Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The whys and whos of fats

I've talked about fats a few times before (here and here). Of course you know I love to end my posts with "Don't fear the fat!".

My wife says I'm obsessed with fat, but I think she's wrong. I'm just not fat-phobic like so many people. I see fat for what it is, an essential nutrie and a dense energy source that has no effect on insulin unlike carbohydrates and to a less degree protein.

In the effort to help educate people and get them to be less fat-phobic, I try to glean good information about fat and spread it around like butter. ;)

The latest information I got is really interesting to me, and perhaps you already know this, but it's news to me. I listened to some podcasts on Jimmy Moore's Livin La Vida Low Carb. You can download them here and here.

To summarize, this is an interview with Barry Groves whom I know little about. I do know that he has a site called Second Opinions with some interesting information about the benefits of low-carb living.

While it wasn't the focus of the interview he did with Jimmy Moore, the thing I was most interested in that he talked about was fat. He spoke at some length about the different types of fat, but didn't spend a ton of time talking about the health effects of those fats, but the various sources and the whys of where different fats come from.

Essentially, he explained, the different types of fats come from different sources for environmental reasons. Fat typically is meant to be in a in a semi-solid flexible state at your body temperature. If you're warm-blooded, then you regulate your body temperature and probably keep it somewhere near 100 F. If you're cold-blooded or a plant, your heat is derived from your environment.

As Groves stated, plants that grow in tropical warm climates will tend to have higher amounts of saturated fats because saturated fats will be more solid than unsaturated fats at the higher temperatures of the tropics. This helps those plants keep their structure in warmer temperatures. Coconut and palm kernel are perfect examples of this.

If you're a cold water plant or a cold-blooded animal that lives in a cold climate, then you need to be made of more unsaturated fats. If you were cold all the time and made up of primarily saturated fats, then you would be rigid and couldn't move at all. Logically, cold water fish must have more unsaturated fats and they do!

Now imagine you're a warm-blooded animal. Oh wait, you are. You're body is constantly running at tropical temperatures. That means your body fat should be primarily saturated and it is.

Furthermore, we know that unsaturated fats go rancid and oxidize more easily at higher temperatures and that the more saturated a fat is the more stable it is. If you have an old bottle of vegetable oil, you might know the smell of rancid oil. If you've cooked with vegetable oil, then you've probably noticed that it burns easily when compared with animal fats like lard, chicken, or beef fat. The tendency to go rancid, burn, and oxidize is the reason someone invented trans fats. By specially treating vegetable oils, you can make them last longer, but you can't make them better for you.

Remember that oxidized fat can contribute to the formation of free radicals in your body. While these free radicals might sound like rebels fighting against big-government, they're not. These may be where cancer get started. They're the reason you need anti-oxidants or need to avoid things that cause oxidative damage.

So, if rancid, burned, or oxidized fat is bad (and it is), then you want to eat fats that will not rapidly oxidize or go rancid in the tropical climate of your body. Consequently, you want to get your fat from saturated and mono-unsaturated sources.

Some food, uh, fat for thought.


PS. Don't fear the fat! Especially when it's the right fat for your tropical temperature.


Leniza said...

This is my first time reading your blog, and, wow, that's a great way to explain the hows and whys of the various types of fat. That connection never crossed my mind.

Alex said...


Thanks for the kind words.

I feel the same way as you. When I listened to Barry Groves and made some of the connections myself it was this huge revelation.

Understanding the nature of these fats and the whos and whys makes them a little less scary.