Fats are a well-known and often misunderstood macronutrient. Most of us think of fat as a bad, calorie-dense, heart disease inducing, greasy substance. This is somewhat true in certain aspects; however, fats are critical for maintaining proper immune function, absorbing particular vitamins and nutrients, providing the building blocks for brain tissue, nerve fibers, reproductive and stress hormones, as well as being an integral part of all cellular membranes. Fats also provide an excellent energy source for our day to day activities and low intensity activity. To begin to understand how fat plays both a good and bad role in systemic inflammation, as well as other diseases, we first need to learn that not all fats are equal.
Fats are naturally found as free fatty acids (FFA’s) or built into complexes. Fatty acids belong to one of three categories: saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated. There are also unnaturally occurring fats like Trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils or substances) that, as most people know, are linked to many diseases like cancer and heart disease.
Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) are found in many vegetables, some nuts and oils, like avocados, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, olives, and olive oil. Studies have shown that eating a diet rich in MUFAs can improve blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and even reduce the risk of cardio vascular disease. They also have found that other compounds found food with high levels of MUFAs, like olive oil, may have some anti-inflammatory effects in the body thus decreasing systemic inflammation.
Saturated fats are generally thought of as the artery clogging and heart attack inducing fat found in red meat and butter. This is not necessarily the case. A meta-analysis of 21 studies published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition that followed over 347,000 individuals for up to 23 years concluded that “there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, or cardiovascular disease.” The problem is not the saturated fat but the systemic inflammation that is going on in your body from many of the things we discussed in previous topics. The other problem with many saturated fats is the quality of the source. If you are eating factory farmed, genetically modified, anti-biotic infused meat you will be consuming many unhealthy toxins. These toxins increase the amount of inflammation going on in your body. Good sources of saturated fats include ghee, clarified butter, grass-fed organic meats and coconut (which also have Medium Chain triglycerides, MCTs, a form of saturated fat that is very beneficial). These types of fats are great for cooking at high temperatures because they are very stable when exposed to heat, air, and light unlike many other fats.
Polyunsaturated Fats (PUFAs) are most commonly discussed as omega 3 or omega 6 fatty acids. Next week we will explore more about these and continue our discussion on systemic inflammation and how we can change our eating habits to combat it. If you have any questions about this or any other topic please visit or call us at 843-654-9330. Also, if you are interested in exploring further how you can decrease systemic inflammation and feel better, check out http://whole9life.com/itstartswithfood/ and order this book!