Apologies for the mini-hiatus. Injuries, work, life in general conspired against me. Things are more or less under control again so back to the posting!
Recently, I suffered a set-back in my running training. In particular, I injured my knee (with a leg press machine no less!) and I have been working on recovery for it given I have a half marathon coming up this weekend. The decision of going is still up in the air at this point.
So how is this all related to the post today? Well, one of the things I’ve been doing to help my joints recover and strengthen is focussing on my Omega-3 intake. The average person should be getting 3 grams a day. Runners, athletes, and active people who work their joints more frequently should be getting three times that. So as I gulped down my 2 tablespoons of Omega-3 oil, I remembered that I had promised to discuss the other siblings in the Fat family.
Thus, here we are! Saturated fats. I’ll be blunt here: saturated fats, while not the worst fat sibling, are really not your best friend when compared to the golden child, unsaturated. That being said, saturated fats are not nearly as unhealthy as previously thought and certainly do not compare to trans fats on the unhealthy scale. You can have saturated fats in your diet and still call it healthy. Tran fats serve no nutritional value and any trans fat added to a diet pretty much drags it down into the non-healthy spectrum. We’ll leave trans fat alone today, though, since it’s saturated fat’s turn in the spotlight!
The first thing we’re probably all asking is, “What really makes saturated fat different from unsaturated?” And no, the answer isn’t as simple as the ‘un’ in front since that really doesn’t help those of us who flunked science (and even those of us who didn’t).
When we talked about unsaturated fats, we looked at their form at the molecular level. Unsaturated fats are better because they break down easily due to a kink/weakness in their form that allows for easier processing and absorption. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature due to this ‘kink’. Saturated fats don’t have this kink in their form. They’re more sturdy and that makes them more compact. An example of this is in the room temperature scenario above. Where unsaturated fats are liquid or viscous, saturated fats remaind solid. That’s why natural nut butters, like peanut butter, need to be refridgerated to keep their form, and tend to separate in room temperature settings. The normal jar of Skippy, Kraft, or Jif can sit in your cupboard and not change. Most of these brands have started to make ‘natural’ or Omega-3 versions of their recipes but the price is often quite more for less product. It’s worth it, if you must have peanut butter, since the ‘more product’ aspect of the cupboard versions, is really not going to add healthy value to your diet. Adding more of something that is less healthy for you doesn’t provide much of a bonus.
Why is Saturated Fat Suddenly ‘Healthy’?
Well, it’s not, really. It’s just less unhealthy than previously thought, and often the rest of the diet affects the health value as well. The main issues associated with excessive saturated fat intake, like increased body fat, cardiovascular disease, and blood lipid issues, are often present when saturated fat is joined with a diet that is high in sugar and refined carbohydrates and when the intake of saturated and unsaturated fats is not balanced.
The key here is to avoid combining low unsaturated fat intake with high saturated fat intake, high sugar, and refined carbohydrates. The best solution, in my opinion, is to cut the carbs and sugar, and increase the Omega-3s. If you’re not sold on the benefits of Omega-3 and unsaturated fats, check out the post I linked earlier. Fat can be your friend!
The Side-Effects of Too Much Saturated Fat
Diets that have too much unsaturated fat are linked to heart disease. This is linked to the increase in LDL cholesterol (which Omega-3 helps control and lower). Along with heart disease, unbalanced or high levels saturarated fat diets are associated with:
- Kidney disease
- Breast cancer
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Prostate cancer
- Mutliple sclerosis
Sources of Saturated Fat
So we know we want to avoid excess saturated fat, keeping it in check with our unsaturated best friend, Omega-3, but to do that, we need to know from where we get our saturated fat.
- Coconut oil
- Palm oil
Just because something is a source of saturated fat, does not mean we should avoid it and it is bad for us. We know coconut oil is good for us as is beef, both in moderation. The stearic acid in things like beef, lowers LDL (bad cholesterol). Lauric acid (found in coconut oil) increases HDL (good cholesterol, also in Omega-3) as well as boosting the immune system.
Coconut oil is also a good oil for cooking as it doesn’t break down like most oils do when heated. Oils that break down while cooking change their structures, often becoming trans fats even if they did not start that way, losing most of their health benefits. Interally, coconut oil is processed by the body differently, being used as energy first, unlike most other oils. Often, when coconut oil has been linked to negative effects on the body, it was refined/processed coconut oil that was used.
Beef that is fed grain has higher levels of saturated fat than beef that is fed grass. It is also shown that grain-fed beef has higher levels of Omega-6 (which we already get in excess) than grass-fed beef.
Hopefully, the above helps show that not all saturated fats are equal and there are ways to keep your fat ratio balanced. Saturated fats may not be your friend, but they’re definitely better than trans fats, which I’ll tackle next time.