Oh lord. I . . . I can barely move. So, just so much turkey. And mac n cheese. And mashed potatoes. And that . . . I don’t know what that was . . . stuffing? I’ve never seen stuffing made with cornbread before, although it’s not completely impossible for it to be made of – in any case, it was delicious. So much food, so much drink. That’s what the holidays are for, to eat, drink and be merry; a time period that is a gift to us mortals so we can slip into denial and believe nothing we do will affect us for the rest of the year. It’s the only way we can sit down to a meal that is primarily starch and butter and stuff our faces until food is, literally, coming out of our ears. So let us take this respite between such foolish eating habits and the crash of reality that travels with the coming of the New Year to look at the last food group on our list.
Most of you are going to go running away from fat, and I understand the impulse. Even with all the weight I have lost, I still have a negative gut reaction when facing fat and that’s mostly because after spending most of my life overweight I ended up seeing fat like this –
– and while that image was very effective at making me afraid of everything I put in my mouth, it wasn’t very effective at keeping me from putting it in my mouth. It also wasn’t very open to understanding, as every time I tried to ask that image of fat what it was about, all it said was, “BLLLEEERRRRAAA-CHHHHHHAUUUUUGHHHH-HHHHPPTPBPTPBP-TPBTPBPPFTT!” Now I’ve looked at a lot of different dictionaries in many different languages, and there really is no translation for that statement. Because I was too afraid of fat, too eager to ignore how much of it covered my body, I was never able to conceive of all the good things fat does for me and why it is essential to life.
One reason it’s hard to understand fat is because its function is extremely technical. With words like eicosanoids, endocannabinoids, lipoxins, resolvins, isofurans, neurofurans, isoprostanes, hepoxilins, epoxyeicosatrienoic acids and Neuroprotectin D, trying to read up on fat can feel more like reading a manual in some alien language on how to put a stove together that runs on zero-point energy by harnessing the power of a dying star.
It’s also because there are many different kinds of fat, and until you memorize the lingo it’s all going to seem like a mish-mask of scientific sounding term that you will never fully accept as being actual words.
While the explanations may be a tad scientific, the implications are very real. So perk up your ears and put on your thinkin’ caps, because we’re diving into the fat until you know it like the back of your hand. You may also want to put on a wet suit or else your pores are going to get clogged with grease that will be very hard to wash off. Jumping into fat is kind of disgusting.
All fats are made up of triglycerides, which are compounds that are made of glycerol (a natural alcohol derivative) and three fatty acids (the part of fat our bodies burn for energy). Each fatty acid has a certain number of spots open for use, and they are usually taken up by hydrogen molecules. It’s important to understand this because depending on how many spots of those three fatty acids are filled with hydrogen dictates what kind of fat you’ll end up with.
Saturated fats are formed when all the spots on a fatty acid are taken up by hydrogen.
Mono-unsaturated fats are formed when only one of the spaces in the fatty acid is empty.
Poly-unsaturated fats are formed when multiple spots in the fatty acid are empty.
Each one of these has different effects on the body. I’ll start off with the healthiest:
Poly-unsaturated fats are the best kind of fats for you. They can help lower your insulin resistance which will help your body regulate the sugar level in your blood, and can also help prevent cardiovascular disease. Poly-unsaturated fats also include the two essential fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6 (don’t ask me why they are called that, I’ve been reading all day and I still don’t understand. Listen, I use all my smarts in my head to operate my car without crashing, a feat I usually succeed at . . . most of the time.) Benefits of consuming these two fatty acids include, but are not limited to: strengthening blood circulation, lowering blood pressure, relieving arthritis, fighting depression, preventing strokes and helping fight cancer. It won’t cure those things as nothing you eat is the magic “end all disease forever” food, but it will aide in the struggle against them. Poly-unsaturated fats can be found in almost all nuts, seeds, leafy greens and fish, as well as the oils that are made from those things.
Mono-unsaturated is not as healthy as its poly brethren, but it’s still pretty good stuff. The benefits of this one are mainly in lowering your cholesterol and can also reduce your risk of heart disease. Fats included in this one are olive oil, whole grains, red meat, milk and high fat fruits like avocados.
Saturated fats are the baddies. They are also, unfortunately, the best tasting ones of the entire bunch. They increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and dyslipidemia, which is a higher fat content in the blood.
These can be found in butter, cream, cheese, lard, coconut oil (used a LOT on your popcorn at the movies) and palm oil.
Now there are also things called trans fat and cis fats, which are even worse for you than saturated fats. They start off as unsaturated fats, with one or more spaces on the fatty acid chain empty. But through a process called hydrogenation, where hydrogen is intentionally stuffed into those empty spaces, the unsaturated fat loses all health benefits and becomes extremely bad for you.
Now unless you memorize the list of all of the kinds of fats and their forms, it can get hard to tell which kind of fat you are buying. There is a good rule of thumb however: Saturated fats (as well as the trans fats) are filled with hydrogen which gives a much more stable structure to the fat, where as mono- and poly-unsaturated fats are not as stable. This is a me-being-smart-way of saying that saturated fats are usually solid (think butter, cheese, shortening and lard) and that the unsaturated fats are usually liquids (oils). The thicker and heavy the fat is, the more likely it has more hydrogen. A side note: one benefit to having more hydrogen in the fat is that is will have a much longer shelf life. When there are open spots in the fatty acid, there are more chances that an unwanted molecule (like iron oxide) will take up the empty space and make the fat go rancid. If all spots are filled with hydrogen, the evils molecules can’t get in and the fat will last longer.
If you are trying to lose weight, you’ll want to strive to fill your fat needs with those unsaturated fats, especially the poly-unsaturated. You can delve into the saturateds every now and again, but start thinking of those fats as rewards for being good, as an “every now and then” sort of thing. Try to stay far away from trans fats as you possibly can since the risks outweigh what small (if any) benefits they might hold. The important thing to know is that you shouldn’t stop eating fat altogether. For one, it’s impossible as every food has fat, but two, your body needs fat. I’ve said that the number one source for biological energy is carbohydrates and that it’s your brain’s main source of fuel, which is true; and yet there are parts of your body, such as connective tissue, membranes, and certain organs (like the heart, which I think I read somewhere is slightly vital) that get their energy (as well as their composition) directly from fat.
Fat is not the enemy. Food is never the enemy. Food is your friend. Sure, some of your friends end up being total dicks and do nothing but rob you and kick you in the nuts, but most of the food you will encounter is only try to help you, either by providing nutrients, organic building blocks for your body, or pure energy. No, food is not your enemy. Bad habits are your enemy, ignorance and fear are your enemies, shame is your enemy. Fat is not that scary monster from the beginning; fat is like . . . well . . . like a big happy fat guy –
– who wants nothing but for you to be healthy and happy. And so do I.
Now go take a shower. You’re covered in grease and it’s dripping on my carpet.