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Switch saturated to polyunsaturated fats

A new meta-study has shown that eating polyunsaturated fats in place of saturated fats reduces your risk of heart disease.

Since other studies have not found benefits in simply eating less saturated fat, the study authors speculated that the beneficial effects are more “strongly related” to eating more polyunsaturated fats, rather than less saturated fat. There was not enough data to draw any conclusions on monounsaturated fats.

You can find the full study for free online at the PLoS Medicine website. You can also find a more easily digestible account of the study by reading their press release.

I enjoy adding olive oil, and various other oils, to many of my meals. It can be hard to remember which oils contain which fats, and whether they are the good ones or the bad ones! Complicating this is the fact that most oils contain different kinds of fat in different portions.

While writing this article, I found a great table on Wikipedia that lists common foods and shows graphically the proportion of Saturated, Monounsaturated, and Polyunsaturated fats in each.

Chemistry lesson

The following video is low-tech and technical. Kellie, who was never a fan of chemistry at school, suggested I warn you that it is “boring” :-)

However, I found it fairly interesting. If you feel like a bit of a chemistry lesson, this is the video for you!

Saturated fats

Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are mainly from animal sources.

Examples of foods that contain saturated fats are:

  • Dairy products … cream, cheese, butter etc.
  • Animal fats … fatty meat, lard etc.
  • Coconut oil and Palm oil.
  • Chocolate

Polyunsaturated fats

Unsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature. They are typically found in fish, nuts and seeds, and plant oils.

Examples of foods that contain unsaturated fats are:

  • Fish … salmon etc.
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Walnuts

Replace not reduce

The interesting thing about this study is that other studies have found that simply reducing the amount of saturated fats in your diet does not reduce your risk of heart disease. The key seems to be to switch from saturated fats to polyunsaturated fats, not to just reduce your intake of saturated fats.

More reading


16 Responses to “Switch saturated to polyunsaturated fats”

  1. KellieMyHS says:

    How sad that chocolate is full of saturated fats. Luckily I am also a fan of avocado, walnuts and almonds. I am hoping the intake of saturated fats in chocolate is off-set by eating healthy fats too.

    Not sure it really works like that though. :)

    Easter is not a good time for me to cut back on saturated fats!

    • Steve says:

      > How sad that chocolate is full of saturated fats

      It isn’t all bad news. The main type of saturated fat in chocolate is stearic acid.

      According to Wikipedia, , “… These findings may indicate that stearic acid is less unhealthy than other saturated fatty acids.”

      On the other hand, that Wikipedia page may have been edited by a chocolate lover :-)

  2. great article to share guys!

  3. John S says:

    Saturated fats make up about 50% of our cell wall membranes and are needed for proper cellular function. While I can agree that obese people should probably restrict saturated fats the main reason is for them to lose weight. Saturated fats have been demonized by the fat phobic Western medical establishment (of which I used to be a part) and it is totally unwarranted. The literature demonizing saturated fats is tainted because it does not distinguish between saturated fats and trans fat. Everyone agrees and it is clearly established that trans fat are unhealthy and those negative effects get attributed to saturated fats. The other thing that the fat phobes fail to take into account is the other macronutrient part of the diet – namely carbohydrate intake which directly correlates to insulin levels. As I have pointed out before hyperinsulinemia is at least a major cause of not THE cause of most degenerative diseases of aging. Because high insulin levels prevent the body from burning fat, eating fat along with high levels of carbs will make the body preferentially burn carbs and store dietary fat. Plus, if a low-fat, high carbo diet is eaten in a way that excess claories are consumed then all of those excess carbs are immediately converted to guess what — saturated fat! Palmitic acid in particular. In the US fat consumption has decreased over the last 30 years since the fat phobes have taken over and guess what? Americans are fatter than ever.

    Coconut oil is a good example of a great, healthy saturated fat. Coconut oil is high in mid-chain fatty acids that are healthy.

    I like to look at the literature that is not biased with selling products. Mary Enig is probably the leading expert in the world relating to dietary fat and fat metabolism. She is not associated with any food companies and does not make a living off of governmental or corporate grants. The same with Dr. Uffe Ravnskov the author of Cholesterol Myths. They have no financial incentive to on the topic of dietary fat.

    At the turn of the 20th Century in America lard was the most common cooking fat and heart attacks were rare. Carbohydrate intake was also low compared to today’s ingestion levels. And of course there are other unrelated reasons why heart attacks were not as common as they are today – like the lifespan was much lower. One of the things that no one disagrees with (or hardly anyone disagrees with is that it is very unhealthy to ingest large amounts of omega-6 fatty acids such as those found in most vegetable oils. That’s why I cringe when I see titles in this thread that promote “polyunsaturated” fats. Yes, we need polyunsaturated fats but it is critical for anyone eating a “Western” diet to reduce omega-6 fats and increase omega-3 fats. The 6/3 ratio is estimated by some to be 10:1 to 35:1. Optimal levels are probably <2:1 and should be <4:1 for better health. The Japanese diet is typically about 4:1 or less. It is well known and undisputed that omega-6 fats are precursors for over-production of the "bad" eicosanoid hormones that are pro-inflammatory.

    I could go on forever here but I think it is best for people to read the literature and decide for themselves.

    Personally, I use coconut oil for sauteing, baking and other uses where butter can be used. Don't get me wrong I love butter and the mostly neutral olive oil and they are very healthy fats and much better than any vegetable oil. I have banned all margarine from my house for the last 15 or 20 years. What a travesty margarine is. It was promoted in the US as healthy for decades and it was just the opposite because it was full of trans-fat.

    Here's some links that will give a different perspective of fats and hopefully cure anyone with a fat phobia! Or should I say healthy fat phobia as there certainly are good fats and bad fats. Enjoy!

    • Steve says:

      Hi John,

      Thank you again for your interesting message and for the links. I have just spent a couple of hours reading up on what you linked to. Interesting reading!

      I do think that at least in part the study agrees with what you have said in your comment. In the discussion part of her paper it says: “Recent ecological studies across nations over time also support this contention (lower risk may be more strongly related to increased PUFA rather than decreased SFA consumption), with changes in population CHD mortality being most strongly related to increased consumption of vegetable oils that contained PUFA, particularly the n-3 PUFA alpha-linolenic acid, rather than decreases in animal fats or increases in overall vegetable consumption”

      FWIW: A few years back I read about the health benefits of coconut oil and wanted to try some. None of the local supermarkets stocked it, so ended up having to buy it from a health food store. I enjoyed it, but because it wasn’t as easy and handy to buy, I didn’t get any more once it ran out. You and Dr. Mary G. Enig have convinced me to try coconut oil again! :)

  4. John S says:

    It’s very bizarre to me that you don’t have plenty of coconut oil in Australia! I can get it here in San Diego at several food stores – mostly the healthy produce type stores (Jimbo’s, Henry’s, Whole Foods, etc). It costs about $10-15 for 16 oz. My major concern about promoting PUFAs is that some people may think that vegetable oils (high in omega-6 fats) are healthy when in fact, when consumed in excess, they are very unhealthy especially when they contain trans fat.

    The 2 major flaws in our Western diet are (1) it is insulin promoting (too many refined carbs and starchy carbs) and (2) it has a dangerously high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 oils. As mentioned in my prior post any ratio >4:1 is unhealthy because it promotes inflammation. And trans fats are shown conclusively to cause atherosclerosis and cancer.

  5. John S says:

    Steve…………here’s a link to a very interesting article where a 70+ year old man who was diagnosed with malignant fibrous histiocytoma – a spindle cell soft tissue sarcoma – and given about 3 months to live treated his cancer in 2 ways:

    1. he ingested lots of fish oil (~16gm of EPA/DHA)
    2. he reduced his daily dietary omega-6/omega-3 ratio to about 0.8 (which means he ate more omega-3 than omega-6 fats).

    The investigators monitored this man very carefully and were able to publish this article in a peer reviewed journal. They suspect that DHA is the most active ingredient in the fish oil and it is interesting to note that the small tumors responded (shrank) to the intial low dose of DHA. The largest tumor did not respond to the initial dose of DHA but when the dose was increased to about 8gm DHA/day it shrank quite nicely. This is important in that they showed the presence of a dose response curve which means that this activity is unlikely to be due to some kind of spontaneous remission. Currently there is a documentary being made about this man and I got to see a copy of the rough draft. It is pretty incredible and anyone you know who has cancer or is newly diagnosed with cancer should read this article and follow the dietary recommendations contained in it. I highly recommend that they start doing what DH (the patient’s initials) did. There is virtually no risk (maybe a change in clotting time) and the upside is potentially a cure. As I mentioned above, DH was given 3 months to live and almost 10 years later he is alive and well and has no signs of cancer.

    • Steve says:

      Hi John,

      > It’s very bizarre to me that you
      > don’t have plenty of coconut oil in
      > Australia!

      I think the supermarket shelves in Australia look pretty much the same as the ones in the USA. Mostly processed crap :-) I searched around a couple of Australian food forums, and it seems that health food stores, and Asian specialty stores, are still the places to get coconut oil in Australia.

      > here’s a link to a very interesting
      > article where a 70+ year old man who
      > was diagnosed with malignant fibrous
      > histiocytoma

      Interesting read … Thanks!

      The changes in those CT scans are remarkable. Good on him!

      I just checked the label of my fish oil supplement, and I’m currently only taking 600mg a day (2 pills), although I do eat a fair bit of fish and other natural sources.

      My 70-year-old father takes large handfuls of those fish oil pills. Maybe I should join him! I will send him the link to that story … I am sure that he will enjoy reading it.

  6. John S says:

    It’s important to look at the quantities of EPA and DHA which are two critical omega-3s. Dr. Pardini attributed the anti-tumor effect to DHA. Also, omega-3s from plant sources (flaxseed oil, walnut oil) do not have EPA and DHA. Your body has to mfr it. A big problem is that as we grow older the body makes less and less enzymes needed for the production of EPA and DHA. And mend hardly make any DHA at all even in youth. Women on the other hand makes lots of DHA because it is a critical essential fatty acid needed for the growing neonate.

    Also, for what it’s worth many doctors here in the USA prefer fish oils high in EPA and DHA over capsules because int he capsule manufacturing process it is thought that the fish oil gets rancid to some extent. In fact some doctors have indicated that the lipid profile from fish oil capsules is less than an equivalent amount take by the liquid. Good brands are Carlson’s and Nordic Naturals’

    • Steve says:

      Hi John,

      After reading your comments, and the information you linked to, I decided I would try to get more omega-3s in my diet.

      – I often ate a tuna/vegetable salad for lunch. I switched from tuna to sardines.
      – I also bought some omega-3 eggs, instead of normal eggs.
      – I bought some flaxseed meal and also some flaxseed oil which I am mixing in with my breakfast.

      I have been eating this changed diet for just under two weeks now, and I think the changes have been really beneficial. I feel like I have more energy, and I think I even feel more mentally alert!

      Maybe it is just a placebo effect, however when I made these changes, I wasn’t expecting to feel better. I just thought it would be a diet change that had long term health benefits … maybe I would see the benefits in 10 or 20 years, not immediately. So, I wasn’t expecting to feel better for there to be a placebo effect.

      I will definitely keep eating this diet, and look for ways to eat even more omega-3s.

      Thank you for your comments and links!

  7. John S says:

    Glad to hear you’re feeling better with more omega-3s. I also felt better after starting flax seed, flax seed oil and fish oil supplements.

  8. KellieMyHS says:

    Hi John S and Steve,

    Ok you both have me convinced! :) I have caught up on reading some of the articles and references on Omega 3.

    This week I started taking the Omega 3 fish oil tablets I had brought but not used. I surprisingly felt more alert and up-beat. I found some PaceFarm brand eggs at the supermarket with Omega 3 and am looking out for flaxseed meal when I visit the health food store next. I am also eating nuts each day with a large amount of walnuts.

    I am not sure I can eat sardines just yet so I’m keeping a look out for other sources of Omega 3.

    Thanks for all the great links on this topic its been an eye opener. Kellie

  9. John S says:

    Kellie……I think you deserve an omega-3 gold star! Sardines have a bad reputation but they’re really not bad. Here’s a great recipe that uses lemon zest, sherry vinegar and avocado to mask, er, I mean, augment the flavor of those little fishies all lined up in that little tin. Actually it’s not fishy at all. Enjoy!

    • KellieMyHS says:

      Hi John S … thank you for my Omega 3 gold star! :)

      I brought 2 packets of sardines last week and plan to give your recipe a try. Thank you for sharing the link! I have a feeling it will be easier for me to add flaxseed meal to my cereal each day than eat the sardines – but I’ll give it a try.

      Thanks! Kellie

  10. John S says:

    Kellie……….Flax meal is a great super food. Omega-3 and lignans… can’t get much better than that. The only shortcoming of plant based omega-3s is that they contain ALA (alpha lindlenic acid) and not EPA and DHA. The body uses ALA as the starting material to make EPA and DHA and there’s the rub. ALA has 18 carbon atoms, EPA has 20 and DHA has 22. The rate limiting reaction involves the delta-6 desaturase and delta-5 desaturase enzymes which decreases as we age and can be effected by diet. Men hardly convert any ALA into DHA while women convert more thought to be for nursing babies. DHA is thought to be the active anti-cancer component in the Pardini paper that I linked a week ago or so. Flax and walnuts are great sources of ALA and that is an essential fatty acid. However it is even better to ingest some EPA and DHA from fatty fish, eggs and meat. Free range animals make more omega- fatty acids including EPA and DHA. I just talked to a veterinary oncology expert who recommends algae sources of DHA so as to avoid any contaminants (mercury, PCB, etc) found in some fish oil.

    I think that high quality pharmaceutical grade fish oil is fine (Carlsons, Nordic Naturals) are fine. I think most of the problems with fish oil are in the fish oil capsules – at least in the USA anyway. So go buy some more sardines!

  11. John S says:

    Links on fish oils

    I take Carlson’s fish oil and I just bought a bottle of Nature’s Way MEGA-DHA fish oil that contains 500mg DHA/capsule which is the highest I’ve ever seen.

bottom Steve

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