What makes up two-thirds of our brains and much of our cell membranes? Carbohydrates? Wrong. Protein? Wrong again. How about fat? Now you got it! Yes, fat. Fat is essential for life. Therefore, fat is not fatal.
Not only does it make up most of our brain and cell walls it enhances the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fat also provides the body with essential fatty acids that control inflammation and enhances many cellular functions. Fat is a storage form of energy or calories. Fat provides insulation and protection to our internal organs, too. Fat is not fatal. So why do we believe it is?
Fat is not Fatal
Nowadays we are told that eating fat is unhealthy, but that was not always the prevailing thought. This recent aversion to fat has penetrated mainstream thought, but to the detriment of our health. Slowly more and more doctors and scientists are beginning to re-recognize that fat has health benefits – that fat is not fatal. The big health concern over the last 40 years or so has been that eating fats, especially saturated fats, leads to obesity and increases the risk of heart disease because it raises LDL cholesterol the so-call bad cholesterol. But are those claims correct?
Where’s the Evidence that Low-Fat Diets Work?
Since we as a nation have adopted the low-fat concept the incidence of heart disease and obesity has only increased. Studies actually looking at the effects of low-fat diets and disease have not shown any conclusive benefits that eating low-fat diets reduce diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, or cancer.
Yet, the virtues of a low-fat diet are promoted because cholesterol lowering drugs reduce the risk of heart disease and eating some fats can increase the unhealthy cholesterol. But, cholesterol drugs have other effects other than lowering cholesterol that may be at the root of their effectiveness in reducing heart disease (though in the study that led to FDA approval of Lipitor 100 individuals had to take Lipitor to prevent one heart attack over a 3 year period). The statin drugs are anti-inflammatory and inflammation is a huge factor in the development of heart disease.
Cholesterol or LDL/HDL Particle Size?
Cholesterol is attached to and transported by lipoproteins (LDL, HDL, VLDL). LDL particles transport cholesterol from the liver to the blood and cells and HDL particles transport cholesterol back from the blood to the liver. The cholesertol attached to LDL is the same as the cholesterol attached to the HDL particles. LDL cholesterol is called the bad cholesterol and HDL cholesterol the good cholesterol. But, it’s the same cholesterol, so maybe cholesterol isn’t the problem. Maybe its the carrier lipoprotein that is the problem.
We now know the both HDL and LDL particles come in different sizes. Some particles are small and dense and others are large and buoyant. It’s the small dense LDL particles that penetrate the walls of our arteries, and that is what increases the risk or heart disease. Small dense LDL particles are more likely to be oxidized, and may be more easily glycated, all of which increases the risk of heart disease. Also, too many small dense HDL particles is not healthy either. So at the end of the day you want to avoid small dense lipoproteins whether they be LDL or HDL.
How Does Fat Affect LDL Particle Size?
It depends on the type of fat consumed. Most people are concerned about overconsuming saturated fat. Saturated fat does in some individuals increase the LDL cholesterol value, but the increase comes in the form of the large buoyant particles which are not associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Plus, eating saturated fats increases HDL cholesterol values – a good thing.
Monounsaturated fats lower LDL cholesterol and can raise HDL levels. Polyunsaturated fats lower LDL cholesterol, but have no effect on HDL cholesterol.
So in general, fats have an overall positive affect on cholesterol profile. It’s important to keep in mind, too, that fats from any source usually come in various combinations of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated forms. Olive oil contains more than just monounsaturated fats, and red meat has more than just saturated fat in it. Monounsaturated fats are the most healthful fat so be sure to include them in your diet.
Sugar: the Real Culprit
Fat is not fatal. Sugar is. The real culprit when it comes to messing up cholesterol levels and particle size is carbohydrates in the form of simple sugars. Sugar increases trigylcerides (bad) and increases the number of small dense LDL particles and lowers HDL cholesterol – a triple whammy. For additional information see our post, “Sugar: Busted!”