In the previous post, I recommended a three-pronged approach to fats:
- Start with making sure you get the essential fats you need.
- Cut out unnecessary bad fat.
- When possible, substitute good fats for bad fats.
In this post, I focus on cutting out unnecessary bad fat. In order to do that, we need to first differentiate good fats from bad fats. Fats differ in how many hydrogen atoms they contain. Fats that have all their hydrogen atoms are saturated. Fats that have missing hydrogen atoms are unsaturated. Monounsaturated fats have one hydrogen atom missing and polyunsaturated fats have more than one hydrogen atom missing.
The point of going through the chemistry of fats is not to saturate your brain with worthless chemical jargon, but to point out that fats are not all the same. The unique chemical structures of fats give them unique properties. For instance, unsaturated fats tend to be liquid while saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature. Furthermore, an unsaturated fat can become solid through a process called partial hydrogenation. A fat thus produced is called a trans fat and has an enhanced shelf-life.
Trans fats may be good for shelf life, but they're not good for you. Multiple studies have demonstrated that high trans fat intake is associated with negative effects on blood cholesterol and higher risk of heart disease. As a result, most processed foods have now eliminated trans fats.
The idea that saturated fat is bad and unsaturated fat is good is based on the opposite effects these types of fats have on "bad" blood cholesterol particles called Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) particles. Research shows that LDL particles play a significant role in the development of artery clogging heart disease. Saturated fats tend to raise LDL levels while unsaturated fats tend to lower LDL levels. Studies show that reducing intake of saturated fat can reduce your risk of a heart attack by 14%. Additionally, substituting polyunsaturated fats for saturated fats is associated with as much as a 45% reduction in heart disease.
Based on this data, I recommend cutting out unnecessary saturated fat and substituting unsaturated fat for saturated fat when you can. Saturated fats are found predominantly in animal meats and products such as butter, milk, and cheese. Unsaturated fats are found in fish, olives, avocado, nuts, seeds, and plant based cooking oils.
How To Reduce Unnecessary Bad FatOne practical tip to help you cut out unnecessary saturated fat is to avoid buying packaged ground meat. Most packaged ground meat has much higher amounts of fat than people realize. The confusion lies in the front of the packaging which describes ground meat in terms of percent lean by weight. Because meat contains water and water has no calories, weight based descriptions make the protein content seem much higher and the fat content seem much lower than they actually are.
For example, take a look at the following nutrition label for ground beef, described as 85% lean and 15% fat:
As you can see, in an eighty-five gram serving of this ground beef, there are twelve grams of total fat, nearly half of which is saturated fat. Twelve divided by eighty-five gives you 15% fat by weight. To confirm the lean percentage, you first look at the amount of protein in the same serving, which is twenty-two grams. But twenty-two divided by eighty-five is not 85%. The rest of the lean mass comes from water, which contributes a whopping fifty-one grams of weight. When you add the weight of water to the weight of protein and divide that by eighty-five, you get 85% lean ground beef by weight. Most people would naturally assume that 15% of the energy provided in a serving of this ground beef comes from fat and 85% of the energy comes from protein. However, when you look at the top of the nutrition label and look at total calories (204) and calories from fat (110) in a serving of this ground beef, you realize that it actually contains more than 50% fat content by calorie!
Perhaps you aren't surprised by this example because you already assume that beef is fatty. What about ground turkey? Turkey is considered a leaner source of protein, but you may be surprised to learn that even turkey can contain quite a bit of fat when the fattier parts of the turkey are sold in ground form. For example, if you look at the following nutrition label for ground turkey and go through the same calculations as above, you will confirm that a serving of this ground turkey is indeed 93% lean with 7% fat content by weight:
However, if you look at total calories (160) and calories from fat (70), you will realize that even ground turkey can contain nearly 50% fat by calories!
You can cut out unnecessary saturated fat but still enjoy the texture of ground meat by grinding your own meat. In the following movie clip, I demonstrate how to grind your own meat and introduce you to a tasty new recipe. I'm sure you've seen Star Wars. You've probably also seen Space Balls. But you've never seen Tofu Chicken Balls!
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Here is a link to the recipe for tofu ball soup that I featured in the above video.
I adapted the recipe by grinding up lean chicken breast instead of using store bought ground pork. If you don't have a meat grinder, you can ask your butcher to grind up lean chicken or turkey breast for you. For added nutrition, you can also add any dark green leafy vegetable to the soup such as dandelion greens, bok choy, or spinach.
Dhaka V et al. Trans fats-sources, health risks and alternative approach - A review. J Food Sci Technol 2011 Oct; 48(5):534-41.
Hooper L. Dietary fat intake and prevention of cardiovascular disease:
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systematic review. BMJ. 2001 March 31; 322(7289): 757–763.
Polyunsaturated Fat in Place of Saturated Fat: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. PLoS Medicine. 2010;7(3):1–10