In this day and age of calorie and nutrient phobia, the one macronutrient that usually still gets
the worst press is fat. I know, those trendy low carb diets did glorify fat in all of its forms but for
the most part, fat has always been guilty till proven innocent. However, like all common sins there
are varying degrees of atrocity. I think we’ll all agree that someone who lies about committing a
murder is distinctive from someone who simply lies about their age.
Fat is not Fat is not Fat
For starters, there are three major classes of fat; saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
If you’ve been reading the tabloids lately (or those weeklies that pretend they’re not tabloids),
you know that there’s a new buzzword in the fat world – namely trans-fats – like the same that
New York recently banned.
Without getting into specific details of a college chemistry class, I’ll briefly describe each fat.
Think of fat molecules as long Slinky-like chemicals that are tightly coiled like a chemical Slinky.
With saturated fats, the structure mimics that of the original Slinky where every internal carbon
molecule has two hydrogen molecules. Next in the family are monounsaturated fats that have one
double bond – basically the original Slinky now has one unsaturated point where two internal
carbon molecules are only paired with a single hydrogen molecule which gives the Slinky a
potential weak point. With polyunsaturated fats, you now have more than one point of
unsaturation or in the case of cold water fish oils, up to six points of unsaturation or six
potentially weaker points in your fat Slinky. Why are these points weaker? Well, these unsaturated
points oxidize easier simply by the oxygen found in air. What does that mean? It means that fats
with more unsaturated points go rancid faster than fats without unsaturation points.
Oxidation (or rancidity) of polyunsaturated fats are the major reason why chemistry created
(inadvertently) trans-fats. To extend the shelf life of processed foods, food manufacturers
hydrogenated naturally occurring polyunsaturated fats – or made them more saturated to reduce
potential points of oxidation. The problem with earlier hydrogenation techniques was that 50% of
laboratory hydrogenated fats created cis-fats (natural type of Slinkies that curled inward) and 50%
trans-fats (Slinkies that curled outwardly). We now know that trans-fats potentially are worse
than even natural saturated fats in that they not only raise LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) but
also may lower HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol).
I’ll start at the bottom of nature’s totem pole, the saturated fats. These are the fats that primarily
are solid at room temperature. They include a majority of the fats found in animal products
whether beef, pork or chicken. We’ve all experienced that off-white fat lining a cut of prime rib or
marbling a perfect USDA prime cut of steak. It’s also found in the fat layer of pork and even in the
fat of poultry, including those little pockets of fat in chicken breast. Saturated fat is also found in
dairy products (which we can’t see) and in many processed foods like crackers, cookies and
processed meats. They also account for about half of the fat found in packaged dried ramen.
The main problem with saturated fat is that they raise levels of LDL cholesterol which raises your
risk for heart attacks and stroke. And while we can trim cuts of beef, pork or chicken, we can’t
always remove them from dairy products or processed foods.
This fat is mainly found in certain oils – olive and macadamia nut oil – and nuts. From an
epidemiological standpoint, olive oil is one of the fats cited as being a good fat. WHAT! There are
fats that are good? YES! I’ve always told my patients that the key to fat consumption is to
consume the right fats. Countries that have lower rates of cardiovascular disease also seem to have
liberal consumption of monounsaturated fats, namely the Mediterranean region. While there is
debate whether these countries properly “code” cardiovascular death, olive oil is used liberally in
this part of the world.
Another good source of monounsaturated fat is found in the nut world. Other than walnuts
(which is primarily polyunsaturated), most nuts are very good sources of monounsaturated fats.
The monounsaturated fats don’t seem to affect bad cholesterol levels and may raise good
cholesterol levels. My basic “counseling” tip is that you can enjoy nuts as part of your regular diet
five times a week – as long as the servings are about 1 ounce or just a palmful (the size they serve
on airlines, if your airlines still serves food).
The last of the main natural fat classes is the polyunsaturated fats. This is where the plot (fat)
thickens. Because there are many different types of polyunsaturated fats ranging from two to six
points of unsaturation and different starting unsaturation points, there are several subclasses of
polyunsaturated fats. For brevity sake, the main classes are omega-6 and omega-3 fats. Omega-6
fats are mainly found in terrestrial sources such as corn, soy and safflower oil. The omega-3 fats are
usually found in cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna though they are also found in
walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flaxseed and canola oil. The main difference between omega-6 and omega-
3 fats lies in the products they form after consumption. The omega-6 fats go on to form
compounds that facilitate clot formation, vasoconstriction and inflammation whereas the omega-
3 fats form compounds that do the opposite, or at least don’t facilitate the formation of these
clot formers, vasoconstrictors and inflammatory agents.
What’s the Take Home Message?
It’s okay to get up to 30% of your calories from fat – for women that means about 50 to 60gm
of fat per day, for men that means 60 to 70gm per day. Ideally, you want less than 7% of total
calories from saturated fat so that means 12 to 14gm for women and 14 to 16gm for men.
If you do consume most of your dietary fat from oil, canola and olive oil are probably the best
sources, if you get fat from other foods, almonds, walnuts and cold water fish are probably the
best sources. If you do purchase oils such as walnut, canola or flaxseed, buy as little as possible
since they go rancid faster than other oils – I usually refrigerate these oils to prolong shelf life.
Limit saturated fat as much as possible – remember that lowering intake below 7% of daily calories
means less 6gm per meal for the biggest man, less than 4gm per meal for the smallest woman
assuming 3 meals per day. Dietary fat isn’t bad; we just want to lower our intake of “bad’ fats but
include “good” fats as part of our daily diets.
The Gochiso Gourmet’s Fun Fat
½ cup popping corn
¼ cup truffle oil
Salt, freshly ground black pepper and/or freshly grated Parmesan cheese to taste
Heat ¼ cup truffle oil and add popping corn. Constantly swirl covered pan (at least 3 quart) until
corn starts to pop. Continue swirling pan until popping subsides to 1 pop every 2 seconds. Pour in
large bowl and season with salt, black pepper (and Parmesan cheese). Can “guild the lily” with a
liberal drizzling of truffle flavored oil. Enjoy with champagne or sparkling wine of your choice.
Chewin’ the Fat