Eating Fat is Good… Maybe… Could Be… Sometimes

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It really depends, and you need to get it right!

Joe Garma is “An Average Joe” who assiduously researches and blogs about the physical and psychological aspects of health at*

There are few things more confusing to us than fat. Certainly, when sagging around the waist, this unsightly jiggly is either actively ignored, scorned, or both. But this is not about the waistline tire, or inter-muscular fat per se, but about the macronutrient called fat, which along with its two siblings – protein and carbohydrates – is necessary, important and vital to good health.

IF the fat’s the right type.

Before I delve into why, let’s examine just what makes up the fat macronutrient, starting with names. Here are the terms related to and/or used for “fat”:

•  Polyunsaturated fat
•  Fatty acids
•  Trans fatty acids
•  Omegas
•  Triglycerides
•  Cholesterol
•  Phospholipids
•  Lipids
•  Saturated fat
•  Monounsaturated fat oils

All of these are connected to each other in one way or another. Without understanding how they’re related, all these terms can be very confusing. So, let’s demystify things a bit and then apply what we’ve learned to practical action.

First Up Is Terminology

What we think of as fat is really a “lipid” – whether it be in liquid or solid form. Lipids are important for cells’ energy storage and structure, and include these compounds:

•  Fatty acids
•  Trigylcerides
•  Oils
•  Phospholipids
•  Cholesterol (a “sterol”)

Next, let’s define these lipids, relate them to each other, and examine which are “good” and “bad” for you and why.

Fatty Acids

Fatty acids are organic acids, particularly those chains of carbon that are not branched. (“Branched” indicates that the series of atoms connected together that make up the fatty acid can resemble a fork, in that they divide or separate into two or more branches.)

Fatty acids serve as energy for the muscles, heart, and other organs, as building blocks for cell membranes, and as energy storage for the body. Those fatty acids not used up as energy are primarily converted into triglycerides, but also exist as components of phospholipids and cellular membranes.


Triglycerides are fats that contain, in varying proportions, three groups of fatty acids – saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated (more about them below) – plus a molecule of glycerol.

They are the chemical form in which most fat exists within food as well as in the body. They store energy in the body, and in effect, it is stored triglycerides – aka body fat – that we remove from our bodies when dieting (hopefully).


Oils are triglycerides with low melting points – liquid at room temperature, contrasting with fats that are solid at room temperature given their higher melting temperature.

Polyunsatured Fats are fatty acid triglycerides that are room temperature liquid oils, such as corn oil.

Monosaturated Fats are fatty acid triglycerides that are also room temperature liquid oils – but tend to solidify when refrigerated, like olive oil.

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are fatty acid triglycerides that are typically solid at room temperature, such as tropical (coconut) oils, butter, and animal fat. They are the only fatty acids that raise blood cholesterol levels.


Phospholipids are a variation of triglycerides where one fatty acid is replaced with a phosphate group, and are important for forming the structural basis of cellular membranes.


Cholesterol is one of a class of complex lipids called “sterols” and comes in two forms: the “bad” form associated with low density lipoproteins (”LDL”), and the “good” form associated with high density lipoproteins (“HDL”).

HDL is thought to remove excess cholesterol from the body; whereas LDL is thought to elevate cholesterol in the blood, which can first lead to excess deposits of cholesterol and fat in the arteries, and then to heart disease and/or stroke. [Sidebar: Take the American Heart Association Cholesterol Quiz.]

OK, so for those of you still with me, on to the stuff you really care about…

The Bad Fat

Trans fat is bad and saturated fats should be consumed in moderation.

Trans Fats are found in vegetable shortenings such as Crisco and in some margarines, and in many crackers, cookies, and snack foods, and will increase the shelf life of oils. But trans fats will not extend your shelf life; rather, just the opposite – consumption of trans fatty acids increases blood LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) levels and raises the risk of coronary heart disease. A nice recipe for a short life.

Fats containing saturated fatty acids are called Saturated Fats. Examples of foods high in saturated fats include lard, butter, whole milk, cream, eggs, red meat, chocolate, and solid shortenings. Excess intake of saturated fat can raise your blood cholesterol and many believe it increases the risk of developing coronary artery disease.

[Recent research casts some doubt on the role of saturated fat as a major villain in CAD, however. See for example “Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease” – a report based on tracking studies of nearly 350,000 subjects that finds no such association.]

The Good Fat

> Good fats are monosaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Monosaturated Fatty Acids contain one double bond in their chemical chain. Examples of foods high in monounsaturated fat include avocados, nuts, and olive, peanut and canola oils. Scientists believe that increased consumption of monounsaturated fats (like nuts) is beneficial in lowering LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) and lowering the risk of coronary heart disease, especially if monounsaturated fats are used to substitute for saturated fats and refined sugars.

Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids contain more than one double bond in their chemical chain. Unlike saturated fat, polyunsaturated fat does not raise cholesterol levels. In fact, like monosaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats lower levels of the bad cholesterol lipid, LDL. Unlike monosaturated fats, however, polyunsaturated fat is believed to lower the good cholesterol lipid, HDL, as well.

But despite polyunsaturated fatty acids’ propensity to lower the “good” HDL, they are essential to our diet because they include a special family of essential fatty acids which the human body cannot manufacture for itself – called omega 3, omega 6 and omega 9 fatty acids. If you have high cholesterol, don’t overindulge with foods containing polyunsaturated fatty acids, but do include them in your diet.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids are the best of the three “omegas.” Omega-3 fatty acids are a class of essential polyunsaturated fatty acids with the double bond in the third carbon position from the methyl terminal (hence the use of “3” in their description). Omega-3s are used in the formation of cell walls – making them supple and flexible, and improving circulation and oxygen uptake with proper red blood cell flexibility and function.

Fish, plant, and nut oils are the primary dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, mackerel, halibut, sardines, tuna, herring, fish and krill oils, algae, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed oil, purslane, perilla seed oil, walnuts, walnut oil, and spinach.

Omega-6 Fatty Acids are a class of essential polyunsaturated fatty acids with the initial double bond in the sixth carbon position from the methyl group (hence the “6”). Examples of foods rich in omega-6 fatty acids include corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean, and cottonseed oil.

Omega-9 Fatty Acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids with the initial double bond in… you guessed it… the ninth carbon position. The niners are important, but it’s not as essential that you consume them because the human body can manufacture omega-9 fatty acids in limited amounts. These are found in olive oil (extra virgin, cold pressed is best), olives, avocados, almonds, peanuts, sesame oil, pecans, pistachio nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, etc.

The Omega Interplay

There’s a dance between the omegas that’s important to know about – they work together to promote health, but #3 needs to be favored more than #6 and #9. The balance is important.

Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, and most omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation. An inappropriate balance of these essential fatty acids contributes to the development of disease, while a proper balance helps maintain and even improve health.

A healthy diet should consist of roughly 2 to 4 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. The typical American diet tends to contain 14 to 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids, and many researchers believe this imbalance is a significant factor in the rising rate of inflammatory disorders in the United States.

This is one reason that the so called “Mediterranean Diet” gets high marks. It consists of a healthier balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids than the typical American Diet, so say various studies demonstrating that people who follow the Med are less likely to develop heart disease. It also contains the omega-9 fatty acid group, which has been reported to help lower risks associated with cancer and heart disease.

The Mediterranean Diet does not include much meat (meat is high in omega-6 fatty acids) and emphasizes foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil, garlic, as well as moderate red wine consumption. (For more on diet, read Diet 101  and A Blueprint for Eating Right.)

Fat Proportions

So, at long last we get to the end of this epic journey of Fat.

Do this: Aim for fat consumption in the range of 20% to 25% of your daily caloric intake; ideally, as little as possible from Saturated and Trans Fat sources, and as much as possible from Poly- and Monounsaturated Fat sources.

> Try to consume primarily Monosaturated Fatty Acids and Omega-3 Fatty Acids.

So that means nuts, avocado, salmon, mackerel, halibut, sardines, tuna, herring, fish oil or krill oil, algae, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed oil, purslane, perilla seed oil, walnuts, walnut oil, and spinach. And cold pressed, double virgin olive oil for cooking and (along with flaxseed oil) for salads.

* * * *

Here are some guidelines given three Total Daily Calorie counts:

1,800 Calories a Day
•  40 to 70 grams of total fat
•  14 grams or less of saturated fat
•  2 grams or less of trans fat

2,200 Calories a Day
•  49 to 86 grams of total fat
•  17 grams or less of saturated fat
•  3 grams or less of trans fat

2,500 Calories a Day
•  56 to 97 grams of total fat
•  20 grams or less of saturated fat
•  3 grams or less of trans fat.

Types Of Fat

(grams per tablespoon of oil which has about 14 grams of total fat)

Type of fat


Mono unsaturated

Poly unsaturated

in beef




in butter




canola oil




in chicken




coconut oil




corn oil




cotton seed oil












olive oil




peanut oil




soya oil




safflower oil




sunflower oil





* Joe Garma blogs about the physical and psychological aspects of health at His blog is the culmination of over 20 years of insights gained in his own quest to maximize the potential to live a long and strong life. This article is reproduced here with kind permission of the author – © Joe Garma 2009-2010

Note: This information has not been evaluated by the FDA. It is generic and is not meant to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any illness, condition, or disease. It is very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.

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One thought on “Eating Fat is Good… Maybe… Could Be… Sometimes”

  1. Sandy10m says:

    A good friend of mine (who knows about my medical problems) suggested that I read a book called “The China Study” by Dr. Campbell. The author is a researcher, not an MD, and the book is about his entire life of research into what causes all the modern diseases (cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, immune disorders). I am a scientist as well, and I found the book to be amazing. The bottom line is that there is a direct link between a no-meat, low-fat diet and good health, and another direct link between eating meat, eating fat, and bad health. His whole family is now mostly vegan, and they are healthier for it. I am on the road to becoming vegan myself. I tried being a vegetarian a while back, but an intestinal candida infection made that a bad idea. Now I have cured the candida (a long story), so I am trying again. I have CFS, FM, MCS, migraines, and much more, and since I started reducing my meat/milk intake, I have started to feel better. I am down to one meal of meat per day (I always change things slowly over time to avoid shocking my system), and it’s working. I have started to lose weight, and I’m actually eating the same number of calories as before. My brain fog is slowly lifting. My energy level is slowly getting better. I am telling all my friends about this, telling them to read the book. They can decide for themselves, and you can too. Go to your local library to read it. I can’t believe I hadn’t heard about this book before now. It might just save my life, and yours. Good luck!

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