Fat on a Plant Based Diet
Fat is a compound formed from fatty acids. They consist of greasy, solid materials found in animal tissues and in some plants. The term Fat is often used interchangeably with another term, Lipids (you may encounter this on other sites or by following any of the sources linked in this post). Fat is in fact a subgroup of lipids, but there is no need to get caught in technicalities. One should just be made aware of this.
There are many avenues to discuss the topic of fat: obesity,abdominal fat, weight gain & loss, saturated fat etc. to name but a few. For the sake of continuity and clarity, this post will explore 3 areas of dietary fat that cause most confusion: Animal vs Plant Fat, Low Fat diets, and Omega 3 fatty acids:
Omega 3's are an essential fatty acid, meaning it is essential to consume, as your body cannot make it; it must come from food. Much concern is placed in Omega 3 fatty acids on a plant based or vegan diet. This largely due to mainstream opinion that omega's must be obtained from fish. One must think of omega in fish in the same vein as protein in meat; the protein in meat comes from the vegetation the animal consumes. Similarly, the omega fatty acids in fish comes from the algae consumed by the fish. One tablespoon of flax seeds or walnuts, and algae (spirulina or chlorella) will provide you with your RDA of omega 3's, without the harmful contaminants present in fish oils
Fat has been proven to be a leading cause in Obesity, and thus a low fat diet is correctly promoted as healthy. There are 2 points one must be mindful of on a low fat diet:
Firstly, some fat is essential for nutrient absorption. A study carried out in 2004 showed that nutrient bio availability in salads was higher when using an oil based dressing vs using an non-oil based dressing. This is because some phyto (plant) nutrients are fat soluble, so fat is needed to absorb these. Adding some nuts to a salad is the best way to ensure absorption.
Secondly, fat-free or low fat processed foods are not healthy. Generally speaking, they have been heavily processed to remove naturally occuring fat, and thus the fat has been replaced with either chemical substances or sugar. It was once said, "Whenever you see the words fat free or low fat, think chemical shitstorm"
Animal Fat vs Plant Fat
Animal fat is saturated fat, where as plant fat is unsaturated fat.
Saturated fats are heavily linked to prostate cancer, diabetes, inflammation, and of course, heart disease. In fact, 13 of the 15 cholesterol raising fat sources in the standard american diet come from animal sources. A diet free of animal fats is therefore advisable, according to nutritional research.
On the opposite front, plant fats, which are unsaturated, have the opposite effect of saturated animal fats. They have been proven to improve blood cholesterol levels, ease inflammation, and even stabilize heart rhythms. It should be noted that these benefits come from the plant fats in whole foods. Oil is not a healthy source of plant fats.
A whole foods plant-based diet is by default a high carbohydrate, low protein, low-fat diet, in the region of 80% carbohydrates, 10% protein, 10% fat. This macro-nutrient ratio is repeatedly advocated by leading plant-based doctors, and leading health organisations such as The USDA and the World Health Organisation. The 10% fat consumed should be exclusively plant fats, as a growing body of evidence is consistently and directly linking animal fat to diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. It also appears to be heavily implicated in the causation and progression of a host of other conditions such as MS, Alzheimer's, Crohn's, erectile dysfunction, and kidney failure to name but a few. Plant fat, by contrast, does not cause the same adverse effects even when consumed in high quantities. As always, eating should be approached with a healthy, positive mindset. One should not focus keeping fat levels at 10% or less, but rather focus on eating a wide variety of whole foods, and the ideal rations of macronutrients, micronutrients, phytonutrients, water and fibre will be consumed by default. Some supplementation is necessary, and the reasons for this will be explored in the next post.
Whenever you see the words fat-free or low-fat, think chemical shit-storm