The Truth About Fat

Good Fat Bad Fat

Understandably, you may be confused by all the hype and conflicting information about dietary fats. Organizations like the American Heart Association and the United States Departments of Agriculture (USDA)—who developed the Food Pyramid—recommend a “low-fat diet” to prevent such conditions as obesity, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

There’s a problem with “fat-free” food labels. Major food manufacturers, in an attempt to profit from the “low-fat” message, have developed all kinds of “low-fat” and “fat-free” food alternatives. For most of these products, the fat is taken out and replaced with undesirable non-nutritive alternatives such as refined sugars, chemical “fat substitutes” like Olestra, and artificial sweeteners like aspartame, Splenda®, etc. As a result, conditions such as heart disease, stroke, obesity, and diabetes have been increasing dramatically, because fat is being replaced with unhealthy ingredients.

Despite common misconception, not all fats are bad! Fat, as a dietary ingredient, does not cause obesity; instead, it’s the excessive consumption of non-nutritive calories primarily from refined sugar—combined with a sedentary lifestyle—that causes weight gain and the development of chronic conditions.

“Good” fats are crucial for good health. The human body cannot survive without fat, since many body processes rely on fat. For instance, fat-soluble vitamins can only be distributed throughout the body by way of fat. It is true that there are some fats that are not good for you. Not surprising, these “bad” fats, also known as trans fats, primarily exist in heavily processed foods.

Food manufacturers are changing their tune. Have you noticed that food manufacturers are changing their labels? As the latest food marketing trend changes, “Fat-free” is being replaced with “No trans fats.” The truth of the matter is that living the “low-fat” or “fat-free” lifestyle is actually very damaging for your health. Understanding dietary fats and making good, natural choices are the only real ways to preserve your waistline, and protect yourself against chronic conditions.

A healthy balance is best. Each person’s protein, fat and, carbohydrate requirements are unique based on his or her individual biochemistry. In general, the Zone Diet provides healthy recommendations by adhering to the 40-30-30 rule:
  • 40% of calories should come from carbohydrates. (Read more about good carbs and bad carbs.)
  • 30% of calories should come from protein. (Read more about good protein and bad protein.)
  • 30% of calories should come from fats.1
  • Acceptable ranges for children are similar to those for adults, except that infants and younger children need a slightly higher proportion of fat (30% to 40%).2 During childhood, the brain is the fastest-growing organ and it’s made up of 60% fat. A severe, low-fat diet may have long-term negative health implications.

Good Fats

Saturated Fats. Saturated fats differ from unsaturated fats because the molecules of saturated fat have only one single bond between carbon atoms. They come from animal meat, dairy products, and tropical plants (such as virgin coconut oil). They tend to be solid or semi-solid at room temperature, and are stable so they do not easily become rancid. Although they have received a bad rap, Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, PhD, of the Weston A. Price Foundation, have been leading the charge to systematically and scientifically reveal the importance of saturated fats. In a study entitled, “The Skinny on Fats,” they cite the following:
  • Saturated fatty acids constitute at least 50% of the cell membranes. They give cells their necessary stiffness and integrity.
  • Saturated fats play a vital role in the health of bones. For calcium to be effectively incorporated into the skeletal structure, at least 50% of dietary fats should be saturated.
  • Saturated fats lower lipoprotein (a) – A substance in the blood that indicates proneness to heart disease.
  • Saturated fats protect the liver from alcohol and other toxins.
  • Saturated fats enhance the immune system.
  • Saturated fats are needed for the proper utilization of essential fatty acids. Specifically, omega-3 essential fatty acids are better retained in the tissue when the diet is rich in saturated fats.3
There’s a difference between healthy butter and unhealthy margarine. Unfortunately, saturated fats and trans fats tend to be lumped together into one category as bad for you. The USDA Food Pyramid ( tells you to “Limit solid fats like butter, stick margarine, shortening, and lard.”

According to the USDA, any fat that that is solid at room temperature is considered harmful. However, trans fats are different from saturated fats. Trans fats are processed oils that are hydrogenated so that they become solid. The process of hydrogenating oils turns liquid oils into unhealthy solids. So eliminating the hydrogenated margarine from your diet is actually a far better option for you than avoiding the natural, healthy saturated fat of butter. Read more on Trans Fats below.

In fact, in one particular study it was revealed that men who ate butter ran half the risk of heart disease as those using margarine.4

Unsaturated Fats. Unlike the saturated fats that have a single bond between carbon atoms, unsaturated fats contain a double bond between carbon atoms. Studies have shown that unsaturated fats help decrease inflammation, reduce heart disease, reduce blood clotting (and/or thick blood), and help regulate blood pressure. Unsaturated fats also lower the bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase the good cholesterol (HDL). HDL is manufactured by the liver to repair blood vessels and help transport fat-soluble vitamins to the cells of the body.

There are two types of unsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats have two or more double bonds between carbon atoms, while monounsaturated fats have one double bond.

Polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. They include corn oil, fish oil, flaxseed oil, hemp oil, pumpkin seed oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil.

Polyunsaturated fats are divided into two types: omega-6 and omega-3 oils. Americans consume far too many omega-6 essential fatty acids derived from polyunsaturated fats, and consume far too little omega-3 essential fatty acids derived from fish, fish oil, and nuts and seeds.

The omegas need to be in balance. The typical American diet has a 15:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, and for some it can be as high as 50:1. For ideal health, this ratio should actually be 1:1.5 An inappropriate balance of these essential fatty acids contributes to the development of disease, while a proper balance helps maintain and even improve health. That’s why research is beginning to show that omega-6s and omega-3s only have a beneficial effect if you consume balanced amounts of both.6

Since the Western diet supplies plenty of omega-6, it’s usually not necessary to supplement those. On the other hand, supplementing your diet with omega-3 will help create the necessary healthy balance of these two essential fatty acids. High-quality fish oil supplements, wild Alaskan salmon, minimal-mercury tuna, organic flax meal, and sprouted nuts and seeds are some healthy sources.

Monounsaturated fats are also liquid at room temperature. They include olive, peanut, avocado, and canola oils. Olive oil is a mainstay of the Mediterranean diet (considered by many to be one of the healthiest known diets).

Bad Fats

Trans Fats. Trans fatty acids are produced when vegetable oils are heated under pressure with hydrogen and a catalyst, in a process called hydrogenation. Therefore, these fats are often referred to as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.

In the past few decades, many food manufacturers have added trans fats into processed foods to prolong their shelf life, and to replace the regular saturated fat that has wrongfully gotten a bad rap, thus making their products appear more healthy. Trans fats are commonly found in processed foods including commercially baked goods, icing, margarine, “snack” foods (potato chips, cookies, crackers, microwave popcorn), and fried foods like french fries and fried chicken.

The following list is a compilation of the adverse effects reported in humans and animals from the consumption of trans fatty acids. This information is based on decades of research done by Dr. Mary Enig and has been confirmed by others.
  • Trans fats lower "good" HDL cholesterol in a dose response manner (the higher the trans fat level in the diet, the lower the HDL cholesterol in the serum).
  • Trans fats raise the bad LDL cholesterol in a dose response manner.
  • Trans fats raise the atherogenic lipoprotein (a) in humans (increases blockages in the arteries).
  • Trans fats raise total serum cholesterol levels 20-30mg.
  • Trans fats lower the amount of cream (volume) in milk from lactating females in all species studied, including humans, thus lowering the overall quality available to the infant.
  • Trans fats increase blood insulin levels in humans in response to glucose load, increasing risk for diabetes.
  • Trans fats increase insulin resistance thus having an undesirable effect in diabetics.
  • Trans fats affect immune response by lowering efficiency of B cell response.
  • Trans fats decrease levels of testosterone in male animals, increase level of abnormal sperm, and interfere with gestation in females.
  • Trans fats cause alterations in cell membranes, including membrane fluidity.
  • Trans fats cause alterations in fat cell size, cell number, and fatty acid composition.
  • Trans fats escalate adverse effects of essential fatty acid deficiencies.
Unfortunately, many people do not fully comprehend the seriousness of trans fats. Institutions including the American Medical Association, American Heart Association, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rightly recommend a low intake of trans fats, and FDA labeling requirements to show the amount of trans fats will be fully in place by the year 2006.7,8,9

Dietary Recommendations

  • When cooking, use a healthy saturated fat such as organic virgin coconut oil.
  • As a healthy snack alternative, choose sprouted nuts and seeds that are rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids.
  • Incorporate organic flax meal into your favorite recipes, since it’s a great source of omega-3 essential fatty acids and fiber.
  • Supplement your diet with mercury-free high-quality fish oil, which is a rich source of omega-3.
  • Eat more wild Alaskan salmon and minimal-mercury tuna. Remember to only choose wild fish. Farm-raised fish contain very little omega-3, since they are fed land-based diets devoid of omega-3. Fish obtain ample amounts of omega-3 naturally through their wild diet.
  • Use olive oil as a healthy salad dressing.
  • Choose raw butter, cream, and whole dairy products rather than low-fat or fat-free versions. Check the product labels. Many low-fat versions contain unhealthy additives to make up for the lack of taste from fat.
Foods to AVOID:
  • Avoid “low-fat” or “fat-free” versions of all foods. Check the labels very carefully. While they may be fat free, the odds are high that they are loaded with refined sugars (which are sure to add inches to your waistline). Don’t equate calories with fat. Just because a product is labeled “fat-free” doesn’t mean it’s “calorie-free.” Eating a bag of “fat-free” cookies is not without its consequences.
  • Completely eliminate trans fats from your diet. Avoid margarine and other butter substitutes. Check food labels carefully before purchasing food items. If you see the words “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated”, then simply put the product back.

Additional Reading

Cited Sources:

1) Sears, Barry. Enter the Zone. 1st Edition (copyright 1995)

2) “Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids,” Institute of Medicine of the National Academies 
        Accessed July 2005

3) “The Skinny on Fats” 
        Accessed April 2005

4) “Studies that Challenge the Lipid Hypothesis,” Dr. Mercola 
        Accessed July 2005

5) “Beginner Plan: Fats” Dr. Mercola 
        Accessed July 2005

6) “Omega-6 Fatty Acids,” Whole Health MD,1525,1037,00.html 
        Accessed July 2005

7) “Fat” 
        Accessed April 2005

8) “What You Need to Know About Fat” 
        Accessed April 2005

9) “Trans Fat Now Listed with Saturated Fat and Cholesterol on the Nutrition Facts Label” 
        Accessed April 2005