Author: James Anthony
Dietary fat is a forgotten, sometimes misunderstood and seemingly under-researched macronutrient within the fitness industry.This is excluding those who have been sucked into the keto/high fat craze that will hopefully pass like the rest of the usually unsustainable diets recommended by people who shouldn’t be talking
When I begin working with a new client, I’ll start by investigating their base knowledge on nutrition and in particular their beliefs surrounding dietary fats. I often receive the answer of “there are good and bad fats yeah?” which is correct. The ‘bad fat’ label is then placed upon saturated fats and there’s no mention of trans fats. Not to mention that dichotomous thinking and viewing food as good or bad is an issue in and of itself. I digress.
This has been a recurring theme amongst our new clients at JPS, which has led me to believe that the dogma behind saturated fats is ever present within the general population. I can completely understand why that is the case – people feel the need to blame something outside of an energy surplus through poor decisions and incoherent weight gain.
Negative health outcomes caused from dietary fat are almost always due to trans fats or a chronic heavily skewed amount of Fatty acids from 1-2 sources. Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (trans fats) as its written on labels are consistently shown to increase risk of CVD, CHD, Ischemic stroke and T2 diabetes. It is one of the universal truths in the industry that consumption of trans fats should be minimised as much as possible.
What are trans fats?
Fatty acids are the chemical compounds that make up fats. Fatty acids are chains of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms attached to the carbon atoms. A “saturated” fatty acid has the maximum possible number of hydrogen atoms attached to every carbon atom. It is therefore said to be “saturated” with hydrogen atoms. Transfers however are a type of unsaturated fat that occurs in small amounts in nature, but became widely produced industrially from vegetable fats starting in the 1950s.
Trans fats are primarily man-made in foods such as fried chicken, and there are also minute amounts found in meat and dairy. As mentioned they are most commonly found in fried food, pastries and highly processed snack foods which are foods that should limited in any case. So a revamp of anyone’s diet hopefully isn’t necessary to avoid such things on a common basis, although the typical western diet which is laden with heavily manufactured food and yields a larger portion of trans fat compared to most other dietary approaches.
Why are trans fats allowed to be injected into our food?
The reason that trans fats are lingering in modern food is because they prolong the shelf life of a given product, however the FDA only allows very small doses of trans fats. Ever noticed that margarine is not around anymore? That’s because it is now prohibited from being on your supermarket shelf due to the excessive amounts of trans fats in the product itself.
Onto the concerns surrounding saturated fats!
One reason for saturated fats being demonized is that in the early research, it was lumped in with trans fats which would make anything look bad. When pitted against trans fats it’s been shown that saturated fats doesn’t cause all the disease states previously outlined above. The same cannot be said for trans fats.
What about if you over feed on saturated fats?
A systematic review & meta-analysis (Pimpin et al 2016) suggests that saturated fats from butter have a relatively small or neutral overall associations with mortality, CVD and diabetes. The findings did not support any need for emphasising guidelines on either increasing or decreasing butter consumption in comparison to other better established dietary priorities.
So basically don’t ponder that idea of cutting down saturated fats if you have bigger fish to fry, such as energy balance and overall diet quality, which most people looking to improve health and body composition should be focusing on before they concern themselves with the intricacies of their fat intake.
If you do eat boat loads of saturated fats and it’s stopping you from meeting your daily vitamin and nutritional needs, then reducing your overall saturated fat intake is probably a wise idea. Your dietary behaviour and habits may need modification, and in doing so, prioritising an energy controlled diet, high protein intake and a wide variety of food choices including fruits and veg will likely rectify most issues you face with excessive saturated fat intakes.
An important note is that saturated fat does not negatively affect insulin sensitivity as some believe. There are acute overfeeding studies which have revealed some negative implications of saturated fat intake and insulin sensitivity, but long term studies with solid ways of measuring insulin sensitivity have not supported these findings.
This is shown again when reducing saturated fatty acids in obese individuals with metabolic syndrome and no difference was observed in their insulin sensitivity. Chronic manipulation of dietary fat of men with metabolic syndrome has also revealed that quality and quantity had no effect on insulin sensitivity. The key takeaway is that any healthier individual has nothing to worry about when it comes to saturated fats directly impacting Insulin sensitivity.
Cool fact: Breast milk is the best known formula for newborns and it is high in saturated fat. Evolution wouldn’t f*** us over from the start of life and for such a long amount of time without change.
It may be true that a small number of people may be saturated fat sensitive. If your cholesterol is high and you seem to be doing everything right and it’s not coming down, then you can look into saturated fats. This is the only caveat to the above statements regarding saturated fat not being as problematic as what many believe when it comes to overall metabolic health.
Hopefully locating trans fats will become easier and better decisions can be made. Most negative consequences from dieting come from poor decision making over a chronic period of time and are not caused by one meal in isolation. So, if you do eat something containing trans fats every now and then because you have a special occasion or social event then you need not worry. We all eat pastries or fried food containing trans-fat sometimes and it would be unrealistic to avoid it entirely.
Finally, I hope that the stigma behind saturated fats have been cleared. My recommendations for my client’s dietary fat is more often than not, aim to get more unsaturated fat then saturated. This is because unsaturated fats tend to lead to positive health outcomes and not because saturated is bad.