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The Confusion Over Fat

Understanding why there are conflicting statements about fat in your diet

Dr. Padma Garvey

The confusion over fat

There are three types of naturally occurring fats, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated fats.  Trans-fats are artificially made.  They should be avoided.  If you see the word ‘partially hydrogenated’ then you are dealing with a trans fat.   All fat, whether it is monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, or saturated, is 120 calories per tablespoon.  Therefore, all fats are extremely calorie dense in their pure forms.  Monounsaturated fats are liquids.  As easily as your olive oil pours out of its bottle, it also flows through your blood vessels.  It doesn’t stick to your blood vessels. 

Saturated fats are solid at room temperature.  They don’t pour and flow.  They stick, including to your arteries, leading to heart disease, stroke, and problems related to diminished blood flow.  Because all fat is 120 calories per tablespoon, you should limit your consumption of fats.  So yes olive oil is better than butter but both are calorie dense, lead to weight gain, and both should be reduced.  If you consume too much olive oil, your body will convert it to saturated fat. So eat more apples than apple juice…….eat more olives than olive oil.

Humans can make all the monounsaturated fat and saturated fat they need from the foods they eat.  You don’t need to eat any monounsaturated fat or saturated fat at all.  Your body can make it all without a problem from glucose in your food.  If you eat more calories than you need, the excess calories are stored as saturated fat.

The only fat that humans cannot make on their own from glucose are polyunsaturated fats like omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids.  Humans need to consume foods that have these fats in them.  Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are very important for a broad range of functions.   

In very simple terms though let’s say that omega 3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and omega 6 increase it.  Inflammation plays a role in heart disease and stroke, so lowering inflammation is important to preventing these problems.   But so much of the human body is about balance.  You need some inflammation activity for other functions of the body.  Therefore, you need some omega 6 fatty acids as well.  An ideal ratio seems to be 1:4 to 1:6 of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids.  

A typical Western diet has a ratio of about 1:20.  The other thing to realize is that you don’t need massive amounts of these fats.  Small amounts are all you need.  Despite what vitamin manufacturers would love for you believe, you can get all the omega fatty acids you need from plant-based foods.  The ecosystem of our oceans is being destroyed with the unrestrained pursuit of animal-based omega fatty acids from sea life. 

Great plant sources of the right ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids include flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, green leafy vegetables,  cabbage, and beans of any kind but especially soy bean and mung bean.  A bad ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids can cause health problems and is likely to happen if you eat processed foods which tend to overuse omega 6 oils. 

The Mediterranean diet and the Okinawan diet are not healthy because they include olive oil and fish.  These diets are healthy because they are extremely low in fat, with 10% of calories coming from fat, have minimal amounts of animal protein, are rich in unprocessed foods, greens, beans, lentils, fruit, and complex carbohydrates. 

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