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

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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 absorb nutrients.

Pro tip: Eat kale with some avocado or walnuts and your body will absorb more nutrients from the kale than if you ate it plain.

  • A fat molecule looks like a tadpole (Or a sperm. Just go with whatever analogy resonates most. No judgment).
  • 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.
  • The length of the tail is what sets different types of fat apart. The tail is fat-soluble.

The shorter the tail the easier it is to digest. The longer the tail the longer it takes to break down and the harder it is to digest.

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. Tire stores are the worst)

We’ll get back to sperm tails in a minute, but first!

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 important to have a good balance of Omega-6 to Omega-3. A healthy 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, you won’t benefit from the Omega-3. Omega-6 is found in most processed foods that are laden with vegetable oils.

Some healthy plant sources of Omega-3 include chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, soybeans, seaweed, tahini (because of the sesame seeds), and 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 make 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 long-running debate about saturated fat. Basically, some people think saturated fat isn’t all that bad and some people think it should be avoided.

Saturated fats are most commonly found in meat and dairy products, but there is also saturated fat in palm oil, coconut oil, olive oil, coconut milk, dried coconut, dark chocolate, some types of fish, some and some types of nuts.

 4) Trans Fat

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

Anything containing hydrogenated oil has 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 as well?

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 we 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.

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.

Let’s talk 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.

  • 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.

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 to the curb and avoided completely.

Saturated fats… it’s a hot topic, but as Dr. Michael Greger points out:

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

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 dry 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, and put a few chopped walnuts and some slices of avocado on top.

For more plant based recipes and over 250 whole food plant based meal plans, join Plant Fueled Life.

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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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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