This post focuses on the fifth and final mantra in the Eating component of the Karma Sense Eating Plan (KSEP), Eat Good Fats Daily and Get a Balance of the Different Types of Good Fats. This mantra should be a breath of fresh air after the complexity of mantra #4, Eat Whole Food Carbohydrates After Vigorous Exercise. It’s quite simple to manage. Timing isn’t a consideration. And everyone loves fat. Yet somehow or other, we so-called nutrition experts managed to muck it up. And we had help. This post will right these wrongs.
If you’ve entered this series in the middle and you want to binge read, an index of the Karma Sense Eating Plan series can be found here. Or you can go to the summary post that can get you caught up in about 10 minutes.
But for now, let’s tell a little story. It’s kind of embarrassing so let’s just say it’s a story about…
This “friend” was a shy, awkward, funny looking kid, but he seemed to get along OK. When he got a little older, somehow, a nasty rumor was started about him in school. It really doesn’t matter what the rumor was because it was just baseless gossip and repeating it only perpetuates the lie. But it was a really clever sort of gossip because it weaved in aspects of my “friend” that were totally true and believable. He was shunned. Outcast. Banished. No reindeer games for him. Persona non grata (which I believe is Pig Latin for Nperso non tgra). You get the idea.
It was a pity. He was a nice kid. He was helpful and considerate. He really had his friend’s backs. He had a lot going for him.
So my “friend” ended up spending a lot of time alone. He didn’t get out much. He developed some very unhealthy habits. Eventually, because he was basically a good guy, he began to hang out with a different crowd; certainly not the cool kids. But around his new crew, he was popular. And he thrived. Thrived enough to the point where the in-crowd started to notice. Little by little, they began inviting him into their circle. New rumors started to circulate, but they were about how awesome he was. He got swept up in his new popularity and ignored his old crew. It wasn’t that he didn’t like them. He just didn’t have time for them anymore.
Eventually, the guy who was so devastated by the negative rumors about him started to bask in the new positive ones. He was becoming a hero (but fear not, dear reader, no superheroes in this story). Then, one day, an emergency happened amongst the popular kids. It was one that only my “friend” with his rumored and fully imagined awesomeness could fix. But that awesomeness was fake. There was no way he or anyone else could help.
Through dumb luck that had nothing to do with my “friend”, disaster was averted. But now everyone knew he was a fraud. He was put in the penalty box. Meanwhile, his old friends had moved on. Once again my “friend” became a loner.
Fortunately, he had college to look forward to. A chance to begin anew. All those lessons learned with the added benefit of still being a nice kid who was helpful and considerate and really had his friend’s back.
And do you know what happened to my “friend”? Do you?
He was swept up and killed by a Giant Nuclear Monster while visiting Tokyo. That’s right, my “friend” is totally made up (it should comes as no surprise that most of my friends are imaginary).
That story was about 5% me, 10% Mean Girls, 10% Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, 30% Peggy Sue Got Married, 20% that episode from Seinfeld when George pretends to be a marine biologist, and the rest from just about every other teen angst movie ever written.
But while that story is fiction, it pretty much mirrors the real-life story of fat as a component of a healthful diet. The rest of this post discusses the role of fat in the diet, the kind of fat we should seek out, how much we should eat, and some of the things we should look out for as we honor mantra #5. However, to be fair to those who just want to be told what to do and then be left alone, here are the particulars about mantra #5…
Eat Good Fats Daily and Get a Balance of the Different Types of Good Fats
To get to the essence of this mantra, we need to establish the different categories of fats. We also need to distinguish between “good” fats and bad “fats”. The easiest way to do this is with a table:
If you hate tables, with their beautiful rows and columns majestically presenting data in a structured manner (sigh), here’s a narrative recommendation for how to honor mantra #5. It assumes your only goal is to adopt a healthier diet. More specific goals may require tweaks.
- Omega-3 and Monounsaturated fats are good fats. Increase the amounts in your diet.
- Saturated and Omega-6 fats are also good fats. You probably get enough already. If you increase Omega-3 and monounsaturated fats, you may need to reduce saturated and Omega-6 fats just to keep your calorie consumption in check. But another place to look to compensate for the calories is to reduce refined carbohydrates.
- Trans fats are bad fats. This is one of the few things the Karma Sense Eating Plan will tell you to never ever eat. Other things on this list include arsenic, hemlock, cyanide, ricin, and Ben and Jerry’s Chubby Hubby. But that last item has special disposal instructions. Just send it to me and I’ll take care of it for you.
Your goal is to make sure that the fats you eat have an even representation from each major category of fat (i.e. saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated). Also within the major category of polyunsaturated fats, you should have a one-to-one ratio of Omega-3s to Omega-6s.
The typical North American diet is one of our top 5 worst exports to the rest of the world. Among its problem is a spate of foods with cheap Omega-6 vegetable oils and foods deep fried in saturated fat. These fats crowd out the monounsaturated and Omega-3s that we should be getting. In case you were wondering. our other bad exports in the top 5 list are the song Cotton Eyed Joe, Shake Weights, Manimal, and Ben and Jerry’s Chubby Hubby (we should be hoarding that last one.)
For some, the above information may be more than enough to honor mantra #5 as well as to live long and prosper.
Other people are masochists and they can continue to read this post to learn specifics on why these fats are “good”, why you may have been led to believe otherwise, the dangers of the pendulum swinging the other way, and most importantly, how to cut through the incredible disinformation (which I believe is what classy people say when they really mean “utter bull$hit”) about fat and manage your intake in a way that makes you healthier, happier, and. you guessed it, saves the world.
We’ll start with exploring what fat was like before it was encumbered by rumors. Like my “friend”, fat was just…
The funny thing about rumors is that no matter what they are, the truth never changes. Here is the truth about fat and why your body needs it in the diet:
- It forms a critical part of our nervous system (including our brains) and our endocrine system (including sexy time). A proper mix of fats in the diet ensures that these two systems are on their best behavior.
- It provides structure to our cell membranes. A balanced mix of the good fats makes sure that the cell membranes are neither too stiff nor too fluid (those adjectives are not related to sexy time).
- It provides “essential” nutrients. When applied to nutrition, “essential” means nutrients that can only be acquired through the diet. This is in contrast to other nutrients which our body can make on its own when it needs to with ingredients it’s got stored in the larder. While the body can convert many types of fatty acids into other types, there are two that are considered essential. Those two are linolenic acid and linoleic acid and are used to make Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats. These fatty acids are critical to the nervous system and for managing your body’s inflammation response.
- It allows absorption of other essential nutrients, such as the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. These nutrients are not absorbed by the body unless they are consumed with fats.
- It provides more energy than any of the other macronutrients.
I think you would agree, fat has a lot going for it. Is it perfect? No. Even before the rumors started, fat has some legitimate issues:
- It provides more energy than any of the macronutrients. You might be thinking, “Hey, didn’t you just say that was one of its positive aspects?” Yes, I did. But that means gram-for-gram, fat has a lot of calories (9 cal/g vs. 4 cal/g for protein or carbs). Being calorie dense is the aspect of fat that makes you fat.
- Favoring one type of fat in the diet over other types of fats makes many of the advantages above disappear. The North American Diet tends to favor saturated and Omega-6 fats.
- Certain totally awesome fats (e.g. olive oil) are mishandled. They’re stored improperly (in bright warm environments), they’re stored for too long, or they’re used for high heat cooking. These practices turn them from anti-inflammatory superheroes to inflammatory zeroes.
So you can see how with some clever handling of the information above, one could turn a perfectly good “friend” into a…
It started out innocently enough. In the mid-twentieth century, there was a revolution in food production. Technologies and advancements improved the state of the art in automation, fertilizers, feeds, pesticides, irrigation, preservation, packaging, husbandry, flavor and appearance enhancement. According to data from the US Department of Commerce, year-over-year productivity from farm-to-table improved 5 times from what it had been just a few decades earlier (Bruce L. Gardner, American Agriculture in the Twentieth Century, (Harvard University Press, 2002)). The bottom line is that delicious, affordable calories were available on an unprecedented scale.
Meanwhile on the other side of the tracks, well-meaning scientists were becoming alarmed by the increase in chronic conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. In trying to find an answer, a correlation was made between the increased consumption of saturated fat and these same conditions. The flaws in these studies are beyond the scope of this post but if you’re interested in learning more, I recommend this excellent write-up by Dr. David Katz. Furthermore, somehow, all sources of dietary fat were demonized even though the research focused solely on saturated fats.
These findings were quickly picked up by some of the very same consumer goods companies that were the true cause to begin with (NOTE: These consumer goods companies are also members of the Tasty-But-Empty-Calorie Cabal. They get around). As part of our Healthcare Industrial Complex, they conspired to motivate consumer behavior in the direction that is most beneficial to them. Other members of this Complex include the big pharma, medical device, and care delivery companies that fund scientific research in hopes of uncovering new benefits for their products. The research community either has to play along or see its funding dry up. Armed with these discoveries, the marketeers then cajole (really, they’re always cajoling) the media to publicize their findings or lose precious advertising dollars. This increased demand makes people sicker. It is the most vicious of cycles.
The end result of this version of fat-shaming was an avalanche of products in response to the wrong problem; products that are worse than the conditions they are meant to resolve. Unless those conditions were sagging profits for food manufacturers in which case they kicked a$$. I’m talking about completely unsatisfying fat-free cheese that only makes you ache for something good. Sugar infused fat-free dressing that prevents you from absorbing all of the fat-soluble vitamin goodness in the salad you’re eating. And, the Frankenfood that would make any GMO tomato blush, fat-free cookies and pastries. “Food” so odious, that it made me stop typing so that I could look up what “odious” means. Case in point:
Ingredients: Sugar (1st ingredient, sugar), Enriched Flour (2nd ingredient, refined starch), [Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, (Vitamin B1) Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid], High Fructose Corn Syrup (3rd ingredient, sugar), Corn Syrup (4th ingredient, sugar), Skim Milk, Cocoa (Processed With Alkali), Glycerin, Emulsifiers [(Adds A Trivial Amount of Fat) Soy Lecithin, Mono – and Diglycerides], Leavening (Baking Soda, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Calcium Phosphate), Gelatin, Cornstarch (refined starch), Modified Corn Starch (refined starch), Chocolate (Adds A Trivial Amount of Fat), Salt, Potassium Sorbate Added to Preserve Freshness, Artificial Flavor (mmmmm, faux flavor).
So we had a scapegoat, we had a response to said scapegoat, and all the chronic conditions that started this brouhaha to begin with only got worse. Meanwhile, in defiance of the Healthcare Industrial Complex, an unheard minority was achieving fabulous things with higher fat diets. The Atkins and South Beach plans practically eliminate carbs from the diet and people who followed them lost weight and their heart health improved. On the other side of the tracks (the same side as the aforementioned well-meaning scientists), more balanced high-fat diets that include carbs were also getting attention for their health benefits. The Mediterranean Diet, rich in Omega-3s, monounsaturated oils, and loads of plant-based foods including whole grains were linked to heart health and longevity.
Where are we in this story (I was getting kind of lost too)? Dietary fat was scapegoated as a major health issue. Removal of fat from the diet only made the problem worse. People who resisted that trend ended up being better off than those who followed it. Maybe we had it all wrong about fat. Maybe fat is kind of cool. But is fat a…
Fat is now at the same point in the story of my “friend” when he got in with the cool crowd. And based on how things are playing out, the parallels to that story may continue. The benefits of higher fat diets are becoming common knowledge. The most telling thing is that the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is beginning to distance itself from specious claims on the link between dietary cholesterol, fat and heart disease. They still however demonize saturated fats when the evidence does not really support a link to our chronic disease epidemic.
The only people left who still believe the low-fat dogma are the same folks who are miffed that they canceled Murder She Wrote The cool kids are now all eating their bacon-wrapped-buffalo-chicken-wings at about 200 calories per wing and a full day’s calories per serving (but low carb!) Or they’re eating potato chips cooked in olive oil. The same olive oil that shouldn’t be exposed to high heat deep frying. And new Frankenfoods find their way to the grocery store shelves. Food so odious that it made me forget what “odious” meant so I had to look it up again. Case in point:
Ingredients: Chocolate Flavored Coating (Polydextrose (gross), Palm Kernel Oil, Whey Protein Isolate, Cocoa Powder (Processed with Alkali), Soy Lecithin, Artificial Flavor (gross), Sucralose (gross), Acesulfame Potassium (gross)), Peanut Butter Flavored Layer (Maltitol (gross), Palm Kernel and Palm Oil, Peanut Butter, Partiallly Defatted Peanut Flour, Nonfat Dry Milk, Whey Powder, Peanuts, Salt, Soy Lecithin, Anhydrous Milk Fat, Cocoa Powder (Processed with Alkali), Glycerin, Protein Blend (Soy Protein Isolate, Whey Protein Isolate, Sodium Caseinate), Peanuts, Hydrolyzed Gelatin, Water, Polydextrose (still gross), Peanut Butter (Ground, Roasted Peanuts), Cellulose, Natural and Artificial Flavors (gross), Palm Kernel Oil, Olive Oil, Clarified Butter, Soy Lecithin, Guar Gum, Vitamin Mineral Mix (Tricalcium Phosphate, Calcium Carbonate, Magnesium Oxide, Vitamin A Palmitate, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Sodium Ascorbate, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6),DL-Alpha Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Niacinamide, Biotin, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Zinc Oxide, Folic Acid, Chromium Chelate, Phytonadione (Vitamin K1), Sodium Selenite, Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12), Salt, Maltodextrin, Citric Acid, Sucralose (gross), Mono and Diglycerides, Dipotassium Phosphate (gross).
The list above is more deceptively problematic than the SnackWell list. The length of ingredients alone should give you pause. Words to live by: “Avoid eating any packaged foods with more ingredients than there are states in the United States.” The number of ingredients that are chemicals is also problematic. It contains loads of vitamins, but their synthetic and your body doesn’t absorb synthetic vitamins well. Then there are the sugar alcohols and soy derivatives that at best give some people belly aches and at worse cause cancer. My fear is that while fat is becoming cool, we’re falling into the same trap we were in when it was demonized. It’s one extreme or the other. It’s all or nothing. If only there was a dogma-free place to guide our nutrition choices; a place that respected individual needs, preference, and goals. Hmmm…
The Karma Sense Eating Plan
The Karma Sense Eating Plan is designed to be inclusive. There are no cool kids. There are no losers. We all exist together in one giant good karma kumbaya conclave. And so we’re going to make this as simple and stress-free as possible. The first thing to keep in mind is the best way to manage your dietary fat is to follow all the mantras of the Karma Sense Eating Plan. By doing so, you are starting off with a very good mix of nutrients and blocking out some of the bad actors we want to avoid. Then be sure to:
Eat More Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fats
Omega-3s lower your cells viscosity. By being more fluid, your muscle cells become more sensitive to insulin. More fluid cells also helps the nervous system and the brain communicate more efficiently. Your Grandma may have told you fish was brain food. Your Grandma was a freaking neuroscientist who could make a kicka$$ salmon casserole. Omega 3’s are also critical to the immune system. They are anticoagulant, anti-inflammatory, catalysts to blood vessel and respiratory system dilation and they reduce pain.
Ways to get more Omega-3s, ranked from most effective to least effective (but still worthwhile), include:
- Eat foods that come from the sea. If you’re a vegetarian, that’s going to mean algae (but fear not if slimy green stuff is not to your liking. You have other options). If you do eat fish, smallish wild-caught cold water fish are your best source. They are low in contaminants and high in the fat you want. A decent list can be found here.
- Supplement with fish oil or algae based Omega-3 products.
- Eat flax seeds, hemp seeds (dude), walnuts, or chia seeds. And if you have extra chia seeds, you can do this:
- There is a misconception that foods like eggs and red meats are nothing but protein and saturated fat. The fact of the matter is that the fat in an egg is mostly unsaturated. Eggs and beef contain all three major categories of fat. If the animals that were used to make your eggs and beef were pasture raised and not grain fed, then much of their fat content is Omega-3.
Eat More Monounsaturated Fats
Monounsaturated fats have a similar effect on the cells as Omega-3s (i.e. they make the cells more gooey – in a good way). They are also shown to have a positive effect on blood lipids such as decreasing your bad (LDL) cholesterol. Great sources include avocados, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, olives, pecans, pistachios, and sesame seeds. Many of these are useful in their pure oil form. Everyone knows about olive oil. If you like living on the edge, mix it up a bit and consider using macadamia or avocado oils on salads and vegetables. You are a wild child. Sesame oil is quite tasty when cooking Asian style.
Be Mindful of the Omega-6 Polyunsaturated Fats that You Eat
Omega-6s are the yin to the Omega-3’s immune system yang. Where Omega-3s dilate, Omega-6s constrict. When Omega-3s “anti”, Omega-6s “pro”. And Omega-6s promote pain. On the surface, it seems like you should totally avoid Omega-6s but this is not the case. The Omega-3s and Omega-6s cooperate to support your immune system. When there is an authentic reason for inflammation to occur, you want it to occur. You just don’t want chronic inflammation. By keeping your Omega fats in balance, these immunity responses are also balanced. The thing about Omega-6 fats is that they are plentiful in our diet. Many prepared foods are made with vegetable oils (e.g. soybean) that are high in Omega-6 because they are the cheapest (often due to government subsidies, thank you very much). The Karma Sense theory is that by increasing the amount of Omega-3s that you eat, you achieve the balance. But for extra credit if you can remove foods that contain soybean, corn, and other vegetable oils, you’ll do yourself (and others) a great service. Because we all want you to be the healthiest you that you can be. We kind of like you (not necessarily “like”-like you, but definitely like you).
Be Mindful of the Saturated Fats that You Eat
Saturated fats are what caused the whole fat kerfuffle to begin with. Now there is a considerable movement to recognize that saturated fats can actually be beneficial and associations to various chronic diseases are just as likely to come from conflated unhealthful behaviors (e.g. too much refined carbs, sedentary lifestyle) as from the saturated fat itself. In other words, the cheeseburger may not be the problem. The refined flour bun, potatoes deep fried in high heat oil, high fructose corn syrup infused tomato sauce (aka ketchup) and liter of sugar water might actually be the issue. The fact is, we don’t know, but there is likely no harm in leaning towards control of saturated fat intake so that you can balance between saturated and desirable unsaturated fat sources. Furthermore:
- If you eat animal products you probably get enough saturated fat. There is no need to focus on increasing the amount that you eat. If you want to optimize your intake, aim towards animal products that are organically grown and fed their natural diets (i.e. grass fed cows, limited grains, free range chickens, wild caught fish). This really increases their Omega-3 content and provides a better balance.
- If you avoid animal products, know this, saturated fats in their purest forms are usually solid at room temperature (think butter, tallow or lard). There are a few plant sources of saturated fats. They include coconut and palm oils. Feel free to cook with these tasty, healthful oils. Vegetable shortening and margarine are hydrogenated forms of vegetable oil. They are trans fat Frankenfoods and odious (I remembered this time!). I know that the Karma Sense Eating Plan is inclusive and everything but it does not include eating chemically saturated fats. Other activities it does not include is looking directly at a total solar eclipse, playing in traffic, listening to The Starland Vocal Band’s Afternoon Delight or sharing my Chubby Hubby ice cream (except with my wife. May I sleep in my own bed now?).
Trans fats – No!
Hydrogenation is an awesome technology for stockholders in companies that make up the Tasty-But-Empty-Calorie Cabal. It is cheap. It improves the taste of foods that would be uneatable without it. And it lasts forever so that foods that contain trans fats can survive a nuclear holocaust. The upside is that if that holocaust were to cause an epidemic of Giant Nuclear Monsters, we could just feed them Ho-Hos and they’d all die of chronic diseases.
The best ways to avoid trans fats is to check product ingredients. If they contain partially hydrogenated anything, they contain trans fats. Don’t rely on the label’s nutrition facts. Consumer good companies paid attention in math class and figured out how to say that their chips that contain partially hydrogenated soybean oil have 0% trans fats as long as you restrict your consumption to 1 chip. And who can eat just one?
One more comment on trans fats and I’ll get off my high horse (how the horse got high, I’ll never know. Hemp seeds?) Nut butters are a great source of healthy fats. They can also be great sources of trans fats. If you buy nut butters in a jar that you don’t have to stir, they probably contain a crapload of trans fat. Buy natural nut butters that you have to stir. Store them upside down so that the oil starts to mix into the nut goo. After you open and stir them, store them in the refrigerator and they won’t separate again. You can also make your own. Many supermarkets have the machines in-store so you can do so.
Two Other Notes on Fats and I’ll Give You a Break
Oils can be very volatile. Not “terrible-two” volatile, but pretty unstable. That means that if mishandled, even anti-inflammatory fats can cause inflammation. Be aware of the shelf life of the oil you buy. Don’t buy oils in massive quantities if you’re not going to use them within a few months. If they smell rancid, throw them out. Aim for expeller and cold pressed oils vs. ones that are chemically extracted. Chemical extraction is cheap process that makes your oil yucky (which I believe is a technical term for “causes inflammation”).
When cooking with oils make sure to use oils that are right for the temperature required. Olive oil, for example, has a low smoke point which means it burns when exposed to high heat. Burned oil is inflammatory oil. Check out the labels and cook with healthy high heat oils. A small contingent of the “Healthy Lifestyle” Militia will tell you never to cook with fats, especially at high heat. C’mon?!? Never eat a french fry? Ever? That’s crazy talk.
So, before moving onto special considerations, and key points, we probably should touch on what will become of fat and see if its life really does mirror that of my friend? Well, my prediction is that fat will be eaten Karma Sensibly by a Giant Nuclear Monster in which case Tokyo doesn’t have a chance.
Time to explore how people with different goals should adjust the mantra of Eat Good Fats Daily and Get a Balance of the Different Types of Good Fats.
Follow the guidelines of good fat balance as described in the mantra. You need to be especially careful with overall fat intake because of the high number of calories. If you follow the other mantras, especially mantra #3, Eat Whole Food Carbohydrates After Vigorous Exercise, you should have no problem losing weight. If you find you’re not losing as much as you want, aim for leaner versions of protein and watch the amount of oil used to prepare your meals.
Maintain Weight but Eat Healthier
Follow the guidelines of good fat balance as described in the mantra. Try not to include high-fat and high-carb meals in the same day. But what’s the problem with a little gnocchi in pesto every once in a while among friends?
Gain Weight in the Form of Muscle
Follow the guidelines of good fat balance as described in the mantra.
- Fat is another misunderstood macronutrient. Your goal with eating fat should be more focused on getting the right mix of different fats as opposed to restricting or eliminating fats.
- There are 3 major categories of fats. They are saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats. Aim to get a good mix of each.
- Of the polyunsaturated fats there are 2 essential ones that you must eat. They are Omega-3 and Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats. Aim to get a balanced mix of each.
- Do not eat foods that contain trans fats. Ever. I really mean it.
- The typical diet in the developing world contains sufficient access to saturated and Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats. Try to increase your intake of monounsaturated and Omega-3 fats and reduce your intake of saturated and Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats.
- Managing fat intake may require familiarity with the ingredient and nutrition fact labels on packaged foods.
- Make sure to store oils properly and to use them for the cooking job for which they are intended. Most monounsaturated oils are not good for high heat cooking.