Why We Eat Healthy Fats

3 small glass cups on a wooden chopping board filled with olive oil, coconut oil and coconut ghee with a striped tea towel interwoven between them

Coconut oil and butter are two of my favourite healthy fats that I use in the kitchen everyday. Olive oil is another healthy fat I absolutely am so thankful for. Good quality extra virgin freshly pressed olive oil tastes divinely good, especially when poured over freshly baked sourdough bread.

Have you ever spread margarine from those plastic tubs on your toast and enjoyed that?

I haven’t.

Growing up I remember being told how butter was “bad for you” and that you should instead eat margerine. If only I knew then what I know now! I struggled with being overweight in my childhood and adolesence years. Binge eating packaged foods packed with refined carbs, refined sugar, unhealthy fats, preservatives and additives. Then, later on I did extreme dieting and experienced anorexia for part of my teenage years. Eventually I went back to eating a normal Western diet but still struggled with my overall health and weight.

The Western diet is refined sugar, refined carbohydrates and trans fats heavy. For some context, let’s take a look at your average day in the life of a person living on a Western diet:

Breakfast: Boxed cereal with pasteurized (probably UHT) milk and/or toast with spreadable “low fat” margerine

Lunch: A sandwich with crisps (or as Americans know them, potato chips)

Dinner: Pasta with ready made pasta sauce and maybe some ice-cream for dessert.

Looking back, I remember days when my diet looked something like that.

So many calories. Zero nutrition.

The Human Cell

On a cellular level we are made of fats. Human (and animal) cells are made up of phospholipids, glycolipids and cholesterol.  Of the three, phospholipids are the largest and are made of unsaturated and saturated fat. These two need to be balanced in order for the body to function optimally.

Processed fats are unnatural in nature and man-altered. Here’s what happens when we consume hydrogenated or partly hydrogenated fats:

  • they uproot the unsaturated and saturated fats in the tails of the phospholipids
  • this makes the cell membrane less permeable
  • the cell then can’t get nutrients in or get waste out
  • this inevitably makes the cell backed up and sick

Can you imagine?

Learning this has shed some light on why I felt so bad eating a Western diet. Man made adulterated fats are the foundation to this diet.

Saturated vs. Unsaturated Fats

The topic is somewhat controversial. For years people have been told to stay away from saturated fats in order to reduce their risk of heart disease, but the whole picture is a lot more complicated than that.

Recent studies have shown that this idea that has been a fact for so long, may be a myth.

What are saturated fats and unsaturated fats anyway?

It comes down to their molecular structure. To sum up the science, saturated fats have no double bonds while unsaturated fats do.

There are two types of unsaturated fatty acids: polyunsaturated and monounsaturated.

There is no absolute form of fatty acid. All fats contain a combination of all of the types.

Examples of saturated fats include:

  • meat
  • full fat dairy
  • butter
  • cream
  • coconut oil and all coconut products
  • dark chocolate
  • palm oil

Examples of unsaturated fats include:

  • vegetable oils (like canola oil, sunflour oil and olive oil)
  • walnuts
  • flax seeds
  • fish
  • avocado

According to this article, in the 20th century when heart disease was growing rampant in America, researchers found that saturated fat increased cholesterol in the bloodstream which led to heart disease. They connected the dots and made the conclusion that saturated fat = heart disease.

But there was one problem.

They never tested this theory on humans, but performed their studies on animals.

The truth is that while saturated fats do raise cholesterol in the bloodstream they turn small LDL particles (the ones that cause heart disease) into large LDL particles helping to reduce the risk of heart disease overall.

The Story of Margarine

Boxes of margarine on shelves in a supermarket

Margerine was created in France in 1869 by a chemist named Hippolyte Mege-Mouries. In response to a challenge by the Emperor Napolean III, he created it to make something that could be used as a substitute for butter by people of lower classes and those serving in the armed forces.

His original invention used beef tallow.

Today margerine is made by mixing thoroughly refined vegetable oil and water.

Because of the use of tallow, margerine had a white colour that people didn’t care for. So in the late 1880s manufacturers added yellow colouring to make it look more like butter and so, more appealing to consumers.

Margarine sales took off after WWII and was dominant over butter for decades until recent years where consumers are now growing in demand of real food like butter, olive oil and coconut oil.

The Impact of Polyunsaturated Omega-6 Fatty Acids

The Western diet today is high in fatty acids overall but mainly in the area of vegetable oils. Vegetable oils contain very high amounts of this type of fatty acid. While the body does need some Omega-6, it needs to be in the right ratio to Omega-3.

According to this article, the ratio today is around 10:1 or 20:1. This is way above the optimal level of 4:1. Some even suggest that the best ratio to consume of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids is a 1:1 ratio.

Inflammation is the root cause of many of our Modern day diseases like arthritis, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and obesity.

One of the culprits behind inflammation in the body is this absurdly high amount of Omega-6 inflammatory vegetable oils we consume on a daily basis.

If you walk through a Supermarket and look at the packaging of most foods, if any fatty acid is referenced it’s most probably a form of one of the pro-inflammatory high omega-6 vegetable oils. Some examples of these are:

  • Safflower oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Cotton seed oil
  • Soybean oil, and
  • Corn oil

But wait. Are all vegetable oils bad?

No, not necessarily. Not all fats are equal and not all unsaturated fats are bad. Olive oil is a vegetable oil and an example of an unsaturated fat that’s very healthy. Other vegetable oils, like the ones listed above, are not.

There are two keys here:

  1.  ratio (remember what we said about the human cell?), and
  2. quality

I like to think of food in terms of whether it’s real or not. I ask questions like:

  • Where did this come from?
  • Where was it processed?
  • How was it made?
  • Was there a long chain between the supplier and me?

The healthier the food, the more natural it is. The shorter the chain between the supplier and consumer the better. Fats are an integral part of a healthy diet but the kind of fats people eat today is highly refined and nowhere near anything real. When margarine was first invented it was made with beef tallow- a highly saturated fat (and healthy).

Today, refined vegetable oils haved paved the way for diseases that were uncommon among those who didn’t eat these foods.

Healthy fats are truly health giving.

And I can tell you, since making this one switch, I’ve lost weight without even trying!

How about you? How do you feel about margarine?

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