Much Ado About Fat

Over the past week I have run across three articles/pieces regarding fat.  The first one was one of those slideshow pieces on the Comcast home page titled “RealSimple.com: Know Your Good Fats From Your Bad Fats.”  I love reading stuff like this, not because I am expecting to learn something new.  Instead, my real purpose is to see how correct the information presented is ~ and more often than not the information is woefully incorrect.  This piece started off with a bang by presenting on slide number one the title “Good Fat: Unsaturated.”  Blatently incorrect in that not all unsaturated fat is good (and not all saturated fat is bad, implied by slide one and spelled out in slide 3).  The fats listed as “good” were canola, sunflower, corn, olive, soybean and peanut, for the following reason:

They include polyunsaturated fats (like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which help build cell membranes) and monounsaturated fats high in vitamin E, which is lacking in most Americans’ diets.

Omega 3 and omega 6 fats both serve their purposes ~ neither is good or bad by itself.  However, what is bad is when the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 gets out of whack.  Ideally the ratio should be about 1:1 or at most 1.5: 1.  One of the problems with the crappy Western diet that has evolved is that we are getting way, way too much omega 6 fats in our diet ~ in large part due to the proliferation of vegetable oils and the government’s advisement that these are “healthy.”  In fact canola contains a ratio of 2:1, sunflower and peanut contain no omega 3 fats at all, soybean is 7:1 and corn is 46:1.  Yep, 46:1.  Any wonder why the ratio in the Western diet, instead of being close to 1:1 is actually anywhere from 10:1 to 30:1?!  For more information on why these fats are not so healthy, see my post here. (Note in the chart above, alpha-linolenic acid is omega-3; linoleum acid and gamma-linolenic acid are omega-6.)

Another strike against canola, soybean and corn oils is that a majority of the corn, soy and rapeseed (from which canola is derived) grown in this country is genetically modified to resist Roundup, which raises many concerns.  Again, I have expounded on this many, many times, but in a nutshell, almost no scientific testing has been done on genetically modified seeds (and the little that has been done is somewhat alarming) and the amount of pesticides (e.g. Roundup) sprayed on these crops should make everyone think twice before consuming anything made from these plants.

Slide number 2 presented more “good fats.”  This slide I had less problem with as they presented walnut, avocado, grapeseed and flaxseed oils as additional “healthy” fats.  Grapeseed oil is primarily omega 6, with some monosaturated fat & no omega 3, so I’m not in love with this choice.  Flaxseed oil can be a good source of omega 3 fats, but even the slide points out that it spoils quickly and there is some concern with a link to prostrate cancer.   Walnut and avocado oils consist of primarily monosaturated fats ~ these are the best choices, in my opinion, but they can be expensive.

And then onto slide number 3…the “bad saturated” fats: margarine, solid shortening, lard, palm oil, butter and coconut oil.   I’m not going to argue that margarine & shortening don’t belong here ~ both are made from vegetables oils, which, as noted above, tend to be primarily omega 6 fats and both contain trans fat, pretty much a slam dunk fat to avoid.   I will however, argue that butter & coconut oil have their place in your kitchen (I don’t know much about palm oil, nor lard, although I do personally use bacon fat in some instances, as I use organic bacon without added nitrites and nitrates ~ and there is some thought that palm oil has many of the nutritional benefits of coconut oil).   The quality of butter depends to a great degree on how the cows who produce it are raised.  As I have mentioned many times, the nutritional profile of grass-fed cattle is vastly different and far superior to conventional CAFO raised cattle, and, as you might guess, dairy products from grass-fed, pasture-raised cattle is far superior to conventionally produced dairy products.  It is not hard to find pastured organic butter ~ you will pay more for it, but it is far better for you.  And coconut oil, I mean really, the writer of this piece has obviously not updated their nutritional knowledge in some time.  See here.

So, as I guess might be expected, the Comcast slideshow presented horribly inaccurate information.  People following the advice presented would be adding to their health woes, not helping themselves out.  But then, I ran across a second piece the following day, this time in the Huffington Post.  Titled “In Defense of Fat: 7 Surprising Facts” this is the kind of article that I would say I run across in the mainstream media about one time in 10 (that’s probably actually very generous, but you get my point).  Written by Susan Dopart, a nutrition and fitness consultant for the online paper, the article debunks a number of fat myths, truly unusual  & refreshing to read.  The first three, in particular, I loved seeing, especially after seething over the presentation on Comcast.

1. Eating fat does not necessarily make you fat.

2. No need to avoid nuts. (A few caveats here from me ~ first off, peanuts are a legume and do not count as nuts and two…if you cannot control yourself, you might need to avoid nuts…serving sizes for nuts tend to be quite small ~ personally I have trouble having say 10 almonds…so know thyself.)

And this one is my favorite ~ YEAH!

3. Saturated fat is not the evil villain to avoid.  The author goes on to discuss some of the health benefits of none other than…coconut oil.  🙂  Sigh, there is good information out there.  I would add a reminder that saturated fat found in grass-fed beef also has many nutritional benefits.

And then, later in the week I picked up “Health” magazine at my hairdressers and found an article titled “Yes You Can Eat Fat.”  This article was kind of a mix of good, refreshing information and some information that was still off-base, misleading or downright incorrect.  It did start off by pointing out that the low-fat/ no-fat craze our country went through did nothing to help us slim down, and instead obesity actually skyrocketed while our fat intake went down.  The article also correctly points out that your body needs fat ~ it helps you absorb certain vitamins, it is an energy source and it is also important for keeping skin and hair healthy.

Like the Comcast piece, this article wants to classify fat as “good,” “bad,” and “ok in moderation.”  Here “good” fat is monounsaturated and once again, polyunsaturated (specifically singling out corn and soybean oils as “good,” which as I noted above, have way too much omega 6 and are both genetically modified).  “Bad” fat is trans fat, which I am in agreement with ~ but here saturated fat is not labeled as “bad” (yeah) but rather is given an “ok in moderation” label.  The article even mentions that some research has begun to vindicate saturated fat.  Definitely a step up from the Comcast advice.

So overall a mixed bag of information about fat, but certainly some good mixed in with the bad.  While I hate to let people off the hook for making poor food choices, it gets very frustrating to me when there is so much incorrect, outdated information provided to the public.  Unfortunately many people just don’t know any better.  So spread the word.  Educate yourself and educate those around you…pay it forward.  🙂


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About Lisa Van Dore

I have lived in Sherborn, Dover and most recently North Walpole, for a total of 15 years (and counting). Having recently been through the process of selling a home and buying (and renovating) a new one, I understand the conflicting emotions of excitement and anxiety inherent in the process, whether you are a seller or buyer, whether this is your first home purchase or your tenth. I have a BA from the University of Michigan and an MBA from Indiana University. My early career found me working as a CPA, and later as the controller of Crate & Barrel. More recently I spent seven years running my own personal training business. I understand the hard work and dedication necessary to build a business and a reputation...most of my personal training clients came to me by referral and my first client was still with me when I decided to leave personal training. This speaks to the level of effort I put forth for my clients, week after week. On a more personal note, I raced triathlon for seven years and more recently completed my first half marathon. In my free time I enjoy cooking, reading, Maine, hiking and, in the fall, following college football...my teams are the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) and Texas Christian University (Go Frogs!).
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