Fats 101: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly + a Quick Quinoa Recipe

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I was born in 1980 and by the time 1994 rolled around, I was awkward, angry, defensive and horrified that I wasn’t one of the “pretty” girls.

I was up close and personal with puberty and the shit was ugly.

I really had nothing to complain about though. I had (and still have) amazing parents (who are still together and happy after 39 years). I had great friends. I had a loving home. I had everything that I needed and then some.

But during my early teenage years I couldn’t see past the hormones.

The early nineties were the beginning of the “Heroin Chic” era and it collided beautifully with my teenage angst in perfect timing. I resonated fully.

The dark depressing beauty, the perfectly disturbed pouts, and the general “fuck you” attitude was the perfect combination of who I was (at the time) and who I so desperately wanted to be.

I was obsessed. Kate Moss, Amber Valletta and Helena Christensen were my goddesses and I wanted to be just like them.

There were of course a few issues with this. I lived in nowhere New Mexico, I wasn’t tall, I was 14, and I had zero self confidence.

Model land wasn’t in the cards, so I decided to do the one thing I could do to mirror my heroin goddesses…

I got really, really skinny.

I was never bulimic and I’m pretty sure I was never technically anorexic, but I most definitely had food and body image issues. Not eating was my way of having control and getting attention. When my friends and family eventually voiced concern about my weight, I secretly loved the shit out of it.

I came across this picture the last time I was at my parent’s house. When I looked at it, I immediately flashed back to the day this picture was taken and I remembered thinking that I needed to lose more weight because my stomach wasn’t flat enough yet.

Makes me wish that models looked more like Marilyn Monroe and less like pre-pubescent boys.

Luckily, starving myself didn’t last too much longer and I honestly don’t remember what happened. I just sort of snapped out of it.

I did continue to have minor eating issues throughout my teenage years and into my mid twenties, and it wasn’t until I started to eat a healthy vegan diet that my food issues completely dissolved.

You know what it was for me?

It was the fact that I no longer had to
limit the food that I loved because I learned to love the food that I didn’t have to limit.

Letting go of that control was like letting go of a mind fuck that I played with myself for years.

How refreshing to eat healthy food when I was hungry, stop when I was full, and repeat.  It felt easy, it felt right, and it felt like I had a lot more room for other things in my life.

I also became the ideal weight for my frame naturally. I might go up and down a couple pounds here and there, but I sit at a solid 130 pounds at 5’ 7, and have for over 5 years.

I preface today’s post with this story because everyone is on their own personal food journey. And being skinny is never an indicator of health or happiness.

Wherever you are on your food journey, I salute you. Food is an extremely emotional thing and finding peace and balance with it takes time and patience. 

Okay – let’s do this.

I want to talk about oil because it’s a topic that I’m often asked about and there’s a ton of conflicting information about it out there.

BUT before I talk about oil, I have to talk about fat, so this will be a two-parter.

And neither part will be as boring as going to a tire store, I promise.

This week fats 101, next week oil, deal?

There are many different types of fat and they all behave differently in the body.

Our body needs a certain amount of the right kind of fat to be healthy. It protects the organs, gives us energy, and helps us absorb nutrients.

Here’s a quick tip. If you eat kale with some avocado or walnuts, your body will absorb more nutrients from the kale than if you ate it plain. This is awesome because avocados are maybe my favorite food.

  • Okay, so a fat molecule looks like a tadpole (Or a sperm. Just go with whatever analogy resonates with you most. No judgement).
  • The head part of the tadpole/sperm looking molecule is water soluble and made up of the same stuff regardless of what type of fat it is.
  • The length of the tail is what sets the different type of fats apart. The tail part is fat soluble.

The shorter the tail of your sperm, (oh come on, I know you went with sperm) the easier it is to digest. The longer the tail, the longer it takes for your body to break it down and the harder it is to digest.

So each type of fat has a different length of tail.

Are you with me so far? Would you rather be at a tire store?

(thought so)

We’ll get back to sperm tails in a minute, first I want you to understand that there are four different types of dietary fat and they are not created equal.

Some are good, some are confusing and some should be avoided like a bad ex.

1) Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid

There are two types of polyunsaturated fats.

Omega-3 and Omega-6.

These are known as the essential fatty acids and the body cannot manufacture these on its own.

It’s super important to have a good balance of Omega-6 to Omega-3. A good ratio is 4:1.

People who eat the Standard American Diet generally have too much Omega-6 in their diet and not enough Omega-3 (with ratios as high as 30:1).

If you’re getting too much Omega-6, the benefits of the Omega-3 will be in vain. Omega-6 is found in lots of different types of processed foods that are laden with vegetable oils, which is why people tend to get way too much Omega-6.

Some healthy plant sources of Omega-3 include chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, soy beans, seaweed, tahini (because of the sesame seeds), cauliflower and winter squash.

Different types of fish are often touted as being a good source of Essential Fatty Acids, but the high amount of cholesterol and the low amount of fiber combined with the potential for high mercury content makes unprocessed plant foods the best source for those Essential Fatty Acids.

2) Monounsaturated Fatty Acid

Monounsaturated fat can be beneficial, as long as it’s in moderation.

The healthiest sources of monounsaturated fat are avocados and olives (both technically fruit, btw), nuts and seeds (almonds, macadamia nuts, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, canola, etc..) and soybeans.

 3) Saturated Fat

There’s a huge debate going on right now about saturated fat that I will fill you in on next week, but basically there’s one school of thought that saturated fat isn’t as bad as it’s chalked up to be and another school of thought that all saturated fat should be avoided.

More on this next week.

All you need to know today is that saturated fats are most commonly found in meat and dairy products, but there is also saturated fat in palm oil, coconut oil, olive oil, dried coconut, dark chocolate, some types of fish, some types of nuts and whipped cream.

Did you know that olive oil is 14% saturated fat? More on this next week.

 4) Trans Fat

These are the run away as if they were a bad ex fats.

 Do you remember a couple weeks back when I talked about hydrogenated oils?

Anything containing hydrogenated oil is full of trans fats.

Junk food is the biggest culprit of trans fats, but did you know that meat and dairy products have a small amount of naturally occurring trans fat?

Regardless of the saturated fat debate, all camps agree that Trans Fats are no bueno and should NOT be consumed.

Finally, something apart from kittens that we can all agree on.

Now that you have a grasp on the four different types of fat, let’s go back to sperm (and hopefully you read this from the beginning, otherwise this makes zero sense and you should stop skimming and go back to the beginning).

The longer the tail on the “sperm”, the harder it is on the body. The shorter the tail, the easier it is to digest.

This means that Essential Fatty Acids have the shortest tail, Monounsaturated Fats have a slightly longer tail, Saturated Fats have an even longer tail, and Trans Fats win for the longest tail.

Are we good on the four different types of fat and the length of sperm tails?

Before I go any further, I need to talk about cholesterol for a hot second.

Cholesterol is a waxy substance made by the body to produce many hormones like estrogen and testosterone.

The body produces good cholesterol (HDL) and bad cholesterol (LDL). The bad cholesterol is damaging to the heart, but good cholesterol acts like a dump truck and ferries bad cholesterol to the liver.

So we need more good cholesterol and less bad cholesterol.

Easy enough.

Good cholesterol is found in foods that have unsaturated fats. AKA poly and monounsaturated fats.

Here’s the deal.

  • Unsaturated fat increases good cholesterol AND lowers bad cholesterol (hence the term “good fat”).
  • Saturated fat increases good cholesterol, BUT it also increases bad cholesterol.
  • Trans fat increases bad cholesterol AND decreases good cholesterol.

There is a pattern starting to emerge and the pattern is this.

For a whole hell of a lot of reasons, poly and monounsaturated fats should be consumed in moderation (Dr. Barnard recommends 20 grams per day. That’s 1/4 of an avocado, 1/4 cup of walnuts and 1/2 tablespoon of chia seeds), Trans Fats should be kicked in the ass and avoided completely and saturated fats… it’s a hot topic that I will be bringing clarity to next week,  BUT as Dr. Michael Greger points out:

Any diet that encourages people to eat bacon is an easy sell.

Now that you’re schooled on the basics of fat, I’ll see you next week where I’ll wrestle saturated fat and shine some light on the oil debate.

Until then, here’s a quick recipe idea for you.

Having a batch of  cooked quinoa in the fridge is helpful throughout the week. There are lots of things you can do with it, like this breakfast idea and even this savory butternut squash dish.

One of my fave things to do with quinoa is to water sauté some garlic and onion, add in whatever other veggies I have in the fridge, toss in the quinoa and then season with some soy sauce, whatever herbs I’m feeling, and some salt and pepper. Then place it in a bowl, put a few chopped walnuts and some slices of avocado on top and BAM!

Welcome to Yumtown!

Whole Food Plant Based Quick Quinoa

Author: Molly Patrick of Clean Food Dirty Girl

Ingredients

  • 1 cup quinoa (180 g)
  • 2 cups water (475 ml)

Instructions

  • Rinse your quinoa in a super fine mesh strainer and then transfer it to medium-sized pot. Add the water, bring to a boil and then turn the heat to low.
  • Simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is soft and fluffy.
  • Place some cooked quinoa in a bowl and add a couple shakes of coconut aminos, some steamed broccoli, finely chopped cabbage, avocado and chopped walnuts.

When you’re ready to break up with processed food for good, get your buns over here and check out our weekly Plant Fueled Meal Plans.

Sources:
PCRM
Nutrition Facts 
Dr. Neal Barnard  
Dr. Michael Greger 
Dr. Furhman / Eat to Live and Super Immunity 

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Written by ex-boozer, ex-smoker, Co-founder, and CEO, Molly Patrick. They will help you eat more plants while throwing perfection down the garbage disposal.

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4 Comments

  1. Whisper on September 30, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    Cant wait to hear what you say about oil. I’m currently on a fat free vegan diet. No oil, avo, nuts etc. Just found out my testosterone level is extremely low, and my doctor is blaming my diet. Husband is not happy, either.

    • Molly Patrick on September 30, 2014 at 1:40 pm

      Hi there –
      I will send out the oil email on Saturday in my newsletter and will post a version of that email next Tuesday. To hop on my list, you can sign up here:
      https://cleanfooddirtygirl.com/signup/
      From what I understand, a zero fat vegan diet is a pretty dangerous thing. What is the reason behind this choice? Email me at [email protected] if you want to chat privately with me.
      Molly

  2. Cara on October 1, 2014 at 7:24 am

    I’m looking forward to the oil conversation as well, and the topic of fat has been on my mind a lot lately. I went whole-foods vegan almost 2 years ago. At first I lost weight, but I’ve since put it all back on, and maybe then some. I eat pretty darn clean, although I do indulge but usually with things I make with fairly wholesome ingredients. I feel it’s disproportionate to my current weight, for what I eat, I shouldn’t be at my heaviest (140 at 5’5″). But since I went vegan, I’ve probably added more “good” fats into my diet because I kept hearing about “healthy fats!” And nuts/nut butters are in so many “healthy” treats. So I do a lot of nuts, coconut oil, avocados, etc. I still think I’m heavier than I should be and I can’t figure out why. It’s frustrating. Eating this way is not easy for me, nor has it been cheap, so to gain weight is a little discouraging! I keep wondering what else I can/should cut out but it’s starting to feel so restrictive. I already have a juice or smoothie every morning, my lunches are small, there’s not much snacking going on. So I’m indulging more because, fuck it, if I’m gonna gain weight, might as well earn that weight! I do plan to cut out oil, but I don’t think that’s my only issue.

  3. Carly on March 20, 2016 at 5:22 pm

    Hey Molly! I have recently discovered your page and am loving reading through the old blogs and learning LOADS! Thanks for being so informative and fun to follow as well 🙂 You say that Dr Bernard recommends 20g of fat per day. What do you think of that? I am experimenting with my macro intake, and am currently around 40g of fat. I may experiment and go lower (higher carb). What do you think good ratios are?
    Thanks again!
    xxo
    Carly

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