Should I eat a low-fat diet?

 Should I eat a low-fat diet? Is saturated fat bad for me?

The low-fat diet has been around for many decades, and I still hear nutritionists touting it as a the main way to lose weight. But does a low-fat diet really help you lose bodyfat? Is saturated fat evil? Will low-fat yogurt fix all of my problems?

In short, the answer is…no. But that’s a bit too simple.

And don’t misunderstand me, I’m not suggesting a high-fat diet. or at least not a diet filled with fried foods and cheeseburgers. You can go overboard with anything, and I’ve seen some meals that could cause heart palpitations by sight alone. (Creamy Alfredo with bacon, ham, and butter, anyone?) But except for extreme overuse, integrating fats into your diet can be incredibly helpful, it’s really the source of the fat you need to worry about.

Fat can help make us feel more full, and keep our sugar cravings and low-blood sugar attacks at bay. Our body uses fat for various repairs and energy; and I actually lost a lot of weight when I stopped my low-fat habits. It’s been proven that there have been more heart problems and fat-gain once the low-fat diet gained popularity.

coconut oilThe video below describes the simple chemical make-up of the different types of fat. I’ve also written an article with similar information giving the chemical make-up of the different fats, and another article about the dangers of vegetable oil. Start there to get an idea of the science behind it. But here are my basic suggestions:

Saturated Fat:
Saturated fat has gotten a bad rap, but it’s actually an important part of our diet. Our brains use it, and our cells use it for elasticity. Like any calorie, it’s also a form of energy. And it’s actually easier for our body to convert fat into energy than it is to convert protein into energy! So I purposely make sure that fat is included in most of my meals. I prefer saturated fats from vegetable sources, since the medium chain triglycerides are a quick source of energy, and most vegetable sources have other benefits (coconuts are magical). But fat is very “dense” in calories, so don’t overdo it. If you eat animal protein, you’re automatically getting saturated fat, and I wouldn’t suggest adding any more. There are various amounts of saturated fat in most oils and plant foods, the percentage just varies greatly. I’m only listing the sources that contain a large percentage.
Here are the common sources of saturated fat:

  • Meat of any kind
  • Dairy (cheese, milk, butter, and all other forms of dairy).
  • Coconut Oil
  • Palm Oil

Monounsaturated Fat:
Monounsatured fat is found mostly in plant sources. (Olives, nuts, seeds, etc.) The most common source is olive oil. Saturated fat is the most stable, but monounsaturated is the second most stable. Unsaturated molecules are “empty” and are open to becoming rancid or destroyed by heat. If unprocessed and unheated, then this fat is very healthy. In monounsatured fats there is only one molecule that is “unsaturated,” so the rest of the fat is stable, and it will only get partially destroyed. This is safe to eat raw, or at a very low heat. Most plant sources have both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, but they have a varying percentage of each. Here’s the ones that are high in monounsaturated and low in poly:

  • Olive Oil
  • Almonds
  • Avocado
  • Macadamia Nuts
  • Hazelnuts

 Polyunsaturated Fat:

Polyunsaturated fat has several unsaturated molecules. This makes it very unstable, and easily susceptible to damage. In a raw, unprocessed form, these fats can be very good for you. Omega 3 and Omega 6 are both polyunsaturated fats. But…most of these oils can be damaged just in the processing to make them, so they’re often already destroyed by the time you buy them. I never cook with polyunsaturated fats, and I use them more as a supplement (like cold-pressed chia seed oil or flax oil.) You also get these fats when you eat nuts, seeds, or other plant products. There are even trace amounts in animal fats, although it’s usually destroyed by cooking.
Here are some common polyunsaturated fat sources:

  • Safflower Seed Oil
  • Canola Oil
  • Flax Oil
  • Chia Seed Oil
  • Corn Oil
  • Sunflower Seeds





All About Fats

Saturated Fat:

As mentioned in our prior post on Macronutrients, saturated fat is a fat in which all available molecular bonds are filled, or “saturated” with hydrogen, with a single bond between the carbon pairs. But what does that mean? Several things…differences in the way they deal with heat, how they’re used in our bodies, and how they look as food.

How can I tell if it’s a saturated fat? It’s solid at room temperature. Saturated fat usually comes from tropical oils (coconut and palm) or an animal derived fat (butter, lard). This is because the cellular composition is very stable, making them solid.

How does saturated fat react to heat? Very well! It is the most stable of fats. Since the molecular structure is already “filled” with hydrogen, there is little room for rancidity or oxidation. The structure cannot easily be changed, so it is the safest fat for high-heat cooking.

Saturated Fat

Monounsaturated Fat:

Monounsaturated fat is a little different than saturated; it has one molecule free of carbon and one double bond. This one “unsaturated” molecule makes it slightly more unstable than saturated fat.

How can I tell it’s a monounsaturated fat? It is liquid at room temperate but solid in slightly cooler temperature, like the refrigerator. The liquid texture is caused by the one double bond, which gives the fat a more “slippery” structure. Almost all foods contain a mixture of fat types, but there is usually a larger percentage of one than the other, (i.e. even cheese has saturated and unsaturated fat.) The foods with the highest amount of monounsaturated fats include olive oil, almonds, avocado, macadamia nuts, and hazelnuts.

How does mono-fat react to heat? It has a lower spoke point, so it’s more sensitive to heat than saturated fat. For cooking, only use for light-stir frying. The one “unsaturated” molecule makes it unstable since that molecule is “empty” and has room to turn rancid or oxidize. Our body can’t use these destroyed molecules. So it is fine to use for light heat, but never use for high heat (such as frying).

Monounsaturated Fats

Polyunsaturated Fat:

Polyunsaturated fat is a string of molecular bonds in which multiple molecules are devoid of carbon and there is more than one double carbon bond. Why does this matter? Because the “empty” or “carbon-less” molecules are very unstable, and can easily turn rancid or be corrupted. Why is that bad? Because our body can’t “use” the destroyed molecules. Although fat has a bad rap, our body has many uses for it. It uses it for fuel, feeds our brain, and builds our cells. The “destroyed” molecules are simply stored as body fat, virtually unable to be used, or they can stick to our arteries. (Yup, it’s not only cholesterol that does that. Hence why hydrogenated oils- which are altered polyunsaturated fats-can cause heart disease.)

How can I tell it’s a polyunsaturated fat? It’s liquid, even in the refrigerator. The oils that contain a majority of polyunsaturated fat are: safflower oil, canola oil, sunflower seed oil, flax oil, etc.

How does polyunsaturated fat react to heat? It’s very sensitive to heat. In fact, it’s so sensitive, it can be destroyed by simply the extracting process. So when you buy it, it’s often already rancid, unless the company specifically processes it carefully. Since there are multiple “empty” molecules in the chain, the molecules are that many times more likely to be destroyed and oxidized.

The famous Omegas. You have probably heard a lot about Omega 3 fatty acids, and maybe also Omega 6, Omega 9, and so on. These important fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats, although they occur in varying amounts in certain foods. They are also very important for heart health, brain function, and energy levels. (We will devote an entire blog post to these guys at a later time.) The most important fact to remember for now- they are VERY sensitive to heat, and you can get them in more than just fish oil. Stay tuned for more info.

Polyunsaturated Fat

Trans Fat/Hydrogenated Oils:

These toxic fats have gotten a lot of media attention in recent years. Hydrogenated oils are made by heating polyunsaturated fats to a high heat, then putting hydrogen through them. This makes an otherwise liquid fat into a solid one, trying to emulate butter. The problem is, it turns the fat into trans fat, and creates a kind of rancid, poisonous fat. Hydrogenated fats are closer to plastic than to food.

What are the negative effects? The oils are transformed, and our bodies don’t know how to use them. They enter our fat cells, but then can’t be burned for fuel like normal dietary fat, so they stay there. Also, they have no nutritional value. They hold our fat cells hostage, and give our bodies nothing in return. Not only that, the destroyed fats stick to our arteries, increasing the risk for heart attacks, hypertension, and high cholesterol. Hydrogenated oils are illegal in many countries, so I suggest following suite.

What contains hydrogenated oils? Margarine, and most processed food. Unless you shop primarily at Whole Foods or health food stores, always check labels!! It’s worth avoiding these toxic little devils.