First, fat isn’t bad for our health. It’s calorically dense, but many people under-consume essential fats in our fat-phobic society. Fat is essential because we use fat to make a lot of the tissue in our body, like cell membranes and hormones. Without it, you’re stuck recycling old fat or downregulating the repair of cells. Extra fat can also be used as a fuel, which burns with less oxidative stress than carbohydrates. Don’t worry, I’m not demonizing carbs. Carbs are useful, especially because most vegetables are primarily carbs. But we also need to not demonize fat.
Rule 1: I eat a minimum of 90 grams of good quality fat per day (but usually more like 110-130g).
Quality fats are minimally processed, include omega 3 fatty acids, and can come from animals (mostly saturated) or oily plants (mostly unsaturated). A building is only as good as its materials, so I want to ensure I have quality fat sources for construction and repair processes that affect every cell in my body. In addition, fat helps us absorb the other nutrients in our food, especially from plants. As a former fat-phobic person, this meant learning to embrace skin-on chicken thighs and fatty fish, full-fat dairy, and red meat with visible fat.
Many people are surprised to learn that vegetable and seed oils, like canola oil, are low-quality fats. They’ve done a great job marketing these oils, but they were essentially byproducts used only as machine lubricants until someone figured out they could be de-odorized, de-colorized, and sold cheaply as food. Most of them have high omega 6 and low omega 3 content, making them inflammatory. In addition, these oils are inflammatory because they’re rancid, which is why they have to be de-odorized. They go rancid so easily because they are polyunsaturated fats. Compared to monounsaturated fats (e.g., olive oil) or saturated fats (e.g., butter), polyunsaturated fats have many open binding sites that can latch onto unsavory things like free radicals. I’m not sure how they’ve gained traction as a healthy alternative to saturated fat, except that they are so cheap to make, there’s a lot to gain from heavy marketing.
When evaluating your diet, the easiest and most effective change someone can make is swap fats. The first step is to swap polyunsaturated vegetable and seed oils with monounsaturated avocado and olive oils. Both are naturally oily fruits that need minimal processing to extract oil. Avocado oil has a neutral flavor and can be cooked at high heat. Olive oil has a stronger flavor and shouldn’t be heated above 400*F/200*C. For a creamier taste, saturated fat (which has gotten an undeserved bad rep) from animal sources or coconut oil are good options. These cost more than seed oils, but with nutrition, if you don’t pay now, you’ll pay more later. Eventually, it’s best to eliminate processed and restaurant foods that use polyunsaturated fats, which is most of it because of the price. These days I have seed oils so infrequently that I can feel a difference in inflammation in my body when I do, but sometimes you just gotta have a tasty treat.
Rule 2: I get a minimum of 2g of omega 3 fatty acids per day, with at least 1g from EPA.
Omega 3 fatty acids are the superfood version of fat, but they’re in low quantities in most food. Unless I have a lot of fatty fish, I supplement with fish oil to get that much EPA. There are also ALA (primarily from plants like olives and walnuts) and DHA (primarily from fish and grass-fed beef) types of omega 3s. Some people talk about your omega 3 to omega 6 ratio, but I don’t find that useful to pay attention to when eating mostly unprocessed food. My nutrition tracker calculates it for me, though, and it’s usually 1:4 to 1:10.
Rule 3: I try to get less than 30g of saturated fat each day.
This rule is something I’m keeping an eye on rather than strictly adhering to. I used to not limit my saturated fat after learning how it came to be villainized (again, marketing from the sugar industry when it became cheap to manufacture sugar). However, I seem to be one of the 10-15% of people who get high LDL cholesterol from saturated fat. The reasons I’m not really worried about this are complex and not something I’ll share in case it’s misinterpreted as medical advice, but I’m limiting saturated fat for a while to see what happens. Less than 30g of saturated fat in a day means only one of my two meals has meat, and I have an eye on my dairy intake. Another thing I’m trying is sheep and goat dairy products instead of cow dairy products because they have a higher concentration of medium-chain triglycerides, which is supposed to help with high LDL cholesterol.
For more information about vegetable and seed oils, see this talk by Dr. Chris Knobbe at the Low Carb Down Under conference. Low Carb Down Under is another keto/low-carb-oriented information outlet, and not every talk is unbiased. However, their keynotes, like this talk, are usually pretty well-balanced and evidence-based.
This is post 2 of 4 about nutrition for recovery. The next post is about protein (coming soon), or return to the wellness series page.