In the late 90’s, lipids, or fats as they are commonly known, copped a bit of a bad rap from marketing companies who took very loose, top line levels of information from early studies and used it as a way to do brand expansions for whatever product they were representing at the time. Suddenly, there were low-fat versions of everything. Even products that typically had lower fat levels to begin with had low-fat or no-fat versions of the original.    

So what exactly are fats?

Fats are the second of the three macronutrients that help us sustain life and regulate our energy levels. Fats also help to protect our vital organs, store energy and help to send signals throughout the body as well as assisting protein in its many and varied roles. Fats are also essential for our growth, reproduction, endocrine system (the system responsible to hormone secretion), correct immune function and many other functions within the body.

Our dietary and bodily fats also help to store some of the vitamins we take in. These vitamins are known as the fat-soluble vitamins and include vitamins A, D, E and K.

If we were to put fat under a microscope, we would see that fat is made up of insoluble molecules called triglycerides. It’s the type of triglyceride and how they are individually constructed which will indicate exactly how they will be utilised within the body. Each and every triglyceride contains a glycerol molecule that is connected to three chains known as Fatty Acids. it’s these fatty acids which control how the fat will breakdown in our system and what it will be used for depending on whether they are short chain, medium chain or long chain fatty acids.

Typically, fats are categorised into three common forms. Saturated, unsaturated and trans. These fats are determined by the type of connections within the fatty acids themselves. Saturated fats contain no ‘double bonds’ between their carbon atoms, Mono, meaning one, have one double bond and Poly, meaning many, has more than one (in most cases two).

Saturated fats are the fats that over the years have misunderstood. Early research suggested that a higher intake of saturated fats can have an adverse effect on our health. However, recent reviews by The Harvard School of Public Health have concluded that this is not the case and that earlier findings were mostly likely linked to incorrect information relating to cholesterol.

We now know, through more recent research, that saturated fats are not linked to heart disease and other coronary concerns.  Also that a higher intake of saturated fats can actually benefit our health by decreasing our bodies insulin response, the hormone responsible for breaking down glucose (sugar) within our blood, which helps to reduce our risk of diseases such as diabetes. Evidence also suggests that a higher intake of saturated fats can lead to an even greater reduction in the risk of stroke and heart disease, they also promote higher levels of HDL cholesterol (“good cholesterol”) which aides to clear out the “bad” or LDL cholesterol.

Some of the best way to get saturated fats into our diet are through some of our favourite foods. Organic butter, grass fed meats and coconut oil are all fantastic ways to increase our saturated fat content.

As mentioned earlier, unsaturated fats come in two forms; monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. These fats are scientifically known as Cis-unsaturated fats. The more double bonds fatty acids have, the more weaker links they contain, as a triglyceride molecule is more likely to breakdown at these points.  

As with early research giving saturated fats a bad name, it was the unsaturated fats that received praise. Linking them to a decrease in heart disease, lowering cholesterol, and other health benefits. While this still remains to be true, with fats such as Omega 3’s, research is now suggesting that fats which fall into the unsaturated category can also cause a range of health concerns.

When these double bonds break down through exposure to heat, the environment and other factors, they can release what is knowns as Advanced Lipoxidation Endproducts (ALEs). These ALEs are for a part cytotoxic (toxic to living cells) and, due to the gastrointestinal tract being constantly exposed to these oxidized food compounds, some of these (not all) can cause a dramatic increase in inflammation throughout the circulatory system, bodily organs and your digestive tract. It is now noted that too high intake of these compounds may cause chronic long-term health concerns.

To increase your healthy intake of unsaturated fats, without the risk of increasing your ALEs, be sure to get in plenty of wild caught salmon, organic avocados and organic free range eggs.

The third category of fats and the one we all need to be weary of is Trans-unsaturated fats. While Trans fats technically fall under the unsaturated category, they certainly don’t act like one. With a unique molecular layout, these fats position their carbon and hydrogen atoms on different sides, which make them straight and hence they behave differently within our bodies.

The problem lies in the fact that trans fats actively lower the levels of good HDL cholesterol and increase the levels of bad LDL cholesterol. This can lead to an increased risk in heart disease, increased level of triglycerides in the bloodstream and increased systemic inflammation. In fact, the FDA in the USA have given the food manufacturing community a time line of three years to remove trans fats from all processed foods.

Although this seems like a lot of information, remember that with the exception of trans fats, the majority of the foods we eat contain a blend of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and that even the foods with the highest levels of saturated fats such as Coconut oil (which is 92% saturated fats) also contains both mono and polyunsaturated fats. The key of course is balance. I personally try to keep my fat content at about 40% of my dietary intake as I use fats in place of the majority of my carbohydrates for energy.  If you are unsure of how to figure out what fats are right for you and how to get the best out of the fats you eat, feel free to contact myself at Mass Nutrition Townsville or the team at any Mass Nutrition store and we will be more than willing to help you with your goals. Until then…

 

Happy Training
Phil Smith
Mass Nutrition Townsville