Fat seems to get a bad wrap these days. But not all fats are created equal. And that’s where the confusion starts. Here’s an example – see this article.
In a nutshell, it says that older women who eat the particular foods (fried chips and baked potatoes) are at a higher risk of stroke than the women who eat less fat. Skimming through this article, it is easy to jump to conclusion that in order to reduce the risk of stroke you just have to eat less fat. But if you read closely, and as they say “the devil’s in the detail”, you will see that it’s the trans-fat that is the culprit.
Trans fatty acids are formed during hydrogenation process of producing common plant oils. These include canola, sunflower, safflower, and any other oil that is not cold pressed. Even some “healthy” spreads like olive or avocado spreads contain some trans fats. The process of hydrogenation was touted as the next best thing to sliced bread purely because it allowed the oil to be stored for much longer time before it turned rancid. What turn oil rancid? Oxygen. And hydrogenation stops oxidation process from taking place. This is great for manufacturers and retailers but not for your body. The cells in your body use fatty acids and proteins to make healthy membranes.
Here is a very simplified model of what is happening when trans fats are used in cell membranes – they actually stop oxygen from getting through to the cell (just like they prevent oxidation of oil) and the cell is unable to metabolise energy properly. Kind of like choking the individual cells. This in turn has many side effects, including but not limited to: cancer, alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, obesity, depression.
These days, trans fats are listed on the labels of manufactured foods. However, some legislations allow listing of 0 when the of food contains less than 0.5g per serving. This can be misleading as people can eat many servings thinking there is no trans fats. Many countries are adopting legislations banning trans fats but some packaged foods are legally allowed to contain trans fats (eg. In California).
On the other hand, there are good fats. Fats and oils (also called lipids) provide the body with twice the amount of energy than the same amount of protein or carbohydrates. They are needed in assimilation of fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) and contain many enzymes needed for digestion, and essential fatty acids that the body cannot make.
Therefore, it is unwise to totally eliminate fat from the diet. It is wise, though, to totally eliminate trans fats from the diet but that is not so easy. As mentioned above, not all labeling is perfect. Also, when eating on the go and when in a hurry it is sometimes not convenient to be choosy. However, I try my best.
I have to say that I eat a lot of fat. A 250g block of butter will sometimes last me 2 days. My favorite fats and oils are: butter and ghee, olive oil, coconut oil and hemp oil (because of the best proportions of linoleic and alpha-linoleic acids).
I have been eating like this for at least 15 years but surprise surprise my cholesterol reading was a respectable 4.9 when I last checked 2 years ago (it was also my first check). A commonly accepted idea is that butter and coconut oil are saturated fats and they contribute to the blood cholesterol. However, I believe that the most of the blood cholesterol is manufactured by the liver due to a bad side effect of digesting highly glycemic carbohydrates (more about this some other time) and from eating trans fats. This, I am trying to prove on myself and so far it looks like it’s working.