Fat: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Updated: Nov 9, 2018
Cardiovascular disease is the leading global cause of death. Not only is this detrimental to our existence, it is also one of the most expensive health expenditures in the world!
As a healthcare provider, we are taught in school that if your patient has “cholesterol issues” they need to avoid “bad fats.” But what exactly does that mean?
Fat is a macronutrient that is essential for our very existence. When the right kind of fat is consumed in appropriate portion sizes, it provides us energy and keeps our brain and vital organs protected and healthy. It aids in the absorption of important vitamins such as vitamins D, A, and E. In childhood, it supports our growth and development. Now that we know what the major benefits of fat are, what is the difference between GOOD FAT and BAD FAT?
Bad fats, or trans/saturated fats, are a solid type of fat. This includes, but is not limited to, butter, margarine, animal meat, lard, coconut oil (yes we said coconut oil….we will get back to that in a little bit), and palm oils.
In the 1990s, trans fats were no longer consider GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) by the FDA . This type of “bad” fat (and it really is a BAD FAT) is found in foods containing “partially hydrogenated oil” such as doughnuts, pizza, cookies, and crackers. When eating these types of foods, it wouldn’t hurt to ask if they did make it with this type of oil so that you are aware. Trans fats have been proven to cause an elevation in your LDL (bad cholesterol), lower your HDL (your good, protective cholesterol), cause inflammation in the arteries both in and surrounding your heart, brain, legs, and carotids, and increase your risk for type 2 diabetes. (1) Overall, this is a fat that, well…doesn’t deserve to be in your body. That being said, it does sneak in there from time to time. French fries….a weakness over here!
“Saturated fat increases LDL cholesterol [bad cholesterol], a major cause of atherosclerosis [plaque buildup in arteries which can cause blockages or break off to cause a stroke] and CVD [cardiovascular disease]” (2). These are the fats they we should be trying to consume less, but unfortunately, as a country, we consume way too much. Our busy and “unprepared for meal-making” lives definitely play into this, along with a variety of other reasons. These fats taste good, can be deep fried, and are cheap and fast…but they are a main cause of cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular events (ie. heart attacks)!
Getting back to the coconut oil subject, there is controversial evidence out there and some studies say that coconut oil is considered a “bad fat.” The properties of coconut oil are such that a majority of the fat within it is saturated but…..and it’s a very big “but”…..it’s been debated by many conventional, functional, and integrative practitioners that it actually is beneficial (3). It has also been noted to potentially have more benefits on the “outside” versus the “inside” due to its high availability of saturated fat (in other words when used topically). Without getting into the nitty gritty, we will say that if coconut oil is used moderation there shouldn’t be any risk for causing CVD.
Now, should you stop eating “bad” saturated fats all together? The short answer is NO. Instead they should be consumed in moderation. Like we said before, fat is vital for our existence and, while these guys are not the BEST thing for us, they are needed in order for us to thrive. Saturated fats really only become a problem when they are consumed at high volumes on a daily basis and in patients with certain co-morbidities (diabetes, autoimmune diseases, high blood pressure etc) and sedentary lifestyles. When good quality saturated fats (ie. those from clean, organic animal products and plant-based foods) are consumed in moderation they can benefit our bodies.
Good fats, or monosaturated/polysaturated/unsaturated fats, stay as a liquid at room temperature. They are mainly in an oil formulation, or the foods they come from can be made into an oil (ie: avocado, walnut etc). These are the fats that have exploded the whole ketogenic revolution which focuses on a high monounsaturated fat, low carbohydrate diet. Good fats contain more omega-3 fatty acids than saturated fats. Foods high is saturated fats tend to also have a higher ratio of omega-6 fatty acids (which are responsible for inflammation in cardiovascular disease) to omega-3 fatty acids, hence the reason for being “bad.” Omega-3 fatty acids (as explained in our supplement series newsletter this past week) decrease overall inflammation. It has been shown in certain clinical studies to improve symptoms of depression in post-partum women (4) and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) symptoms in children (5), as well as improve type 2 diabetes (6).
Although they provide the benefits listed above, it has been clinically proven that they do NOT provide any added benefits in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and/or prevent mortality or morbidity (meaning having, or dying from, a heart attack or stroke) (7). With that being said, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are still a fan favorite in the health and wellness community due to their other beneficial qualities.
Dogs and Cats can live together, why can’t good and bad fats?
In the end, it always has been and always will be that they can live in harmony- as long as there is moderation involved. As stated before, fats are essential for our growth and development, provide protection to our vital organs, give us energy to exercise, and can actually help us LOSE weight. It all comes down to choosing the right kind of fats.
Try to incorporate a good fat of some sort with each of your meals. For example, have a 1/2 of an avocado with 2 eggs for breakfast. For lunch, have an apple walnut chicken salad, and for dinner have salmon, sautéed spinach, and quinoa cooked in avocado oil.
This is just a brief summary of what it looks like to incorporate a little good fat into your diet with each meal. If you have any questions in regards of how to further incorporate them, don’t hesitate to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Now, the medical disclaimer in regards to fats. Some people might have a difficult time digesting and excreting fats, whether its due to a medical condition, having had their gallbladder removed (the gallbladder is an organ that helps with the process of digesting and getting rid of fat), or an enzyme deficiency where their pancreas isn’t able to “dump” enough fat digesting enzymes into their stomach (called Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency). Bottom line: if you are planning to make any drastic changes to your diet, please let your healthcare provider know so they can also help guide you and educate you on what the best route is.
Can you stay on high “good fat” diet forever, ie. the Ketogentic diet?
The basic answer is: WE DON’T KNOW. There are longevity studies going on in pursuit of finding out this billion dollar question, but as far as long term effects go, we are not quite sure. We DO know that good (monosaturated and polyunsaturated) fats have positive effects on our body, but the long-term effect of such a high intake of them, in conjunction with an extremely low carbohydrate intake, is not clear. Healthcare providers are educating their patients to proceed further than a 60 day mark on a ketogenic style diet with caution. This is why it is important to let your healthcare provider know if you do decide to start incorporating more fats in your diet. They might want to perform blood work before, during, and after your journey.
We hope this was informative and clarified the difference between the good, the bad, and the ugly fats. As always, if you have any questions or concerns about this blog post, or any of our blog posts, don’t hesitate to contact us via email email@example.com or via social media (instagram, facebook, or twitter).
And as always continue to Follow Your Gut