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The Skinny on Fats – Without the Gobbledegook

Posted May 25 2013 10:48pm

[First, a quick disclaimer: while there's a chance that I might end up in bankruptcy court because of my habit of obsessively buying books on health, food, and nutrition, reading a lot does not mean I truly understand what I am reading. It was once said that the inherent danger in books is it can create the appearance of knowledge in some - and people not versed in the area might not be able to tell the difference.

Because of this I want you to promise that you will keep this in mind while reading what follows. It's not meant to be advice for anyone else but myself.

Actually, it's a gamble. I've chosen to take an unorthodox approach to eating based upon what I've learned, but this is a personal decision - not an expert opinion.]

The problem with ‘fat’ is it is a gross simplification – and a dangerous one. It’s sort of like thinking every species of fish is the same and handling an interaction with a goldfish the same way you would with a great white shark.

One you might eat on a dare (in college and involving alcohol in the 1920s perhaps) and one might eat you – it’s a very different interaction.

Once we begin to explore fats in detail, for most people, MEGO sets in. ‘MEGO’ stands for ‘My Eyes Glaze Over’. There’s short chain fatty acids, medium chain fatty acids and long chain fatty acids, then there’s saturated fats, monosaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. To explain the differences at this point begins the MEGO process with discussions of chemical bonds, atoms, molecular diagrams and the wandering mind of a listener thinking about what’s on TV right about now that would be a heck of a lot more interesting.

And I haven’t even scratched the surface.

How about I don’t and instead give a simpler explanation that I think gives enough useful info without transporting you back to chemistry class? Let’s see if I can pull this off – you people out there who know way more than I do – please feel free to criticize me if you think I am leading people astray.

So I’ve made clear that there’s a whole bushel basket full of different fats. People on a low carb diet can pretty much use any of them and experience the kind of weight loss that people who respond to low carb can expect to achieve. The problem arises in that some of these fats are better for you than others, some should be eaten sparingly, some shouldn’t be used in cooking, and some shouldn’t be used at all.

To make this chaos even worse, experts of every conceivable stripe are in complete disagreement about which are which – and some people think too much of ANY fat is bad for you.

See – it’s a mess.

Here’s the conclusions that I’ve come to. I’ve concluded this because I’m tired of thinking – not because I have cornered the market on knowledge.

First and foremost. Fat is, despite what you’ve heard, awfully good for you, but fats can go rancid. Rancid fats are oxidized fats and these tear through your body pulling atoms off of other molecules and stirring up trouble – sort of like Marlon Brando and his cycle gang in ‘ The Wild One ‘.


Fats are more likely to go rancid if they aren’t saturated. Oh, wait – aren’t the saturated fats the ‘bad’ ones?

Um, no.

The worst fats, which people finally woke up to after 30 years of being told were healthy, are trans fats. These fats were only healthy for the profit margins of the people who made them. They are rarely found in nature and your body doesn’t quite know what to do with them. It raises triglycerides and caused heart disease and now we’ve wizened up to it, but there’s lots more fats that cause endless mischief – and these are still being touted as good for you over the actual good fats – which are still considered bad by most experts and authorities on this stuff.

How do I think you should tell the good fats from the bad fats? An easy way to think of it is to ask yourself: just how easy would it be for little old me to get oil out of a foodstuff. You want a cup of fat and only have unprocessed food. What would be the easiest?

Meat is simple. Cook it and it will ooze liquid fat that will stay solid at room temperature and keep for quite some time in the fridge. This is saturated fat. It is stable. You can cook with it without it turning rancid, going rogue and coursing through your body tugging atoms off of innocent molecules minding their own business. Milk – at least straight from the cow – only needs to be left unmolested to let the cream come to the top. With a churn, it easily can be turned to butter.

With a little more work and the addition of microbes to digest some of the sugars in the milk, and some patience, you also get yogurt and cheese.

Your body loves these fats. They don’t, in my estimation, cause heart disease, and contain many different variants of fats – most of them pretty darn good for you.

Once you’ve gone past the meat and dairy, it begins to get a little tougher. Olives need somewhat serious equipment to be pressed, but it was nothing beyond civilizations thousands of years old. Olive oil is a monosaturated fat, and it can also be used in cooking, though it’s a bit more delicate than the saturated type – you shouldn’t deep-fry in it, and it’s best not to heat it to extract it – you want to buy the extra-virgin cold-pressed variety.

Once the olives are pressed, the only things left are the vegetable fats. As an aside: olives are actually a stone fruit like a cherry. Olive oil is really akin to olive juice and is best – like any juice – squeezed fresh and used as soon as possible.

Coconuts and avocados are also fruits though we might not think of them that way. Their oils are mostly saturated and are also pretty good for you.

Next you have things like soy, canola, cottonseed and corn. Good luck producing oil with these in your kitchen. If you’ve eaten these in their natural state they don’t taste oily at all. In order to get oil out of these things usually requires two things – high temperatures and pressure. This effectively ‘denatures’ these fats – they aren’t the same once extracted like this, and are as artificial as trans fats. Frequently solvents like hexane need to be added to help separate these fats out, then the hexane – a petroleum product – needs to be removed – but some is left behind (Yum!).

These oils are polyunsaturated, which means that from the outset they are more likely to go rancid – in fact, many can be considered rancid the moment they are produced. It only get worse from there. Stored in the clear containers they degrade further in the light and are ready to stir up trouble right from the first pour from a freshly opened bottle.

Some of these oils are pretty gnarly once produced. Nature never intended for them to exist in this form and they don’t look or smell great so they are deodorized, bleached and otherwise tarted up so that they are presentable.

While these fats are touted as ‘healthy’, they are no such thing in my estimation.

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