Fertility Superfoods: Supporting Your Fertility with Phat Fats
Fat comes in many different flavors. But the messages around fat are so confusing. “Fat is good for you. Fat is bad for you. Eggs are healthy. No, just the egg white is healthy.” And nutrition labels are not much help in this arena either. What the heck is a saturated fat versus an unsaturated fat? Well, lucky for you, I am a nutrition science nerd and I am here to break it all down for you.
We have to start with a short history lesson because we need to understand where the “fat is bad” message comes from. All the confusion started in the 1950’s when a researcher named Ancel Keys hypothesized that dietary fat was correlated with adverse health reactions. He then conducted the “Seven Countries Study” which supported his hypothesis that diets high in saturated fat raised cholesterol levels and were correlated with heart disease. However, in reality, his research actually spanned 22 countries and when all 22 countries are taken into account, this correlation disappears. This study was well-publicized and led to the low-fat, high-carb “heart healthy” diet which has led millions of people down the path to metabolic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Subsequent studies from the early 90’s to today overwhelmingly demonstrate that these dietary recommendations from the 1950’s are outdated and false.
Although saturated fat has been demonized for the last 70 years, it turns out that transfats and sugar are the bad guys. Trans fats have been demonstrated to raise LDL cholesterol while raising HDL cholesterol which is correlated with heart disease, obesity and strokes. The average Canadian consumes 88 pounds of sugar every year. This absurd quantity of transfats and sugar we consume is largely because so much of it is hidden in our processed foods.
I am absolutely in love with this video by Adam Ruins Everything highlighting some of the points I've been standing on my soap box and talking about for years now.
Something to keep in mind is that consuming healthy fats in moderation not only contributes to your health, but it does not turn into body fat. In fact, because cholesterol is the precursor to our steroid hormones, such as androgens and estrogens, it is actually NECESSARY to be consuming healthy fats if you are trying to get pregnant. So let’s dive in and I’ll help you translate all the different flavors that fats come in. Most importantly, I will be highlighting which ones you should be eating in a balanced diet and which ones you should be running away from.
Fats are named for their chemical structures. Saturated fats are composed of chains of single bonds which means all of its bonds are “saturated” with hydrogen molecules. This gives it an orderly appearance which is why they remain solid at room temperature. There are three different types of saturated fats:
1. Lauric Acid <Good Guy>
Sources: coconut oil, palm kernel oil (not to be confused with palm oil)
Lauric acid is a medium-chain saturated fatty acid which is not easily stored as body fat and most likely to be burned for energy. This type of fat will raise overall cholesterol levels, but only because it will raise HDL which has been nicknamed the “good cholesterol”.
2.Stearic Acid <Good Guy>
Sources: cocoa butter, shea butter, grass-fed beef, milk and butter (Bonus blog post featuring butter)
Stearic acid is a long-chain saturated fatty acid which makes it harder to break down and slows down digestion which contributes to its ability to keep you feeling full longer. It also helps regulate mitchondria
3. Palmitic Acid <Bad Guy>
Sources: palm oil, conventionally raised animal meat
In the body, excess carbohydrates are converted into palmitic acid. Conventionally raised animal products are chock-full of this type of fatty acid. Palmitic acid increases LDL which is associated with heart disease.
Mono-unsaturated fats are named for their fatty acid chain that contains only 1 double bond. Having this one double bond means that it can’t pack tightly together so they are liquid at room temperature.
1. Omega 9 Fatty Acids aka Oleic Acid <Good Guy>
Sources: olive oil, avocados, walnuts, peanut oil, macadamia nuts
Raises HDL without raising LDL. A UC Irvine study shows it may boost memory.
Fatty acid chains with more than 1 double bond which makes them harder to pack together.
1. Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Is an essential fatty acid which means it cannot be created by the body so it
must be taken in through the diet. Omega 3 fatty acids are shown to reduce inflammation, cholesterol, body fat and hunger. It also mitigates arthritis and asthma and minimizes the risk of Alzheimer’s and depression. There are 2 different kinds of Omega 3 Fatty Acids:
a. Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) <Good Guy>
Sources: fish, spirulina
DHA and EPA are sea-based Omega 3’s that are more active in the body than ALA’s. They control inflammation and
body fat while reducing the risk of heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Often recommended for prenatal because they
are essential for infant brain development.
b. Alpha-linoleic Acid (ALA) <Good Guy>
Sources: flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, kiwi, hemp, grass-fed beef
ALA is the plant-based Omega 3’s. Since it needs to be converted into DHA before it can be used by the body so
not as efficient as getting Omega 3’s from fish. Shown to reduce heart attacks because it lowers cholesterol and
2. Omega 6 Fatty Acids
We should be eating an equal ratio of omega 3’s to omega 6’s, but according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the average modern North American diet now has 14-25 times the amount of omega-6’s than we need. There are 2 different kinds of Omega 6 Fatty Acids:
a. Arachidonic Acid (AA) <Good Guy>
Sources: duck, chicken, halibut, wild salmon, egg yolks, beef
Increases lean body mass, strength and anaerobic power.
b. Linoleic Acid (LA) <Bad Guy>
Sources: soybean oil, safflower oil, corn oil, poppyseed oil
Most of our fried foods are fried in LA. This particular kind of fat promotes fat storage in the body and should be
1. Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) <Good Guy>
Sources: grass-fed beef and grass-fed dairy, turkey, lamb, veal
Is a natural form of transfat that is a powerful antioxidant and may be protective against heart disease, cancer and diabetes
2. Partially Hydrogenated Oils <Super Bad Guy>
Sources: fried foods, baked goods, shortening/margarine
Artificial fat created by injecting vegetable oil with hydrogen which made it so it would stay solid at room temperature and prolonged its shelf life. Unfortunately, these fats also have a tendency to stay solidified in your body, clogging up your arteries. These man-made fats are now banned by the FDA (as of 2018) because they are associated with increasing heart disease, weight gain and stroke. It is also one of the worst foods for your brain. Avoid at all costs.
If I’ve piqued your curiosity about nutrition science, there are three books that I’d love to recommend to you:
The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz
Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD
Cholesterol Clarity by Jimmy Moore and Eric C. Westman, MD
If you want to nerd out about nutrition with me and see how a healthy diet can get you to your peak fertility potential, give the clinic a call at (604) 678-8600 to schedule a 15 minute complimentary consultation.