Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I'm Feeling A Little......Fat These Days

Weird Al Yankovic wrote a few songs that I’m sure you’ve heard in the 1980’s, Eat It and I’m Fat. Both were written in parody to two famous Michael Jackson hits. Weird Al had something going for him because about 10 years or so after those songs were written, he became vegan!

Well, I’m not busting any belt buckles, I don’t have more chins than Chinatown and when I go to the movies, I don’t take up 7 rows….but what I am is what I eat….and what I eat is a lot of fat!

The topic of fat can get convoluted and disinteresting really quickly so I’ll try to keep this short and sweet.
First of all, what is fat? Fats are generally triesters of glycerol and fatty acids. They can be either solid or liquid at room temperature. They’re definitely an important part of our diet, except when you have an abundance of it!

So you’re at the grocery store, you pick up that can of coconut oil, you read the nutrition facts and your eyes almost pop out of your head! Whose wouldn’t with 14g of fat per tablespoon?!!?!?! Let me help put that in perspective for ya. Say you make some sort of raw cheesecake/pie that calls for coconut oil. You gladly emulsify ¾ C of liquid beauty into your blender. After pouring your dessert filling into a spring form pan, you set it in the freezer. A few hours later, out comes a creation of art!....yea well also comes out 144g of saturated fat!!!!!

Ok…so the words saturated fat scare a lot of people. They know they should be eating all of the other goodies such as Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats. Well, I’ll try breaking this down for you….

All fats are comprised of fatty acids. These acid chains vary in length, Short Chain (4 carbon atoms) to Very Long Chain (28 carbon atoms). We’ll touch on this in just a minute.

Fat are broken into 2 categories, Saturated and Unsaturated. Now, think about what the word “saturated” means. It may trigger words such as “soaked”, “concentrated”, “dense”, “full of”, etc. In reality, it’s called saturated fat because in the acid chain, the carbon atoms are saturated with hydrogen atoms. A saturated fatty acid is like you pointing your index figure straight out. Go ahead, point at something!...keep that finger nice and stiff. Don’t let it bend!!!...’cause if you do, it’s no longer saturated!

The term “unsaturated” essentially allows your index figure to bend! Monounsaturated is like having your index finger bend at the center joint and polyunsaturated is like having your center joint and the joint near the tip of your finger both bend.

Why do I care if my finger bends? Well let me explain. Fats are absorbed in distinct ways. Taken from Wikipedia, “Short- and medium-chain fatty acids are absorbed directly into the blood via intestine capillaries and travel through the portal vein just as other absorbed nutrients do. However, long-chain fatty acids are too large to be directly released into the tiny intestine capillaries. Instead they are absorbed into the fatty walls of the intestine villi and reassembled again into triglycerides. The triglycerides are coated with cholesterol and protein (protein coat) into a compound called a chylomicron.

Within the villi, the chylomicron enters a lymphatic capillary called a lacteal, which merges into larger lymphatic vessels. It is transported via the lymphatic system and the thoracic duct up to a location near the heart (where the arteries and veins are larger). The thoracic duct empties the chylomicrons into the bloodstream via the left subclavian vein. At this point the chylomicrons can transport the triglycerides to where they are needed.”

Bla bla bla bla bla what just happened? In one ear and out the other. Fair enough. To put it bluntly, the short and medium chains are absorbed like your other nutrients. The long and very long chains go through your arteries where it’s coated with cholesterol and protein. Ummmm…..read that again!....IT’S COATED WITH CHOLESTEROL IN YOU ARTERIES! Hmmmmm….ever wonder why high cholesterol is an issue?....who wants cholesterol buildup in their arteries? I sure don’t!

Now that we’ve covered how different length fatty acid chains are absorbed, what was all that monounsaturated and polyunsaturated talk about?....well, let’s cover that shall we?

So, let’s just say you have a long chain fatty acid swimming down your throat. He’s too big to follow Mr. Vitamin B so he turns left and says, “Oh, I see a hole that I can fit through!” (Sidebar: picture someone cave diving…..just work with me here.) So he turns left and goes through the intestine villi and comes out the other side a brand new man! Let’s give him a new name and call him Triglyceride. So now he keeps on swimming along and some friends meet up with him, Cholesterol and Protein. Ok, lets stop right here. Remember that finger exercise I told you about? Well, what shape is a saturated fat? He’s like a rigid pointed finger. Now if continue eating tons of food with lots of fat and cholesterol you’ll eventually have one big fat party inside your arteries. Well the saturated fat guys are nice and rigid and don’t get out of the way for anyone! They’re kind of like a bouncer at a nightclub. They’ll just stand there nice and stiff and say, “Ayo! If you want to get through, give me some money or geouttahere.” Say you pay him the money and squeeze through the front doors. You walk in and notice that the whole room is full of bouncers…..and perhaps a few geeks like me. Well, if saturated fat was the bouncer, the bouncer’s muscles are the cholesterol. The bouncers are line up against all 4 walls with their arms crossed showing off their barbed wire tattoos. What happens when you have 100 bouncers, with their arms crossed, crowding the bar? You can’t get a drink! You stress out so much and have a heart attack!!!! Scary stuff man! It’s like your arteries are being blocked with all this cholesterol and your heart can’t pump any blood through!

Enough with the long chained saturated fatty acids. What about monounsaturated and polyunsaturated? Well, those guys are a little different. I guess they’re like bouncers too, but they’re not from NY and like to hang out in the corner of the room with their arms crossed saying “Ayo”. Instead they like to move around a little bit. They like to dance. They’re a little more flexible. The monounsaturated dancers just dance with their legs. The polyunsaturated dancers use their arms and legs. If you’re going to be in a club, wouldn’t you rather invite friends who will dance rather than standing in the corner showing off their barbed wire tattoos and spiked hair? I sure would. When the dance scene is happening, people are happy, you can get drinks at the bar and life is good. Essentially, blood is able to flow through your system because your fat isn’t so uptight and rigid; they’re able to bend in 1 or 2 ways.

I hope you get the picture. Now let’s quickly mention Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. They’re essential fatty acids because your body cannot produce them, therefore must be consumed. Omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids are all polyunsaturated with the exception of 1 single acid in the Omega 9 family.

I’ve created a little flow diagram showing you the family of fats.  It's a little hard to read but if you click on it, you might be able to see it a tad better. For the unsaturated fats, I’ve only depicted the Omega acids whereas on the saturated side, I list all fatty acids. The colors are also important. The green means those are small chain fatty acids. The orange means they’re medium chained. The red means they’re long chained and the maroon means they’re very long chained.

You’ll notice that most of the Omega fatty acids are medium or long chained. You’ll also notice that there are quite a few short and medium chained fatty acids that belong to the saturated family. Remember my intro about coconut oil? Well, this is where it all ties in. Coconut oil is comprised of 67% medium chained saturated fatty acids. Remember that even though your raw cheesecake/pie contains 144g of saturated fat, 96g of that is medium chained which doesn’t go to your arteries.

In conclusion, if you’re going to the dance club to listen to Weird Al, make sure you bring some friends who like to dance!

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