The finer details of Fat

[donotprint] Last weekend was one of the most interesting so far in terms of the facts that were uncovered in class. I have done my own bit of reading on fat and had a good general insight in to the different types of fat and how much I should be consuming.

My previous post, “The Fat Debate” gives a good general insight in to the three different types of fat.

What I didn’t understand or have any insight in to was why fats are described as being unsaturated or saturated, the potential damage we can inflict upon our bodies if we mistreat, misuse and namely allow these fats to become oxidised before we ingest them. I also hadn’t considered how fats are processed before being sold to us either in their “fat” form or as one of the ingredients in a ready made product.

So much became clearer and began to slot in to place after last weekend and I couldn’t wait to share my latest “penny dropping” moments; I had my first online exam during the week so I had to get that over and done with before I could delve further in to fat.

Things aren’t as cut and dry as considering fats to be good and bad; as I previously touched upon. They all have their uses, some purely functional, some nutritional and each type comes in various different guises and can be refined to varying degrees, much like sugar! As a society in general (and it is a large generalisation) we are strongly influenced by the marketing and media messages blasted upon us, olive oil has been hailed as a superfood, olive oil spreads and other plant oil spreads and the oils themselves are seen as healthy alternatives to pure butter and we believe that once we reduce our fat and calorie intake we’re making massive inroads in terms of improving our health.

Again there are a few different points I want to tackle slash cover so I’m splitting this second fat post in to two (the second of which I’ll post early next week when I’ll look more closely at fats and oils as consumer products, what to purchase, what to look out for and how to store and use them!)

Firstly I want to look at fat and why we NEED it! It’s an essential nutrient after all, just like proteins and carbohydrates, in order to achieve optimal health our bodies require a certain amount of fat.

  • Fat is the main form of energy storage in the body. In times of hardship, famine, or perhaps if you choose to climb the likes of Mount Everest, our fat stores are called upon! This is known as “storage” fat.
  • Essential fat is stored in small amounts in bone marrow, organs, the central nervous system and muscles, and is needed for the normal, healthy functioning of all these body systems.
  • Women need to maintain body fat between 17 -22% for menstruation to occur;  once you don’t lack energy or suffer from irregularities there is no need to worry. The reason it has an impact is because fat cells contribute to about 1/3 of of oestrogen levels in your body. Because of this, low body fat may contribute to low oestrogen secretion and subsequent menstrual dysfunction. Additionally lack of fat doesn’t allow cells to convert excess cholesterol (found in fat cells) in to oestrogen. It’s important to note that body fat percentage is the only reason you may experience irregularities and if you experience changes in your bodies patterns you should consult your doctor.

  • Fats are a major component of the bodies membranes; nerve cells are particularly high in fat with the brain being made up of about 60% fat.
  • Essential fats, Omega’s 3 and 6, are part of the brain structure and are necessary for optimal brain function.
  • Cholesterol is a type of fat and is is vital for our body to function. Many hormones are made from cholesterol as a are bile acids and Vitamin D. All cells in the body can manufacture cholesterol, it’s a topic to cover another day in it’s entirety; it’s not something we need to consume. It’s when it becomes damaged (oxidised) in the body that it becomes a problem.

So how much is enough?

  • About 20% of your daily calorie intake is seen as optimum; which for women is about 40 grams and men closer to 50 grams.
  • What’s more important that total fat, at least I think, is to consider what type of fat you’re consuming as ONLY Omega 3 and 6 are seen as essential.

I found the science aspect of the last weekend quite interesting though rather than reiterate it all I’m going to give a brief synopsis!

  • Fats can be either short chain, medium chain or long chain depending on the number of carbon atoms they are made up (stick with me!)
  • They are classified as being saturated, or unsaturated, the degree to which they are unsaturated by the amount of available space for additional hydrogen atoms. Double carbon bonds leave space for addition hydrogen atoms. When a fat has only space for one (or one double carbon bond) they are described as monu-unsaturated and two or more (or two or more double carbon bonds) as poly-unsaturated.

Today I’m looking at poly – unsaturated in more detail but I’ll cover all three types, their uses and the importance of utilising them correctly in the next post!

Essential Fats

Not all fats are equal. The amazing avocado is often the first choice for the super-healthy. Packed full of monosaturates (good fats), vitamins and other good stuff, avocados are simply better fresher. We scoop, slice and rush ours out of every shop kitchen.

Who isn’t taking an Omega 3 supplement these days? Or at least hasn’t considered it or potentially started and forgotten about it a few weeks/days in?

The majority of people are deficient in Omega 3. There are a number of reasons for this…

  • We don’t eat enough foods containing Omega 3, alpha linolenic acid (AHA); these include dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds and their oils (walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, chia, flax, soybean and canola oil).
  • The foods that do contain Omega 3 are much more prone to oxidisation – they are more unstable causing the Omega 3 within to become destroyed. This is because Omega 3 has three double carbon bonds. They are generally removed during food processing to ensure products have longer shelve life and those found in fresh produce are damaged during cooking.
  • In general people eat an excess amount of Omega 6, found also in seed oils (sunflower, sesame, corn), as well as meat, poultry and eggs. Over consuming Omega 6 creates an imbalance in the body; the pathway of conversion for both Omegas 3 and 6 is the same and too much Omega 6 is using up the enzyme required for conversion. The ideal ratio is 2-4:1 (Omega 6 to Omega 3) but on average the picture appears to be more in the region of 15-25 : 1 !!!! As animals are now largely fed grains over grass the ratio in meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products has been skewed and is a large contributing factor to the abundance of Omega 6 being quite unknowingly consumed.

Do we need to consume fish in order to obtain adequate amounts of Omega 3?

ALA (Alpha linolenic Acid – Omega 3) is converted albeit slowly in the body to EPA and DHA which is found in fish and other animal foods.

It is possible to obtain plentiful amounts of Omega 3 in the diet without having to ever consume animal products. Although it is thought that as little as 10% of the Omega 3 ingested as ALA is converted to EPA and DHA plant foods are significant quantities of the fatty acid which means consuming even small quantities can yield optimum benefits!

Both flax and chia seeds are higher in Omega 3 than 6 with a ratio of 1:3 in favour of Omega 3. Just one tablespoon of chia seeds for example has approximately 2900mg of Omega 3 and 900mg of Omega 6. Even if only 10% of the Omega 3 (ALA) is converted with just one tablespoon you are taking half of the the optimum daily amount!

What roles to Omega 3 and 6 play in the body?

Omega 3

  • Help keep the blood thin and circulating; prevent blood clotting
  • Enhance the immune system
  • Destroy cancer cells
  • Useful in the treatment of AIDS, osteo-arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Promote healthy youthful skin and hair
  • Transport and breakdown cholesterol
  • Useful in the treatment of inflammatory diseases such as psoriasis, eczema, migraine and ulcerative colitis
  • Major structural component of the brain and retina of the eye and sperm (extremely important during pregnancy and during the first year of life to ensure complete superlative brain formation of the foetus and new born baby!)

Omega 6

  • Conversely encourages blood clotting hence the need to achieve a balance between the two essential fatty acids
  • Efficient growth!
  • Regulates insulin
  • Speeds up metabolism in those suffering from obesity
  • Regulates brain function and nerve impulses
  • Promotes cancer cell reversal
  • Protects against inflammatory diseases such as those mentioned above
  • Regulates blood pressure
  • Produce hormone like messengers which impact upon depression and fluid retention, multiple sclerosis and attention deficit disorder.

In truth we probably don’t know the full extent the benefits of these essentials nutrients but those that we are aware at this present moment in time are quite extensive!

What the optimum intake of both Omega 3 and 6?

  • There is no official recommended daily intake of Omega 3 and 6, though as stated above an ideal ratio is between 2-4 :1 of Omega 6 to 3.
  • Healthy people are generally advised to consumed 500 – 600mg of Omega 3 a day and up to 2400mg of Omega 6.
  • Omega 3 is it’s active form of EPA and DHA can only be found in animal foods though it is converted from ALA (Alpha Linolenic Acid) in the body. It should be noted that no more than 10% of ALA consumed is converted to EPA and DHA and so those, such as my good self, need to consume more than the advised mg amount to obtain it in actuality.

Top Plant Sources of Omega 3 and 6

Omega 3 – Chia, Flax, Hemp and Pumpkin Seeds and Walnuts

Omega 6 – Corn, Safflower, Sunflower Seeds and Sesame Seeds

  • 1-3 heaped tablespoons of a mixture of these seeds is a good measure to ensure you’re getting optimum amounts.
  • Cold pressed organic seed oils are also a good option. An oil blend of Omega 3 and 6, and a tablespoon a day to be consumed, uncooked, drizzled on your salad, over already cooked food or straight from the spoon! Smile
  • All dark green vegetables contain ALA – including kale, collards, chard, parsley, wheat and barley grass products. ALA is contained in their chloroplasts.

Although fish is cited as being key to achieving optimum Omega 3 intake, it’s worth considering the fact that it is largely heavily contaminated with dangerous levels of pesticides and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) – broad family of man made chemicals. PCBs have been demonstrated to cause cancer, as well as a variety of other adverse health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and endocrine system.

What are your thoughts? Learn anything new or anything more to share?

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14 Comments

  1. great post, i have a few questions though. is spinach included in those dark leafy greens that contain ALA’s? also, the chart shows that flax oil has more omega 3 than 6, and hemp oil has more omega 6 than 3. i use both hoping they’ll help with inflammation. so do both help with inflammation? i thought i was supposed to get more 3’s than 6’s.

    1. Yes you need a balance of omega 3 and 6 for inflammation but most people have too much omega 6 which ends up causing inflammation. You don’t need more 3’s they’re just harder to obtain from food; the vast majority of people are deficient in omega 3 which is why we’re always hearing that we need to take them. Yep spinach is included. 🙂

  2. I had always heard about the ratios between Omega 3’s and 6’s. This was great!

    I have a question though… Right now I’m on a low fat diet because my body can’t digest it very well… What are the long-term side effects? Do you know anyway to digest fats better? I totally realize that you’re not a doctor or such, just wondering if you found anything in your research. Thanks!

    1. I’d suggest eating fat with protein as opposed to carbs; also try increasing your intake of zinc via food sources as it promotes bile production which will help breakdown the fats. Introduce fats in small quantities in pure forms like nut butters and add to sauces rather than using oil. Hope that helps !

    2. I may be late but maybe you’ll notice my comment.
      Some people who find it hard to digest fats may soak their nuts and seeds before eating them (I’ve noticed myself that when I do this my digestion is easier).
      Long-term side effects of a fatless diet are many, the most often are: dry skin and hair, memory loss, general fatigue, amenoreea, depression (I experienced all these in my past – I used to be a fat avoider).

      1. I did notice this by chance actually 🙂

        Right now I am able to eat some fats like coconut oil and the fats from animals (sorry… I know this is a vegan blog, it’s just how I eat!). I take some ox bile with them which really helps in digestion. I hope to try and reintroduce seeds in a few months and see how that goes. My plan is to soak and dehydrate them, similar to what you said. I think the reason for soaking is to get rid of the phytic acid. I hope this works for me! 🙂

  3. Just a correction .. “We don’t eat enough foods containing Omega 3, Alpha linoleic acid (AHA); ” it’s actually alpha linoleNIC acid .. linoleic is omega 6! Probably was just a typo, but just wanted to let you know 🙂

  4. It was definitely interesting to find out more about fats. Some of this I knew but Omega 3 and 6 weren’t more than mere names in my head.

    What I’m sceptical about, though, is the recommended daily amount of fat you state. I’ve worked with several nutritionists over the past years and they stressed how important it was to take in at least 70 grams of fat per day. So that’s something I’m paying close attention to and I can definitely tell from my mood and skin when I’m not getting enough. 40 grams are what is recommended in most dieting programmes, I think. Maybe you could explain this a little more?

    1. What I’ve been taught and I what I believe is that 70grams is the max we should consume, it’s not imperative that we actually consume it but it won’t cause major harm if we consume this amount 🙂