When people think of animal fat – they tend to fall into one of two camps:
Animal Fat is Artery-clogging and the cause of all problems with diets.
Animal Fat is the key to managing weight and having a healthy diet
Like many aspects of diet and nutrition the facts behind animal and plant fats and effects on health and weight management are much more complex than the two points of view expressed above.
Fat is not just for insulation and energy storage, it’s also for nutrient absorption, cell signaling, immune function, and many other critical processes. Many people think the main difference between plant and animal fats is that animal-sourced foods contain more saturated fat, but that is NOT the case – nor is it is a sample as saying saturated fat is bad. Here are some key facts about fat that may surprise you:
1. All whole plant and animal foods naturally contain a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fats.
2. Some plant foods are higher in saturated fat than animal foods, with coconut oil topping the charts at 90 percent saturated fat. That’s more than twice the saturated fat found in beef fat (tallow).
3. The primary type of fat found in pork is a monounsaturated fatty acid called oleic acid, the exact same fat found in olive oil.
Essential Fatty Acids
There are essential fatty acids that humans cannot manufacture and therefore must be obtained from your diet and they fall into three categories:
· Omega 3 Fatty Acids – in plants the Omega 3 fatty acid is called Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA for short).
· In fish and animals the Omega 3 Fatty Acids come in the form of EPA/DHA
· The essential dietary omega-6 is called Linoleic Acid (LA for short).
What often goes unsaid is that both ALA and LA are found in a wide variety of both plant animal foods, so it is rather easy to obtain both of these fats, regardless of your dietary preferences, so long as you are including enough fat in your diet.
But here’s the rub: Our bodies cannot use ALA and LA in our cells. ALA and LA are considered upstream/”parent” fatty acids, because they are used to manufacture the form of Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids our cells can use: EPA, DHA, and AA—none of which exist in plant foods!.
(eicosapentaenoic acid) is an omega-3 that serves primarily anti-inflammatory and healing functions.
(arachidonic acid) is an omega-6 often thought of as a “bad” fatty acid, because it promotes inflammation. But inflammation is an important and necessary part of a healthy immune response and AA has many other crucial responsibilities, and even promotes healing.
Our brains are extremely rich in fat. About two-thirds of the human brain is fat, and a full 20 percent of that fat is DHA.
Among many other functions, DHA participates in the formation of myelin, the white matter that insulates our brain circuits and nerves. It also helps maintain the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, which keeps the brain safe from unwanted outside influences.
DHA is critical to the development of the human cortex—the part of the brain responsible for higher-order thinking. Without DHA, the highly sophisticated connections necessary for sustained attention, and decision-making do not form properly
The most rapid phase of development of the infant cortex takes place form the third trimester of pregnancy through Age Two. If there is not enough DHA available during this time, there can be severe and irreversible consequences. For example, a higher likelihood of psychiatric disorders including those that tend to show up early in life like Autism and ADHD.
For those who choose vegan diets, it is important to know that plant foods contain no DHA. The omega-3 fatty acid found in plant foods like flax, walnut, and chia is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Unfortunately, it appears to be rather difficult for the majority of adults to make DHA out of ALA, with most studies finding a conversion rate of less than 10%. Quite a few studies show ZERO conversion, and there are genetic variations that allow a small percentage of people to convert very well while for the majority there is little to no conversion.
Indeed, it appears that the fewer animal foods we eat (fish IS an animal for this discussion), the lower our DHA levels tend to be DHA levels are on average 31% lower in vegetarians and 59% lower in Vegans compared to Omnivores.
When it comes to children under 2, the science is clear that the conversion pathway from ALA to DHA cannot and should not be relied upon to keep pace with the DHA demands of the rapidly growing body and brain. Therefore, most experts agree that caretakers should provide infants and very young children with dietary or supplemental sources of DHA, as ALA alone is not sufficient to support healthy infant development.
It has been estimated that as many as 80 percent of Americans have sub-optimal blood levels of DHA.
The easiest way to obtain DHA is to include some fatty fish in your diet, but as you can see from the list below, there are other options.
Sardines – 2,205 mg per serving
Wild Salmon – 1,800 mg per serving
Oysters – 613 mg per serving
Herring - 3,181 mg per serving
Anchovies – 951 mg per serving
Cavier – 1,906 mg per serving
Mussels – 506 mg per serving
Egg – 60 mg per egg yolk (only in yolks!)
DHA Fortified (chickens fed fish feed) – 168mg per egg
Chicken Meat Roasted – 30 mg per serving
Turkey Breast Roasted – 30 mg per serving
Lamb Roasted – 10 mg per serving
Shrimp cooked – 10 mg per serving
Nearly all processed foods, prepared hot foods, packaged snacks, and convenience foods are made with refined vegetable oils, such as soybean or sunflower oil. Most vegetable oils are extremely, unnaturally high in LA (linoleic acid), an omega-6 fatty acid that reduces the production and effectiveness of DHA within your body. Excess linoleic acid drives systemic inflammation. Your best plant oil choices are olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, or red palm oil.
Lowering your vegetable oil intake increases the availability of DHA in your body, decreasing your need for dietary and/or supplemental DHA. The presence of high amounts of linoleic acid in the typical modern diet may help to explain why so many people appear to have low DHA levels even though most people do include animal foods in their diet already.
Thankfully, vegetarian and vegan-friendly DHA supplements extracted from algae are available. These supplements are more expensive and contain lower concentrations of DHA than fish or krill oil supplements (meaning higher doses are recommended), but may be important for maintaining healthy DHA levels, particularly in mothers and babies during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. All baby formula in the U.S. is supplemented with DHA already to mirror human mother's milk, which naturally contains DHA. If weaning your child before age 2, be sure to include DHA in your child’s diet as food or supplements.
As pointed out already, taking a decent dose of DHA without also lowering your linoleic acid consumption (by avoiding vegetable oils) may not be very helpful. However, supplementation is widely viewed as safe, and some studies noted modest benefits at doses of (combined EPA+DHA) of 1,000 to 2,000 mg per day, particularly for people with depression.
Minimize refined vegetable oils and other processed foods, and either include some animal foods in the diet or supplement appropriately to avoid issues with inadequate availability of the Omega 3 Fatty Acids DHA and EPA.
To learn more about Saturated Fat and Cholesterol and their relation to heart disease and health check out this previous blogpost to get the facts: http://workoutanytime.blogspot.com/2016/10/is-saturated-fat-and-cholesterol-really.html
For more information on Essentially Fatty Acids check out this previous blogpost on the subject: http://workoutanytime.blogspot.com/2016/11/omega-3-fatty-acids-and-health.html