver from alcohol and medication
- Act as signaling messengers for metabolism and the immune system
- Are a component of brain and nervous tissue
- Are an energy source (the heart prefers fatty acids as fuel)
Some foods also contain short (SCFA) and medium (MCFA) chain saturated fatty acids that have additional benefits. Short chain fatty acids are fuel for intestinal cells and have anti-inflammatory properties, while medium chain fatty acids have antimicrobial properties, are used directly as fuel, and are beneficial for weight loss.
Even though the body can convert the glucose from carbohydrates into fatty acids and other helpful substances, I still recommend eating more fat and less carbs. But not all fat is created equal and some forms are not beneficial at all! Avoid trans fats, those found in anything “partially hydrogenated.” Why? Well, trans fats negatively affect the total cholesterol/HDL ratio (ie raises LDL and lowers HDL) – exactly opposite of what we want! In addition, cellular function can be compromised if trans fat is incorporated into the phospholipid bilayer surrounding every cell. The FDA is now on board and has required all food manufacturers to remove this deadly ingredient by 2018.
I also recommend avoiding the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) found in refined oil (and in anything cooked with or fried in these oils) as well as those found in industrially-raised meat and dairy products, farmed fish and high-heat roasted nuts. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are very heat sensitive and become oxidized free radicals when heat or pressure-treated. Stay away from these!
Small amounts of certain polyunsaturated fats, however – cold-pressed, unrefined omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids – are necessary and beneficial. It’s confusing, I know.
Another important and often misunderstood fatty acid is arachidonic acid (AA). Although AA is not a saturated fatty acid, it is often found in meat and dairy products, especially those that are industrially raised. We get some from our diet, and the body also makes AA, which is then transformed into an inflammatory compound. We know that inflammation is how the body heals a wound, fights an infection and gets rid of damaged cells. So some inflammation is necessary, although too much is harmful. Because of complications from stress and high insulin (remember that excessive carb intake?) the body may shunt production toward an inflammatory pathway, producing more AA and more inflammation. The easiest way to resolve this dilemma, in my opinion, is to limit your consumption of animal foods to those of only the highest quality and decrease the amount of processed and excessive carbohydrates.
Each person has different dietary needs and limitations but in general I encourage the consumption of high quality fatty acids naturally found in:
- grass fed or pasture raised meat
- eggs and whole fat, unpasteurized dairy products
- wild caught seafood
- coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils olives and extra virgin olive oil
- avocado and unrefined avocado oil
- soaked and dehydrated nuts and seeds
Lots of vegetables, a moderate amount of fat, dairy (if tolerated) and protein, and small amounts of fruit and grains (again, if tolerated). An important reason to include some kind of animal fat is to get the very important fat soluble vitamins – A, D, and K. Even if you prefer to not consume animal foods, you can still receive many beneficial saturated fatty acids, though, you may miss out on some essential nutrients.
How to Eat 3.5 g of Saturated Fat*
Avocado – 1.1 cup, cubed
Brazil nuts whole – 2.5 Tbs (4 nuts)
Coconut oil – 1 tsp
Pumpkin seeds – 1/3 cup
Dark chocolate – 1/2 oz
Whole egg – 2.3
Butter – 1.3 tsp
Vanilla ice cream – 1/3 cup, rounded
Whole milk – 5.6 fl oz
Whole plain yogurt – 6 oz
Bacon – 2.9 slices
90% ground beef – 2.6 oz
Beef tallow – 1.5 tsp
Wild Chinook salmon – 3.8 oz
Wild boar – 9.5 oz
*Using a nutritional guide from the USDA, I modified each serving size to contain 3.5 g of saturated fat. Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference 28 Software v.3.5.3 2016-10-05
Technical information about saturated fatty acid, polyunsaturated fatty acids, inflammation is from: Textbook of Functional Medicine, Ed. Jones, D. S. 2010
Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism, Gropper & Smith. 2013
Weston A Price Foundation
Nutritional Therapy Training
Susan Blake, NTP, BS, CGP is a nutritional therapist and chapter leader for the Weston A. Price Foundation. If you are ready to change your lifestyle and develop true health, contact The Whole Body Shop at email@example.com or 253.778.0684. Learn more at thewholebodyshop.net.