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7.2 Eating Fat

To sum up, the various fats in your food arrive in the form of saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated fats, and often a mixture of all three of these substances.

Olive oil, which you can use in your homemade salad dressing, contains the following types of fats: monoFats (about 75 percent); satFats (about 14 percent), and polyFats (about 11 percent).Olive oil’s principal monounsaturated fatty acid is an 18-carbon chain fat called oleic acid.

Note

Olive oil is a liquid at room temperature. The higher the number of double bonds in the fat’s chemistry, the more likely it will be a liquid at room temperature. Animal fats tend to contain more monounsaturated (one double bond) and saturated fats, and thus tend to be solid at room temp. Vegetable oils, true to their name, are only usually liquid at room temp and contain more polyunsaturated fats.

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The health advice for eating fat can be summed up this way: eat a reasonable amount of monounsaturated fats, as in olive oils, avocados, and macadamia nuts, as well as fish and many meats, and try to even out the ratio between Omega 6 fats and Omega 3s.

Saturated fats have recently had the air let out of their tires as the demon of your diet , so we don’t have to be so phobic about them. They might even have anti-inflammatory effects for some people, particularly if you’ve replaced a lot of simple carbs or sugars with them.

Coconut milk is fine, as are high-quality cheeses and grass-fed meats, and the satFats you get in the small chunks of the 100-percent high-cacao chocolate I eat (addictively) are acceptable and healthy additions to the diet.

Figure 12 shows all the other fats (some in trace amounts) that olive oil contains, from the handy NutritionData tool. A teaspoon of olive oil is 100 percent fat by calories, with 5 grams totaling about 45 calories (9 calories per gram, because it’s a fat!).

For olive oil, mostly monounsaturated fat, Omega 6, and palmitic acid, a saturated fatty acid

Figure 12. For olive oil, mostly monounsaturated fat, Omega 6, and palmitic acid, a saturated fatty acid

This is how you can find out the fat content of your food: do a search at NutritionData, then scroll down to the boxed area reserved for Fats & Fatty Acids. This shows that a teaspoon of olive oil also contains almost half a gram (439 mg) of linoleic acid, or Omega 6 fats, a subset of polyFats. There’s the oleic acid: “18:1 undifferentiated”—more than three grams of it.

I told you those fat notations could get pretty geeky!

Rather than just a teaspoon of oil, let’s analyze the fat content of typical fare for an American Friday night: a large pizza slice with pepperoni. The dish sounds delectable, but, like all of life’s vicissitudes, that dinner’s nutritional profile is likely to be a mixture of joy and regret.

How Does the “Paleo” Diet Measure Up?

There’s been an explosion of Romantic Primitivism in Western culture. It must have something to do with how moribund the so-called benefits of modern civilization have become (you can only spend so much time in cubicles staring at screens with cell phones plastered to your ear).

Just look at how popular escapist journeys into the backcountry or the outback and Burning Man have become. Every region now boasts multiple weekend races where the participants are required to mimic the opening scene of the film Gladiator, beating their bare chests, shaking toy spears, and sprinting off with war cries into the woods. The nutrition counterpart of this Spartan movement is the Paleolithic, or Paleo, diet, which is making a comeback after about 50,000 years.

The Paleo diet is a delicious combination of meats, fish, veggies (e.g., tubers like sweet potatoes), fruits (mostly of the berry kind), nuts, and “offal” (not awful!), as in bone marrow and liver pate. I had a bison heart recently from the Full Circle Bison Ranch in southern Oregon; it was delicious and nutritious (marinated in balsamic vinegar and spices, then baked for a while on a low temperature). Many people, like myself, add dairy to Paleo, as in whole milk, cheese, and eggs (the real Paleo diet most likely included bird’s eggs, but certainly no cheese or cow’s or goat’s milk).

The Paleo diet has measured up quite well lately in the few studies that have compared it with other dietary regimens, according to a 2010 journal wrap-up.25 Here are a few quotes from the article:

A randomized controlled trial of 29 patients with ischemic heart disease and either glucose intolerance or [Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus] (T2DM) were randomized to 12 weeks of a Paleolithic (i.e., lean meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, root vegetables, eggs, and nuts) or a Mediterranean-like Consensus diet based on whole grains, low-fat dairy products, vegetables, fruits, fish, oils, and margarines. The Paleolithic group showed an improved glucose control and a greater decrease in waist circumference when compared with the Consensus group.

Fifteen patients with T2DM were randomized to either a Paleolithic diet or a diabetes diet and then crossed over after 3 months. Patients were on each diet for 3 months. Compared with the diabetes diet, the Paleolithic diet produced lower mean levels of hemoglobin A1c, triacylglycerol, diastolic blood pressure (BP), weight, body mass index (BMI), as well as waist circumference and higher mean serum high-density lipoprotein levels.

Whether the Paleolithic diet will become a suitable prescriptive alternative remains to be determined by more extensive studies on a larger number of participants.

Lively discussions of the Paleo diet and its practitioners can be found on www.paleohacks.com and other websites.

It wouldn’t be fair if we didn’t indicate the whole lineup of macronutrients, including protein and carbs. Figure 13 from NutritionData shows the Fats & Fatty Acids results for a 14-inch pizza slice with pepperoni topping.

The fatty acid lineup for a slice o’ pepperoni

Figure 13. The fatty acid lineup for a slice o’ pepperoni

The pizza slice includes 12.1 grams of fats, or 109 calories, which happens to be 37 percent of the total 298 kcal.

Note

This is pretty high in calories for just one pizza slice. Multiple slices would obviously be a very energy-dense meal. Better be climbing a mountain the next morning, or better yet, back off from the slices and eat some blueberries.

The macronutrient ratio, the whole shebang, for the pizza slice is 46 percent carbs-37 percent fats-17 percent protein. You can assume that the vast majority of the carbs (and thus up to half of all the calories) came from the refined flour of the pizza crust.

Now for Something Completely Different on the Crust Front

What follows is a recipe for pizza crust for when you want a break from the grains, wheat, and refined flour, but you still want to pile the fixings onto your pizza slices (recipe courtesy of www.girlgoneprimal.com).

1 large head of cauliflower

2 cups cheese (mozzarella, cheddar, or a combo of both)

2 eggs

Optional herbs (thyme, fennel, oregano, basil & parsley all work wonderfully)

Method:

Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Line pan or pizza stone with baking paper.

Rice the cauliflower by putting florets into a food processor and buzzing until finely processed (but not mushy). Place cauliflower into a microwave-safe bowl and zap for 6-8 minutes. You should end up with about two cups of riced cauliflower.

Mix in cheese and eggs until smooth. Spread evenly over baking paper in a round shape. Sprinkle with herbs. Place in oven until golden on top and starting to crisp around the edges (around 15 minutes in my oven).

Remove from oven and add desired toppings. I used sliced tomato, sliced capsicum, mozzarella and parmesan cheese, mushrooms, and some meat (I only had salami). I choose to sprinkle cheese on the base, with the toppings rather than placing it between the base and the toppings (as directed in the original recipe). The cheese in the base helps keep the topping in place and connected to the base.

Place completed pizza back in the oven until the cheese melts and toppings are cooked to your preference. Cut and serve while hot. Also delicious reheated.

You can see that the pizza slice contains all three fatty-acid classifications. About 44 percent of the fats come from saturated fats (we can reasonably assume a lot of that comes from the cheese, since mozzarella cheese, for example, is about 58 percent saturated fat).

The saturated fat isn’t necessarily bad (five grams or so, almost matched by a similar amount of monounsaturated fat) from a health standpoint, compared with the refined carbohydrate represented by the pizza crust.

Note

Oh no, here it comes again, some glum preachy advice about not eating too much pizza! I’m imitating my son here, who’s heard enough from me about nutrition. He calls me, with a derisive tone, “Mr. Healthy Guy.”

The crust might contribute to the fat gains brought on by excessive energy-dense foods. Just ease up on it, do yourself a favor.

Saturated Fat Has Some of the Air Let Out of Its Tires

When I was a young tyke soccer player, I used to eat bacon and eggs for breakfast. Then, the night before a game, my mother would make me a steak, and I used to eat the fat because it tasted good. Then I used to go out onto the field and run everyone’s butts off (and occasionally get my own tail kicked)—in other words, the ingredients for that training table seemed to work. I guess we’re supposed to conclude that I was dying of heart disease, then? Too much saturated fat in the eggs and steak?

Many of us have grown up with public-health guidelines that say to avoid saturated fats at all costs. Eat it, get a heart attack. Yet, it’s very easy these days to find dissenting or at least moderating opinions, including among health and nutrition experts.

At the very least, you need fats to absorb fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E, and K (“a deck of cards—ADEK”). And fats, including saturated, can be anti-inflammatory for some people, particularly if they replace more inflammatory foods.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study in March 2010 that cast doubt on whether the consumption of saturated fats is a serious risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Led by Dr. Ronald Krause of the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, Oakland, CA, the meta-analysis reviewed the results of 21 studies.

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