I am sure that I am not the only “Paleo-er ” that gets a little confused here and there about which fats are the best for us to eat, which are polyunsaturated, which are saturated, which have the acceptable ratios of Omega 3 to Omega 6’s, and so on and so forth. Lets be honest, this is a lot of information to take in, and how do you know you are getting accurate information? Besides self-education through Robb Wolf podcasts, Paleo recommended books like Art DeVany’s, The New Evolution Diet, Robb Wolf’s The Paleolithic Solution, Mark Sisson’s Daily Apple Blog, and various peer-reviewed articles on reputable sites like Pubmed, it’s really hard to tell if the information that you are getting regarding fats is really worth its lard..i mean, weight ( har har. ) So I took it upon myself to do some research and compile my findings in an user-friendly, easy ( hopefully!) to follow post. Please understand, these are just my research notes translated into simple to follow bullet points. The fact is, this information goes much more “in-depth” than I am listing in this post. Please expand upon this with your own research. I have also listed my sources below if you would like to expand upon this information.
WHY are fats good for me? The list is endless, but to name some reasons:
- Fat provides us a source of stored energy
- The most precious parts of our bodies are made up of fats: the brain, nerves, our reproductive hormones, our cells, etc.
- Fat helps balance our immune system and fight infection
- Fat ensures adequate bone formation and repair
- Fat helps transport cholesterol in the blood
- Fat regulates inflammatory responses
- Fat promotes cardiovascular health ( USDA Blasphemy, I know…but its true.)
Basically, without fats, we would die. Our bodies could not function. Okay, now we know that fat is not only “good”, but is vital to our health and well-being. But there are so many different fats out there! Are you telling me that trans fats from McDonald’s fries are improving my brain function?? Uhhhh no…. Confused? Lets break this stuff down and I will try to keep this short and to the point:
Fats are also known as a “triglyceride” ( one molecule of Glycerol attached to three fatty acids). “Fats” come in a variety of chain lengths. They are divided into 3 groups:
1. Saturated Fats : Includes Lauric, Palmitic, and Steric Acids. Found heavily in Paleo fats like Coconut Oil, Palm Oil, Chocolate, and Animal Fats ( lard, ghee, tallow, butter, cream). Foods high in saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature and have a high smoking point/ tend to be very stable. Saturated fats get a bad wrap as the so-called “cardiovascular disease-causing” fats, however we are learning the dietary culprit for CVD is really carbohydrate abuse and an imbalance between Omega-6 / Omega-3 ratios ( explained later) . Saturated fats alone are really quite benign and offer a variety of health benefits ( our cell membranes are composed of saturated fats!). In the Paleo Diet, saturated fat is not only allowed, but encouraged.
2. Monounsaturated Fats: aka MUFA’s ( monounsaturated Fatty Acids) Includes Oleic Acid. Found heavily in olive oil, avocado oil, sesame seed oil, and nuts/ nut oils. They tend to oxidize easier ( go rancid) when cooked at higher temperatures. This was the primary fat in the Paleolithic Era, and also the fat we should eat the most of in our diet. They improve insulin sensitivity, keep cholesterol levels in a good place, and keep you looking beautiful or handsome if you’re a dude…:) ( aids with aging factors)
3. Polyunsaturated Fats: aka PUFA’s aka Essential Fats – We call them essential fats because OUR BODIES CANNOT MAKE THESE. WE MUST GET THEM FROM FOOD. This category is broken down into 2 families: the Omega-3 family and the Omega-6 family.
- Omega 3’s 🙂 :Includes Alpa-Linolenic Acid (ALA) Eicosapentaenoic Acid ( EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid ( DHA) Good sources of Omega-3’s include wild caught fish, flax seed, walnuts, some eggs ( look to buy eggs where chickens were fed flax), and grass fed meats. Omega-3’s are very beneficial to our health. To check out the laundry list of what Omega-3’s can do for you, click here.
- Omega 6’s 😦 : Include Linoleic Acid, Gamma Linolenic Acid, Dihomo-Gamma Linolenic Acid, and Arachidonic acid. Although we need some Omega-6’s in our diet, we really want to keep them to a minimum/ or keep the ratio right or we bring on inflammation and a host of other health problems. Foods with high levels of polyunsaturated fat and omega-6s we really try to avoid in the Paleo diet are: Corn Oil, Canola Oil, Soybean Oil, Peanut Oil, Grapeseed Oil, Pumpkinseed Oil, Margarine, Sunflower Oil, Safflower Oil, Processed and Cured Meats, large amounts of grain-fed beef without Omega-3 supplementation, and most of all, hydrogenated oils/ partially hydrogenated oils ( aka trans fats)
- Saturated fats are not “Bad” for you. There are actually many health benefits to eating them. They are a fantastic source of energy and were so for our Paleolithic ancestors.
- Monounsaturated fats should be the bulk of your Paleo fat intake: This includes Olive Oil, avocados, nuts, and some animal fat
- Polyunsaturated fats include Omega-3’s and Omega-6s. Omega-3’s are known as “Anti-inflamatory” ( good!) , Omega-6’s, although there are some benefits in small amounts, they are known as pro-inflammatory when there are too many ( bad stuff).
- Just remember, If its high in Polyunsaturated fats, is all about the ratio. Our ancestors ate a 1:1 to 3:1 ratio. Try to stay close to that.
- Stay away from high % polyunsaturated fats with very high Omega-6 ratio ( example: corn oil is a 46:1 ratio. Not good at all.)
- MOST of all…FATS DO NOT MAKE YOU FAT. If you take anything away from this…please let this be it.