We need to get absolutely no trans- fats, except those trans- fats that keep us alive. And everybody needs to lose fat even if they are underweight.
The fact is, fatty acids are a complicated subject. It's easy even for experts to be confused, and many are! But if you get these ten essential fats and essential and non-essential fatty acids, you'll be a long way toward making sustainable, healthy dietary choices.
- Fatty acids are the building blocks of fats.
It helps to understand what a fatty acid is. It's just the chemical building block of fat, broken down into a form that can travel through the watery fluid called plasma that makes up the most of what flows in our veins.
- You absolutely have to have some fat in your diet.
It's very hard to avoid getting at least a little fat in your diet, and that's a good thing. There are two kinds of fatty acids the body has to have to make regulatory hormones, the n-3 essential fatty acids (also known as the omega-3 essential fatty acids) and the n-6 essential fatty acids (also known as the omega-6 essential fatty acids). The body can make other fats, but you absolutely have to get these from food.
- The n-3 essential fatty acids and the n-6 essential fatty acids are both "essential," that is, necessary, but you need to get them in the right balance.
The body uses n-3 essential fatty acids to make regulatory hormones. Every cell in the human body uses n-3's to make hormones that keep inflammatory hormones from going wild.
Every cell in the human body uses n-6 essential fatty acids to to make the inflammatory hormones that activate the immune system to fight infection and that make chemicals that destroy old cells and germs.
- The problem with almost everyone's diet is getting too much n-6 and too little n-3.
The problem with almost everyone's diet is that they get about 20 to 30 times as much n-6 and n-3. The body makes too many inflammatory hormones and not enough hormones to regulate them. The answer to the problem isn't to eat no fat at all. It's to reduce n-6 fatty acids and increase n-3 fatty acids. But it is not necessary eat some kind of weird diet to do that. Reducing total fat and taking n-3 essential fatty acid supplements will usually accomplish this objective.
- There's also a kind of fat known as n-9, or omega-9 fatty acids. These fatty acids are not "essential."
Body fat is mostly omega-9 fatty acids. Do you have trouble accepting the idea that omega-9 fatty acids are not "essential?" This is the kind of fat the body makes to store excess calories, and it's also the kind of fat found in lard, bacon, chicken fat, and olive oil, although they also contain other fatty acids.
- The -3, -6, and -9 refer to the location of the last double bond in the chain of carbon atoms that make up a fatty acid.
Here's what you really need to know about the numbers. The farther away from the end of the line the last double bond between carbon atoms is the last place the fatty acid can be "snipped" to be turned into some other product. The n-3 fatty acids can't be turned into as many different products as the n-6's and the n-6's can't be turned into as many products as the n-9's. And the n-9's can be made in more, different ways than the other fats. The -3 and -6 are essential, but the -9 is not.
- Trans- fats get stuck in the lining of cells.
That's the problem with trans- fats. Most of them get stuck in the lining of cells, and then, like an arrow stuck in its target, the tip of the trans- fat damages the lining of the cell. However, that's not always a bad thing. If you have congestive heart failure, for instance, trans- fats irritate heart cells to keep them beating. But the problem for most of us has been, until very recently, just getting too much.
- Having at least a little body fat is not a bad thing.
Body fat is what gives us curves. It provides a buffer under the skin that stops wrinkling, cuts, and bruises. It protects the inner organs from injury. It's an essential back-up supply of energy should we ever not be able to find food. For most of human history, the problem wasn't having too much body fat. It was not having enough.
- A saturated fat is a fat that is solid at room temperature, such as shortening, butter, or lard.
"Saturation" refers to a chemical state in which all the carbon atoms in a molecule of fat are as completely "connected" as they possibly can be. This helps molecules stick to each other so the substance stays a solid.
- The problem with saturated fat is that it reacts with oxygen to form products that stick in the linings of arteries.
Unsaturated fats like olive oil are liquids that are not attacked by oxygen. Saturated fats are solids that are readily attacked by oxygen to transform into products that stick in the lining of arteries. If you eat your lard on a piece of toast, as is the custom in Eastern Europe, you get a lot less exposure to toxic products than if you use it to fry food. But most of us do best simply to avoid shortening, butter, and lard. Go for products that are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially olive oil and flaxseed oil.