As I’ve mentioned before, saturated fat has been incorrectly demonized as the cause of heart disease. I’ve also said that it isn’t completely harmless. Studies have found that your body can only mobilize half as much stored fat during exercise when your diet is composed primarily of saturated fats. This means you will be less effective at fueling your workouts with body fat, which makes exercise feel harder and weight loss slower.
A new study also points to how saturated fats can cause cellular dysfunction. The researchers used radioactively-tagged saturated and unsaturated fat molecules and tracked their progress through living cells using an imaging technique called stimulated Raman scattering (SRS) microscopy.
They found that the long structure of saturated fat molecules allowed them to group together into stiff regions in the endoplasmic reticulum. I won’t get too complicated, but these important organelles inside cells are responsible for the creation, folding, and transport of proteins, lipids, and steroid hormones. The membrane of this organelle is supposed to remain liquid and flexible, but saturated fat caused the formation of “solid-like” regions that were inelastic, interfered with the organelle’s normal function and were resistant to being broken down. As more saturated fat was added, these regions grew larger and gradually started harming the cell.
Fortunately, the researchers also found that unsaturated fat molecules broke up these solid-like regions and helped restore proper cellular health. This is consistent with what I and many other health professionals have said; saturated fat is fine, unless it’s the only thing you eat.
Even low-carb advocates don’t suggest an all meat and cheese diet. The point is to get a healthy mix of protein, fiber, and fats from multiple plant and animal sources. Here are some important fats to include in your diet:
Monounsaturated fat. This is a type of fat found in a variety of foods and oils like nuts (especially ones like macadamia nuts), olive oil, and avocados. Studies show that eating foods rich in monounsaturated fats improves blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease your risk of heart disease. Research also shows that they may benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control, which can be especially helpful if you have type 2 diabetes.
Polyunsaturated fat. This type of fat is found in plant-based foods like walnuts and seeds, and animal sources like grass-fed beef and fatty fish (like salmon and tuna). Evidence shows that eating foods rich in polyunsaturated fats improves blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease your risk of heart disease. Many of these fat sources also contain essential omega-3 fatty acids which have additional benefits.
Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids may be especially beneficial to your heart, cardiovascular system, and brain. Omega-3, found in some types of fatty fish, grass-fed beef, and eggs from flaxseed-fed chickens, appears to decrease the risk of coronary artery disease and decrease inflammation throughout the body. Omega-3 has also been shown to benefit the brain and nervous system for both the young and old and reduce the symptoms of depression, ADHD, and can protect against Alzheimer’s and dementia. It has even been shown to raise your resting metabolic rate. There are plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids like flax seed, but the body doesn’t convert it and use it as well as omega-3 from animal sources (although curcumin improves conversion).
CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid). This is another essential fatty acid that has been eliminated from our diets due to our modern food production. It used to come from beef and dairy when the cows were grass-fed. Once farmers started feeding them corn as a cheap food source, they stopped naturally producing CLA. In addition to a host of health benefits such as protecting against cardiovascular disease and cancer, improving bone mass, and reducing inflammation, CLA has also been shown to help reduce body fat. How CLA does this is interesting because it doesn’t actually cause your fat cells to release fat, it makes your fat cells less willing to store fat.