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Unraveling the Mystery of Dietary Fats: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Updated: Mar 7

In the realm of nutrition, dietary fats have been a subject of heated debate, often vilified or misunderstood. However, as we delve deeper into nutritional science, the narrative around fats is rapidly evolving. 


Dr. Peter Attia, a physician deeply engrossed in the science of longevity and metabolic health, offers a nuanced perspective on the importance of dietary fats, urging us to rethink our dietary choices for optimal health. 


In this blog, we will explore the various types of dietary fats, the recommended amounts, and their health implications for incorporating these vital nutrients into our diet.


But first, let’s set the tone with lessons learned from long ago.


Once Upon a Time…


In the kingdom of PFT in a small town of Wellbeing, nestled within the vast Land of Nutrition, there lived four mystical types of dietary fat, each with its unique role in shaping the realm's destiny. 

Fighting Fats

Saturated fats, the sturdy knights of the kingdom, provided strength and energy, but their zeal had to be tempered, lest they overpower the land. 


The monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, wise and benevolent wizards, wove spells of protection against the forces of disease, enriching the kingdom with their magic of heart health and longevity. 


Alas, lurking in the shadows were the trans fats, mischievous sorcerers who whispered promises of indulgence but cast curses of ill health upon the land. 


The balance of these forces dictated the kingdom's prosperity, teaching its inhabitants the importance of harmony in the quest for a healthy realm.


Understanding Dietary Fats


Dietary fats are a crucial component of our diet, playing key roles in energy provision, cell structure maintenance, hormone production, and nutrient absorption. 


Avocado Fry Fight

However, not all fats are created equal. They can be categorized into four main types: saturated fats, monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats (including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids), and trans fats.


Saturated Fats (Good or Bad)


Traditionally, saturated fats have been linked to heart disease, prompting widespread recommendations to limit their intake. 


However, this is mainly due to the food choices (pizza, fried chicken, processed meats, donuts, etc.) and overall dietary approach than it is the saturated fat itself.


Recent research suggests that the relationship between saturated fats and heart health is more complex than previously thought. 


The context in which these fats are consumed (e.g., the overall dietary pattern) is crucial.


Foods rich in saturated fats, like grass-fed meats, butter, dairy, and coconut oil can be part of a healthy diet, if consumed in moderation and as part of a diet rich in whole foods.



Some benefits of healthy saturated fats include aiding in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) from the diet, which are essential for various bodily functions, including vision, bone health, and immune function. 


They can also provide energy, potentially boost HDL (the “healthy cholesterol”) and regulate hormonal production supporting the endocrine system and hormonal balance.


Monounsaturated Fats (Good)


Monounsaturated fats are celebrated for their heart-healthy properties. Found in foods like olive oil, avocados, and nuts, these fats can improve cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of heart disease. 


They are crucial for heart health, helping to lower bad cholesterol levels (small particle LDL) and reduce the risk of heart disease. They also support weight management, reduce inflammation, and improve insulin sensitivity, contributing to overall metabolic health.


Healthy Fats

*Pro Tip: When it comes to LDL cholesterol, size matters. Smaller, denser LDL particles are more likely to penetrate arterial walls, contributing to plaque buildup and heart disease risk. 


Larger, buoyant LDL particles are considered less atherogenic. Assessing particle size offers a more detailed insight into cardiovascular disease risk than just measuring LDL levels alone.


Polyunsaturated Fats (Good…. Omega-3 especially)


The balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is critical for maintaining health.

While omega-6s are abundant in the Western diet, often found in processed foods and vegetable oils, omega-3s are less common. 


Currently it’s estimated that the typical Western diet can have a ratio as skewed as 1:15 to 1:20 or more, heavily favoring omega-6 fats. High ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 fats are linked to increased inflammation and higher risks of chronic diseases.


The ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in the diet is a topic of ongoing debate among nutrition experts. However, many suggest aiming for a ratio closer to what humans historically consumed, which is thought to be around 1:1 to 1:4 (omega-3:omega-6).


Omega 3 Fish

As you can see, Increasing omega-3 intake through fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, or through high-quality supplements to counteract the inflammatory effects of excessive omega-6s has become vitally important.


Overall, a diet rich in Polyunsaturated fats (leaning toward Omega-3) can improve inflammation, cognitive function, mood regulation, joint health, etc. making you feel awesome and ready to take on the world. 


Trans Fats (Ugly)


Trans fats are unequivocally harmful, associated with an increased risk of heart disease and metabolic disorders. These fats are often found in processed foods, baked goods, and fried foods. Avoid trans fats as much as possible.


Trans fats

Recommended Amounts and Sources


While specific fat intake recommendations can vary based on individual health goals, activity levels, and metabolic health. A diet that incorporates a variety of fats from whole food sources is key. 


Here are some general guidelines:


Aim for 30-45% of your total daily calories to come from healthy dietary fats (skewing more heavily toward monounsaturated fats, Omega-3s; with a smaller portion coming from saturated fats).


  • Saturated Fats: Grass-fed meat, dairy, coconut oil, etc.


  • Monounsaturated Fats: Extra virgin olive oil, avocados, nuts, pumpkin seeds, avocadoes, etc.


  • Polyunsaturated Fats (Omega-3s): Wild-Caught salmon, sardines, a high-quality fish oil supplement, flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, etc.


  • Trans Fats: These should be avoided entirely.

Healthy Fat cheat sheet

The Bigger Picture: A Holistic Approach to Diet


Focusing on single nutrients in isolation misses the forest for the trees. The overall dietary pattern is what truly matters. A diet that emphasizes whole, minimally processed foods, rich in vegetables, fruits, quality proteins, and healthy fats, aligns best with longevity and metabolic health.


The Role of Individual Variation


It's important to acknowledge individual variation in dietary responses. Genetic factors, gut microbiome composition, and lifestyle factors can all influence how we respond to different types of fats. Personalized nutrition, therefore, plays a key role in optimizing health.


Conclusion


Dietary fats, far from being a dietary villain, are essential to our health. The key lies in understanding the different types of fats and making informed choices about their sources and amounts. By embracing a diet rich in whole foods and balanced in quality fats, we can support our body's needs and promote long-term health and longevity.



See ya next week!


Coach Michael


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