There are 3 main types of fats that we see in everyday life. There’s been quite a lot of misconceptions and misinformation that has built up over the years about fats. All of these 3 fats are important to our healthy, and should always be incorporated into your diet.
The way that we identify what type of fat we are eating is by the amount that is dominant in the mixture. For example, we call Olive Oil (~75% monounsaturated) a monounsaturated fat and we call butter (~60% saturated) a saturated fat. All real foods will contain a mixture of:
- Saturated Fats – These fats are necessary and keep your immune system healthy, your bone density normal, and your testosterone levels in check. For years they were dumped into the danger category along with trans fats, but studies have proven them to be necessary time and time again. They have also been found that they have no association with risk of heart disease. Foods that have them include meat, eggs, and butter – food that we have been eating for thousands of years. These fats will improve HDL/LDL cholesterol levels.
- Polyunsaturated Fats – These are usually seen in the form of vegetable oils and have been hailed as wonderful, but in fact, are normally highly processed. All of those “heart healthy” margarine spreads we see – avoid them. Studies have shown that the rising rates of heart disease are linked with liquid vegetable oils and trans fats – not saturated fats. Don’t get this confused, as fatty fish is also high in polyunsaturated fats, and these are great for you. Takeaway note is that processed polyunsaturated fats are bad (will worsen HDL/LDL cholestertol levels) and natural polyunsaturated fats are good (will improve HDL/LDL cholesterol levels).
- Monounsaturated Fats – These are pretty well known and accepted nowadays to be healthy. There’s many studies that show the health benefits linked to these, including improved insulin resistance and better HDL/LDL cholesterol levels. Olive and sunflower oil are prime examples of healthy monounsaturated fats.
- Trans Fats – Although not included in fatty foods (only processed fatty foods), they are worth mentioning. We’ve all heard the story on these by now – they are created from unnatural chemical modification that allows them to have improved shelf life. The hydrogenation process is the process of adding hydrogen to these fats, which changes the position of the hydrogen atoms in the fatty acid chain. My advice – if it has trans fats in it, or it has the word hydrogenated on it, DON’T EAT IT. It is linked with Heart Disease and will worsen your HDL/LDL cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol and Fat
First of all, let’s go over the basics. We always hear about HDL, LDL, and triglycerides – but do you know exactly what they are?
In layman’s terms:
- HDL – These are High Density Lipoproteins, and essentially known as the “good guy”. They are responsible of transferring cholesterol from the body’s tissue into the liver to be broken down.
- LDL – These are Low Density Lipoproteins, and known as the “bad guy”. This bugger takes our processed cholesterol from the liver and back to the body’s tissue.
- Triglycerides – This is the form that fat takes when it is being transported between tissues in the bloodstream. High triglycerides are not causation of bad cholesterol, though – they are more a marker.
When you have a low LDL count, you can get away with having small LDL particles to carry this cholesterol through your bloodstream, as there’s less “traffic” to avoid. When you have high LDL counts, you will have increased “traffic” in your bloodstream, increasing the chance of crashes.
When you have a low LDL count and large LDL particles, you will rarely have any crashes. Your cholesterol can be moved easily throughout your bloodstream.
We also have to take into account our triglycerides, as these are moving through our bloodstream too. These guys take extra space up, so if we have a high triglyceride count, you need a higher amount of LDL particles to move it around. With more LDL particles, we increase the amount of crashes that can happen.
What It Means
The more times our LDL particles crash into the walls of our arteries, the more plaque is left behind. That translates to a higher chance of Heart Disease.
Essentially, the most important factor we should take into account is the amount of LDL particles we have in our bloodstream. The particle size only matters because they influence the particle count – too many particles means you are at risk.
The ideal LDL particle concentration would be below 1000 nmol/L. Anything above 1600 nmol/L means you are at risk. So, where does the HDL and triglyceride count come in? Usually triglycerides can give a good indication of insulin resistance and inflammation. A high triglyceride count is accompanied by a low HDL (the “good guy”) count. It’s also a great indicator of what our LDL particle count is.
- Triglyceride to HDL of 0.44 mmol/L is perfect.
- Triglyceride to HDL of below 0.88 mmol/L is good, and anything above 0.88 mmol/L should be monitored.
- Triglyceride to HDL of above 1.33 mmol/L is very dangerous – it shows signs of significant heart disease.
As a general rule of thumb, try to eat food that is naturally high in fats. This includes meat, fish, and nuts. Use plenty of olive oil and butter – 50/50 is a great composition as it closely resembles body fat. That means this is the type of fat that the body can make best use of.