During the 1980's up to all 1990's we only heard a lot of bad information about fats, and that's when the food industry started a marketing trick to swept in the concept of free fat in almost every product made, it was also the time when as a substitute of the fat and to give more flavor to the food they started adding all kinds of sugars to every processed products, not caring at all of the amount or adding even artificial sweeteners to "comply" with the "low calories" concept.
That was the most poisonous season for every western diet consumer, whether it was a kind of healthy choice such as a "yogurt" to a not so healthy muffin or cookie for both products there was a choice of low fat or low calorie which just with the game of words and psychological trigger people were lured to consume all of those products without of course paying any attention to the amount of sugars those products had!
Now, we know that even a small bar of chocolate or a juice box for kids can have from 25 to 35g of sugar which is an incredible amount, considering that only with that they are consuming the sugar for the whole day, and we know that it doesn't stop there!
Therefore, we have a duty to clean the name of the fats, to explain why you need them and to strictly categorize the ones that might me harmful when consumed in excess!
Fats, are technically know as fatty acids, which are a long chain of hydrogen and carbons with an acid group at the end. Humans mostly consume longer chains from 16 carbons to 20 or 22.
Fatty acids known as "saturated fats" are all the ones that have each of the CH3 (methyl groups) bound with a simple bond.
When they then they are from 16 to 22 Carbons in their chain, they are named as long chain fatty acids, these ones due to the length have to be helped to get inside of the mitochondria and be oxidized to obtain energy, the carrier or transporter is known as carnitine, which is a protein that practically works as a subway wagon, taking one "long passenger" and allowing it to be occupied as fuel to our entire metabolism.
When fatty acids are smaller, let's say between 11 to 15 carbons all those fatty acids are known as "middle chain" up to 14 carbons they are given a free pass to access the mitochondria and be burned (oxidized) to obtain energy and smaller energetic or precursor compounds that will enable the formation of more complex molecules.
And finally fatty acids of less than 10 carbons they're named as "short-chain" and they also share a "free pass" to be oxidized in the mitochondria and obtain energy or form precursors as well.
Another category of fats in relation to the number of bonds they have, meaning how each of the methyl groups are bound to each other, either with a single bond or a double bond, or multiple double bounds is encountered in fats.
If fatty acids have one double bond they're known as monounsaturated fatty acids.
If they have more than one double bond inside the chain, they're known as polyunsaturated fatty acids.
We have all heard that mono and poly unsaturated fats are the "best ones", to reduce risks of cardiovascular diseases and now we know that they're also good regulators of the glycaemic index (is the level of glucose found in your blood after 2 hours of consuming food).
To clarify more why is important this kind of level for diabetic people and of course for all others that start to be concerned of their insulin work, if we have a high peak after consuming a meal in terms of the glucose found in blood that would make our insulin levels to also be raised and have a huge demand to get that glucose back in the metabolism and being able to burn it to obtain energy, repeating this process with high glucose or sugar foods will only make your metabolism slower to respond to those peaks and also it will wear out your insulin making it with time "defective" and unable to process the amount of sugars you're supplying your body with, which in turn it will lead you to develop type 2 diabetes.
Well, once we clarify the concept of glycaemic index, and continuing with the reason of why the mono and poly unsaturated fatty acids, known with a shorter name, as MUFA's and PUFA's respectively are helping you to reduce the glycaemic index as well as the inflammation. The evidence found in many large clinical trials, help us to now corroborate that these two types of fats are the healthiest.
Epidemiological studies have demonstrated that serum fatty acid (FA) profile is an independent risk factor for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD). Much evidence has been accumulated indicating that dietary or blood FA composition was significantly associated with impaired endothelial function, systemic inflammation, oxidative stress, β-cell dysfunction, and insulin resistance. It has been also demonstrated that serum/plasma FA profiles are related to an increased risk of T2DM and its macrovascular complications (1).
Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and their derivatives can modulate many metabolic and inflammatory pathways in diabetic and nondiabetic subjects. Epidemiological evidence has indicated that populations with high fish consumption had less risk of diabetes and ASCVD (1).
How do these fats in particular help you reduce the amount of inflammation?
Well, turns out as mentioned above that when we burn these fats through the process of beta oxidation which is the main pathway to oxidized them and obtain energy, many of the intermediate products, which some of them we have talked about in our last article of the ketone diet (2), are the famous ketone bodies, these products as discussed give you energy for extra hepatic tissues allowing you to use fat as fuel instead of glucose, meaning that if you use that metabolic versatility of your body and reduce the amount of sugar you're consuming then you'll be able to regulate the amount of glucose in your blood and you will allow a deserved rest for insulin to be working extra hours and instead being able to fine tune its production in order to have more accuracy in terms of allowing glucose to enter the energetic pathways.
Regarding the production of other intermediate compounds that will inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory molecules, fats are also key to help in these process.
Over the past few decades, numerous investigations provided evidence for beneficial, cardioprotective effects of PUFAs, in particular of the n-3 family. PUFAs, similarly to monounsaturated FAs, may decrease oxidative stress, inflammation and endothelial dysfunction, influence both insulin secretion and insulin resistance, and reduce diabetes risk. In addition, n-3 PUFAs may slow down the progression of pancreatic β-cell dysfunction. Several epidemiological studies showed that higher serum n-3 PUFA levels may be associated with the lower risk of T2DM (1).
A possible mechanism which can be used in our metabolism is sort of a "distraction" in terms of the production of precursors of cholesterol to enhance hormonal balance, the use of those intermediate compounds also to produce ketone bodies and a large number of membrane components. All of these processes might have a priority in the line of production, over inflammatory compounds, unless you're not helping at all your body by remaining in a sedentary lifestyle, consuming processed food with high sugar content and also saturated fats.
As mentioned above polyunsaturated omega 3 is one of the main "helpers" in producing a large amount of precursors which help ease the inflammation processes, helping your body to start feeling less stressed as well and literally having less pressure to handle all of the other immune trigger mechanisms that are activated when cursing a chronic disease such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension or metabolic syndrome.
What is the versatility of fats to help us maintain our energy levels, serve as precursor of a wide variety of compounds essential for homeostasis?
As we mentioned in our article of the ketone diet, fats in this kind regime, are essential in order to maintain our energy levels and they're the main source of that energy (2). In order to maintain that kind of energetic balance your internal sensors have to follow a certain pattern of rules that will activate the production of more ketone bodies that will be able to travel around your blood stream and feed several organs such as your heart, muscle, kidneys, lungs and your brain.
One of the protocol signals (first level of regulation) followed by fats starts in your fat deposits meaning your adipocytes, when your body detects a hormonal signal triggered either by insulin or by glucagon that's when your fat starts burning (moving along the ladder to be oxidized).
How does this process work? Well, if your levels of insulin are high it usually means you have a good amount of carbs to use as fuel for energy, that would a signal for your body to keep your fat where it is (your belly or your "love handles" meaning your fat on your sides), if your insulin levels are down that would mean that your body is running out of carbs and you need another supply which will be ..exactly you guessed it the deposits of fats! That's why people reduce the percentages of fat so quickly under the ketogenic diet or under an intermittent fasting program.
On the other side if your body senses (first level of regulation) that your glucagon (opposite of insulin) levels are up that means that your glycogen storages are being occupied, and that's not the best option for your body therefore it means that you will need to use other type of fuel such as your fat. Many times we underestimate the wisdom of our internal metabolic machinery and how it is perfectly designed to repair, maintain and preserve your energy levels, your homeostasis and your health in every scenario!
Your second protocol (second level of regulation) comes right before your body decides to pursue the path to start moving your fat form the "deposit area", now it comes a stage where that fat has to be transported to your mitochondria (your power houses) and at this level, the signal to start is determined by the availability of carnitine, which is the shuttle carrier that will help introduce the fat (Acyl-CoA's) to be burned in the mitochondria by the process known as beta oxidation.
This level can have may sub-level triggers, one can be the availability of carbohydrates that your body has, which will give priority of your body to burn those carbs before it gets to the fat, and your second level where you can help to trigger that enzyme and help reduce the availability of carnitine is by the reducing the production of Acetyl-CoA through exercise, just be careful, the intensity of the exercise has to be under a moderate level so you can achieve a better result! That is good news to all the people that reject the idea of performing exercise because they think it would be a painful, extremely disciplined process. Now science has arrived to that level where it has proved that just by doing a short walk of 30 min 4 days per week can help reduce your fat deposits in a good proportion. Of course if you do it in the morning with a very low quantity of carbohydrates in your system that would help even more!
Finally your third protocol or level of regulation is the amount of a molecule named oxaloacetate which comes from the availability and utilization of your carbohydrates, therefore again it all comes down to the amount of carbs you have in your body, and here to be more specific, I'm referring more the amount of simple carbs (sugars) not the complex one although of course if you abuse these ones that would also disrupt the process to burn your fat.
When our body senses that the levels of oxaloacetate are low that would in turn produce a good availability level of the protein carnitine which is the one that will help burn the fat in order to produce ketone bodies! Which will be your primary fuel (if you lower your carbohydrate intake and/or practice fasting) or your secondary fuel if you still consume carbs in a moderate amount and still the higher production of them will be during your morning hours! Hence taking advantage of them as energy sources from fat during the morning and performing exercise under those conditions (scaling up your exercise sessions of course and starting slowly step by step) will allow your body to burn that extra fat that surrounds your tissues (named visceral fat) and it will help you to loose weight and regulate your hunger hormones and satiety!
In summary, fats are your allies if you wisely use them to give you energy, if you start raising your consciousness to consume simple carbs and lower the amount of complex carbs, if you practice some kind of intermittent fasting and allow your body to rest, clean the body and increase your mental clarity, if you understand that your body doesn't need to rely only in carbs to perform every activity, if you're willing to invest a little time to review the nutritional levels of what you buy and eat and pay attention to the amount of sugar they have!
Our bodies as repeatedly mentioned work perfectly, know how to work with several options, sense the levels of energy and substrate that you're providing as well as the quality and amount of emotional triggers that you constantly submerged your body into! Trust in your inner tools, know how they work and pay attention to what you eat and how many times you do it!
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1. Poreba, M., Rostoff, P., Siniarski, A., Mostowik, M., Golebiowska-Wiatrak, R., Nessler, J., ... & Gajos, G. (2018). Relationship between polyunsaturated fatty acid composition in serum phospholipids, systemic low-grade inflammation, and glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular diabetology, 17(1), 29.
2. Ortega D. “The Keto Diet: Is it Really Safe?”. https://www.davidortegab.com/post/the-keto-diet-is-it-really-safe. November 19th, 2019.