Today’s article is about balancing fat intake. I’m a huge fan of eating fat and dispelling the myth that fat is bad. The science is quite clear on this matter and indisputable. There are bad fats (trans fats), OK fats (omega-6’s and saturated- where it’s all about quality and quantity), and good fats (monounsaturated and omega-3’s – which most of us are deficient in). I’ve talked about how the notion that saturated fat will clog your arteries, increase your cholesterol and cause heart disease is pure BS.
On the other hand, it is reasonable to ask the following questions:
- Should we eat all the saturated fat we can get?
- Should we avoid omega-6’s at all costs?
- Is fish oil good or bad?
- How much of each type of fat should we be eating?
These are the right questions to be asking, and I’m sure as someone who cares about your health, you are asking just these things. Unfortunately, there is no one right answer as it depends on several variables, including your goals, your activity levels, your overall nutrition profile and your genetics.
According to Mark Sisson, there is 1 universal factor that determines an optimal fat balance, and that is your mitochondria.
Mitochondria are typically described as the power plants of our cells. They convert incoming energy (calories) into ATP. ATP is what provides energy for walking, running, lifting, climbing stairs, etc. Researchers claim that mitochondrial dysfunction is seen in almost every human health issue known to mankind. Healthy mitochondria are super important.
As Mark Sisson writes, “mitochondria are surrounded by two fatty membranes whose degree of saturation regulates how well our mitochondria work. The more unsaturated the membrane fatty acids, the unhealthier the mitochondria, the less energy they produce, the more susceptible they are to oxidative damage, and the more reactive oxygen species they create.“ This is not good.
Benefits of Saturated Mitochondria
- Saturated mitochondria is correlated strongly to lower oxidative stress and thus, higher longevity across various animal species
- Increases in unsaturation of the fatty membranes increases oxidative damage to DNA
- Inhibiting or preventing saturated and monounsaturated fats from being converted into polyunsaturated fats helps kill cancer cells.
So, it follows logically then that the fats we consume do indeed determine the composition and unsaturation of the membranes surrounding our mitochondria. Most animals and humans today over-eat omega-6 fatty acids to a great degree because seed oils are found in so many processed foods. An interesting rodent study using embryonic mitochondria found that replacing the fats from seed oils with the fats found in olive oil resulted in increased mitochondrial protection from cell death when exposed to a toxin. The researchers also introduced a substance that blocked oleic acid (olive oil fatty acids) from entering the membrane, and the mitochondria lost its resistance to the toxin!
Another study from 2003 that used rats placed the animals on 1 of 2 diets—an extra virgin olive oil diet or a sunflower oil diet—and tracked changes to liver, heart, and skeletal muscle mitochondria. The EVOO diet resulted in less unsaturation of mitochondrial membranes, reduced oxidative stress, and less aging than the high sunflower oil (omega-6) diet.
A recent study examined the effects of different fatty acids on mitochondrial structure and function in calorie-restricted mice. One group was placed on a non-restricted control diet. The rest were given either fish oil (high omega-3), soybean oil (high omega-6), or lard-based (high in saturated fat) diets. The clear winner was the lard diet! The researchers found that the high level of saturated fats reduced reactive oxygen species.
So, does that mean that we should avoid all omega-6 fatty acids? Not at all. Omega-6’s play an important role in human health, but the key is to moderate your consumption to optimize your health. Healthy, nutrient-dense foods, such as nuts, seeds, eggs, avocados and olives contain omega-6 fatty acids. The foods to avoid are vegetable oils and especially soybean oil.
Balancing Fat Intake
And now we get to the crux of the article and how to balance fat intake to optimize health.
- Eat more avocados, avocado oil, olives, eggs and olive oil
- Eat some seafood and some meat
- Eat nuts and seeds, preferably raw, but be careful not to go overboard on these
- Eat fresh, unprocessed, ideally virgin animal fats that haven’t been damaged by heat, time, or light
- Eat saturated fats in moderation since they are a staple component of mitochondrial membranes
- Avoid cooking with vegetable oils
- Avoid soybean oil as much as possible.