In this blog, I’m going to discuss lipids, more commonly known as “fats”. Most people associate fats with excessive amounts of body fat, when, in fact, this is an incorrect thought process.
First, let’s define dietary fats, or lipids.
Lipids are chemically defined as a substance insoluble in water but soluble in alcohol, ether, or chloroform.
However, lipids are an important component of a living cell. They are the building blocks of the structure and function of the living cell. Examples of lipids include fats, oils, waxes, certain vitamins (A, D, E, and K), hormones/steroids (such as cortisone), and most of the non-protein membranes of the cell. Lipids also make up about 70% of the dry weight of the nervous system. Lipids are crucial for the healthy functioning of the nerve cells.
There are some essential lipids that need to be obtained from the diet. The main biological functions of lipids include storing energy, as lipids may be broken down to yield large amounts of energy. Lipids also form the structural components of cell membranes and form various messengers and signaling molecules within the body.
But what does that mean?! Does that mean I should go out and consume a bunch of fried foods?
Whoa, whoa, whoa! Slow your roll. First, we need to understand the difference between types of fats.
To spare you the scientific jargon, we’ll start off by saying that there are “good fats” and there are “bad fats”.
Here is a list of good and bad fats, and 10 benefits of eating fats by the Poliquin Group, published November of 2013:
Good fats are unrefined animal fats, fat from fish, and select fats from plants, such as avocado, olive, nuts, and tropical oils. They tend to include a higher proportion of saturated or monounsaturated fats or be higher in omega-3s.
The “bad” fats are vegetable fats, such as soy, peanut, corn, safflower, sunflower, and canola oil that have been refined. They tend to be high in omega-6 fats and are highly susceptible to oxidation during processing, which makes them reactive and damaging to the body.
You’ll generally get a greater benefit from eating good fats when you limit your carbohydrate intake to below 60% of the the diet, which is the amount recommended by the U.S. government.
Here are some benefits of including good fats in your diet:
- Better body composition
Eating a greater proportion of your calories from fat can help you achieve optimal body composition. Your body requires a decent amount of fat to stay lean for the following reasons:
-Fat makes up the outside layer of the cells in your body. Ideally, this lipid layer will be composed of omega-3 fats because this makes the cell more sensitive to insulin, allowing for an energetic metabolism and less inflammation.
-Omega-3 fats help turn on genes that are involved with lipolysis or the burning of fat, while turning off the genes that store fat.
-Omega-3 fats also support thyroid hormone function, which is a hormone closely involved in body fat regulation. Low thyroid hormone is a common reason people can’t lose fat.
-Cholesterol, which comes with fat, is used to make hormones. Eating a greater proportion of fat allows for hormonal balance of androgens such as testosterone and estrogen. Fat loss and the maintenance of a lean physique are much easier if hormones are balanced.
-Fat is filling. When paired with a nice dose of protein, fat can lead to a greater satisfaction from eating, curbing hunger and cravings. Research suggests that the medium chain fatty acids such as coconut and red palm oil are the most satiating of all.
- More Muscle!
Have more beneficial fat in your diet produces muscle gain with training because it supports hormone balance and recovery from intense exercise. A higher fat diet with simultaneous carb restriction can elevate growth hormone, which inhibits muscle breakdown.
- Easier Fat Loss
It’s well accepted that eating some fat is necessary if you want to lose fat. It was a big mistake to go low-fat for fat loss because people tend to replace natural fats with carbs, while food manufacturers replaced fat with sugar, leading to huge increase in nutrient-poor calories that the body stores as fat.
A fascinating Swedish study found that when diabetics ate a low-carb, high fat (50 percent fat, 20 percent low-glycemic carbs, and 30 percent protein) they lost equal amounts of fat after 6 months (9lbs) as the group that ate a low-fat, high-carb diet (30 percent fat, 60 percent carb, 10 percent protein). The low-carb, high-fat group, decreased insulin and had better blood sugar regulation than the high-carb group, indicating better metabolic chemistry.
- Better Reproductive Health
Fat is critical for reproductive health in both men and women because it’s used to manufacture hormones and improves gene signaling that regulates hormone balance.
For women, not eating enough fat is a common cause of infertility, while eating the wrong fats increases complications from PMS and menopause. For men, lack of good fats reduces testosterone and other androgen hormones that are critical for reproductive health.
- Better Brain Function & Mode with Less Risk of Depression
Your brain is mainly made of cholesterol and fat, most of which should be essential fatty acids, in particular DHA. The precise characteristics of the lipid layer of brain neurons influences electrical properties, which dictate everything from mood to neuromuscular function to cognition.
Adequate good fat intake helps prevent depression and one side effect of the low-fat diets that have been erroneously recommended to lower cholesterol levels in an increase in suicides. This is caused by a deficiency of cholesterol and fat in the brain, which causes lower levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin that makes people feel good.
- Stronger Bones & Less Risk of Osteoporosis
Healthy fats in a the right ratio are needed for bone mineral density and the prevention of osteoporosis. Fats are involved in calcium metabolism and the vitamins K2 and D are both fat-soluble nutrients that collaborate in building bone. Many factors influence bone health, but providing the building blocks for bone with adequate “good” fats and the ideal omega-3 and -6 ratio can only help.
- Reduce Cancer Risk
Eating “good” fats as part of a diet that optimizes macronutrient intake for glucose management and decreases inflammation will reduce cancer risk. Research suggests that omega-6-rich oils promote cancer progression and metastasis, whereas monounsaturated fat, such as that found in olive has a protective effect.
- Better Cholesterol Ratio and Reduce Heart Disease Risk
Health authorities have been telling us for decades that we need to avoid saturated fat to reduce heart disease risk. Since the USDA release the low-fat guidelines in 1977, Americans have reduced their heart disease rates, but obesity and diabetes rates have skyrocketed.
A review of the issue is out of the scope of this blog post, but practical points that are based on the strongest evidence suggests the following:
-Eating saturated fat does not increase blood triglyceride levels, but carbohydrates do. High blood triglycerides cause inflammation and plaque build up in the arteries, increasing heart disease risk.
-Small, dense LDL cholesterol particles do increase heart risk. Large, fluffy LDL particles are NOT associated with elevated heart disease risk and are considered benign. Saturated fat rates the large, fluffy LDL, but has no effect on the small LDL.
-Saturated fat raises HDL, the “good” cholesterol that lowers your risk of heart disease.
-Many foods that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol, such as eggs and coconut oil, can decrease inflammation, lower circulating triglycerides, and reduce insulin due to the natural antioxidants they contain.
-Large scale studies show no association between saturated fat intake and heart disease risk. Meanwhile, a recent study of over 58,000 Japanese adults found that higher saturated fat intake was associated with a 31 percent reduction in mortality from stroke and an 18 percent reduction in heart disease.
This is noteworthy because the Japanese eat a non-Western diet, suggesting that disease prevention is best achieved with alternatives to the Western diet.
-Saturated fats don’t damage easily in high heat, making them the safest fats to cook with because oxidized (damaged) fats cause inflammation in the arteries.
- Stronger Immune System
Saturated fats such as those found in butter, coconut oil, and red palm oil contain the fatty acids auric and myristic acid. They are anti–microbial, and anti-viral, and anti-final and have been found to decrease infection rates by killing bacteria such as harmful candida yeast.
- Better Skin and Eye Health
Dry skin and eyes is often caused by deficiency in fatty acids. Getting adequate omega-3 fats and a variety of saturated fats in your diet can help improve the body’s ability to lubricated effectively.