The Consequences of Eating (certain) Fat
Updated: May 18, 2021
Too often, the issue of dietary fat is inconsistent and indeterminate, leaving most of us without a definitive answer on whether or not fat is healthy. Certainly, it's not due to the lack of information on the topic of fat. But rather, caused by the conflicting teachings we are taught on this macronutrient.
I've come to know that fat is one of the most vital nutrients we intake while also discovering that certain fats can be the most toxic substances that humans consume. Thus, I find it necessary to bring clarification and truth to the conversation on fat. And since this blog name does contain the most iconic fat, I figured the inaugural post should be dedicated to exploring butter and its fat relatives.
Humans and Fats
If we were to look back and see what kinds of fats that our predecessors were eating, we would see that they were the fats that they were able to grow and raise themselves.
Newly settled Americans continued the European customs of primarily eating animal fats such as butter, tallow, and lard. The people of the Polynesian islands ate the fat that grew abundantly on their islands: coconut oil. Mediterranean dwellers capitalized on their olive trees to produce olive oil. The diet of the natives living in the arctic was completely dependent upon fat-rich salmon, seals, and whale blubber.
As much as these locations varied in climate, culture and population, the fats our ancestors
ate were very similar in their fatty acid profiles.
There are three major classes of fats that can be found in nature: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats. The percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids in nature-made fat is anywhere from 4-13% of the total fat content. For example, butter is made of 63% saturated fat, 26% monounsaturated fat and 4% polyunsaturated fat.
The fats humans have been eating for thousands of years all shared a common chemistry trait: a low percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids. You are probably wondering what this seemingly insignificant commonality has to do with your health and athletic performance. As we'll discover, the answer lies within in the chemistry of fat molecules.
Fat Frameworks: Seeing The Differences of Fat Structures
As already defined, there are three principal fat molecules that nature fabricates: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fat. A fat molecule is constructed of a glycerol backbone and three fatty acid tails that are made of a long hydrocarbon chain.
The deviation of fats are seen in the fatty acid chains.
With saturated fat, the long carbon chains hooks up with hydrogen atoms making the fatty acid fully occupied, or saturated.
With monounsaturated fatty acids, there is one slot which carbon atoms double bond with each other and for polyunsaturated fatty acids, there are multiple points on the fatty acid chain with carbon-carbon double bounds.
Inasmuch as these molecules have tiny differences, the way the body manages polyunsaturated fats is quite distinguishable when compared to monounsaturated or saturated fats. Given there are multiple carbon-carbon double bonds on polyunsaturated fatty acids, the chain essentially acts as a landing platform for scavenging free radical molecules.
Although the name of free radicals sounds like a name of a fun rock band, these molecules are anything but fun and edgy in all the wrong ways. Contrastingly, free radical molecules lend to an over-oxidized environment which is essentially an internal firestorm which leads to chronic inflammation.
When the body is in a constant state of oxidative stress triggered and supported by polyunsaturated fatty acids, the body becomes an ideal breeding ground for disease to thrive. Given that oxidative stress is associated with cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases, this is not an overstatement.
Furthermore, when repeatedly heated, polyunsaturated fatty acids molecules morph into compounds called aldehydes. These structures are extremely toxic and have been shown to damage DNA and RNA. We all know formaldehyde to be the carcinogenic preservative that morticians use when conserving dead bodies. This same compound has been found over-oxidized polyunsaturated fatty acids. Talk about creepy.
Hello, Seed Oils
Now that we have a better understanding of the basic fat tenets, it is time to bring attention to what I like to call the top health inhibitors: seed oils. Grounds for this bold title come on the fact that seed oils (corn, safflower, canola, cottonseed, grapeseed, sunflower, rice bran, sesame, sunflower) are primarily constructed of polyunsaturated fatty acids, anywhere from 27%-70% of the fatty acid profile. Remember, natural fats like lard or olive oil contain just 4-7% polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Although seed oils aren't synthetically developed in a lab, the process by which companies extract oils from the plant seeds are methods that necessitate modern-day machinery such as excessive pressurization, the utilization of industrial centrifuges, and extreme temperature fluctuations. Therefore, seed oils cannot be labeled as natural oils considering that up until the industrial revolution, it was implausible for humans to consume high volumes of seed oils without advanced technology.
Faulty Science and Money
American food manufactures and restaurants began to shift away from animals-based fats towards seed oils in the 20th century as a result of industry-funded science that persuaded health policy makers to believe that saturated fat was to blame for heart disease. Fast forward to 2021 and it is well-established that the science linking saturated fats to heart disease is a house of cards.
It's mind-bending that nature's food isn't killing us after all, right?!
The good news is that we are seeing positive advancements in America's rehab with saturated fats. However, the vast majority of Americans have still not awakened to the dangers of seed oils. Food companies and restaurants are using more vegetable oils in 2021 than ever before. And if saturated fat isn't the artery-clogging villain it was once hypothesized to be, why hasn't America reversed course back to primarily using saturated oils for cooking and baking?
This answer, as is standard human-nature fashion, is money. Today, food manufactures and fast food restaurants have become very proficient at sparing expenses. And at the top of the list of capital-saving ingredients, you'll find seed oils. The price comparison of butter and canola oil are a great example. A pound of conventionally-raised cow butter from Costco sells at $2.37 a pound while canola oil is currently listed at 35 cents per pound.
Whether it's out of malevolent intent or ignorance, Big Food is not here for your health. At the very least, they've been negligent and have failed to inform Americans about what we are eating. The research is unequivocal when it comes to seed oils.
1: Seed oils contain as much as 20x the amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are found in nature.
2: Polyunsaturated fatty acids are unstable, meaning they oxidize easily.
3. Oxidative stress accelerates aging and is associated with nearly all chronic disease.
4: Reheating polyunsaturated fatty acids gives way to ultra-oxidation and which culminates in mutagenic aldehydes.
How do seed oils affect my sports performance?
Have you ever wondered what man's fundamental fuel is? Obviously, we fuel ourselves with food for energy. But how exactly, does the food we eat convert into energy that's readily available for when we need it the most, like in a sports competition?
At the core of every cellular action that takes place from unconscious biochemical reactions like regulating enzymes to high-demanding physiological tasks such as running a sub four minute mile, human's core fuel is a compound called ATP or adenosine triphosphate.
Within every cell of the body, (excluding red blood cells) you'll find hundreds of tiny ATP manufacturing machines. These ATP generators are called mitochondria. To do their jobs without hindrance, mitochondria require very specific nutrients such as iron and vitamin D. Moreover, it's well understood that chronic oxidative stress directly damages mitochondria function therefore impairing ATP production. This makes for a defective fuel source that will undoubtedly stunt an athlete from performing to their greatest capacity.
And just in case you forgot, seed oils give birth to excess oxidative stress.
Moreover, multiple studies have shown that an overabundance of polyunsaturated fatty acids elicits abnormal male hormone production, including higher estrogen and lower testosterone levels.
What can do now to live a fitter and healthier life:
If there is one nutritional habit that all athletes can tale to accelerate their athletic endeavors, it should be to avoid seed oils at all costs. Seed oils rape athleticism and and rob health. And unfortunately, they're practically in all processed foods. From your morning cereals, toasts, bagels, muffins, and coffee creamers, to lunch's salad dressings, crackers, chips, cured meats, to dinner's pizza, soups, pasta sauces, and meat marinades.
They're even in most sports supplements that are advertised to eager athletes.
Even more worryingly, remember how polyunsaturated fatty acids reform into aldehydes when constantly reheated? A perfect example of this metabolic atrocity is fast food frying oils. Otherwise known as McDonald’s chicken nuggets, In-N-Out's french fries, and KFC's "world famous" fried chicken. Avoid these foods like your athletic success depends on it, because quite literally, it does.
On top of shunning ungodly seed oils, look to embrace and welcome natural fats that are made predominantly of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids.
Animal Fats to include: Butter (duh), ghee, tallow, and lard.
Vegetable oils to include: olive, avocado, and coconut oil.
For now, this consolidates my thoughts on fats and seed oils. Though as a forewarning, this won't be the last time you hear me bring up seed oils ;)
FoodData Central, fdc.nal.usda.gov/.
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