Fats and Cholesterol: Good or Bad? [Real Food Series]


Fats.Whoa this is a big subject to tackle in few a lot of paragraphs. I could go on and on about this subject, but in an effort to keep you attention I am going to try to cliff notes version this subject. I also would like to warn you that while I fully believe the research is out there, I am not writing a term paper here, so I won’t be citing a ton of research articles. That would be cool someday, but girl ain’t got time for that right now. For now, all of this information is readily available online for you to double-check!

In our house, the two main fats that we use are butter and coconut oil. I occasionally use Olive oil for cold applications or in a pinch. I will also use cold-pressed Sesame oil for cold applications (i.e-dressings). I will explain why using them for cold applications later.

Most people, when they hear the word “fat”, or “cholesterol” our minds instantly think that whatever food is being described is bad for you, will make you gain weight or cause your arteries to clog. So maybe we don’t react quite that extreme, but I was one who once believed that fat makes you fat. Seemed to make sense. And cholesterol? Well, I didn’t have a clue really what it was except for what was ingrained in my head from culture. Well come to find out, fat does not make you fat and cholesterol is good. Alright, so let’s tackle the latter of the two first.

Cholesterol. It is the mother of all fats. Your body could not survive without cholesterol. It makes up a large part of your cell walls along with saturated fat. It also appears in high quantity in breast milk (which has got to say something!) Cholesterol is a healing agent in the body. It would be the substance that would show up when there is a problem in the body. I really like how this doctor describes how cholesterol works as a healing agent:

“Since cholesterol is usually discussed in the context of disease and atherosclerosis, let us look at the blood vessels. Their inside walls are covered by a layer of cells called the endothelium. Any damaging agent we are exposed to will finish up in our bloodstream, whether it is a toxic chemical, an infectious organism, a free radical or anything else. Once such an agent is in the blood, what is it going to attack first? The endothelium, of course. The endothelium immediately sends a message to the liver. Whenever our liver receives a signal that a wound has been inflicted upon the endothelium somewhere in our vascular system, it gets into gear and sends cholesterol to the site of the damage in a shuttle, called LDL-cholesterol. Because this cholesterol travels from the liver to the wound in the form of LDL, our “science,” in its wisdom calls LDL “bad” cholesterol. When the wound heals and the cholesterol is removed, it travels back to the liver in the form of HDL cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein cholesterol). Because this cholesterol travels away from the artery back to the liver, our misguided “science” calls it “good” cholesterol. This is like calling an ambulance travelling from the hospital to the patient a “bad ambulance,” and the one travelling from the patient back to the hospital a “good ambulance.”” 

Source: Dr. Kuehne (http://drdanwellness.com/truth-about-cholesterol.html)

This information describes how cholesterol heals a damaged area in the blood vessel. This should prompt us to ask “how does the blood vessel get damaged.” Dr. Kuehne states things such as toxic substances and free radicals. From Sally Fallon’s book Nourishing Traditions (page 13) “High serum cholesterol levels often indicate that the body needs cholesterol to protect itself from high levels of altered, free radical containing fats.” She make the comparison that just as police are needed to a high crime area in the city, so cholesterol is needed in an area of the body which gets attacked often. However blaming “heart disease on cholesterol is like blaming the police for murder and theft in a high crime area.” Doesn’t quite add up. What IS happening though, is our western diet is so bad that our body is in extreme mode, having to constantly repair areas of our body damaged through bad food and free radical laden fat (more on that soon!) Consequently, we have large amounts of cholesterol building up- you could think of it as a defense mechanism. However, in this scenario, we don’t want a defense wall on our arteries. We want the body to properly attend to needs, just as if you would go to the doctor if you had a problem. You don’t want the ambulance parked outside your house at all times waiting for you to call. Nah. Bad. I love this chart:

“The leading causes of the system breakdown are the following:

  • Overproduction of LDL packages. The liver produces too much LDL cholesterol for the body’s needs and much more than the HDLs can pick up.
  • Reduction of HDL pickup trucks. The liver does not produce or release enough HDLs into the bloodstream to pick up the excess LDLs.
  • Breakdown of liver management dispatch system. The liver does not correctly signal to the body that it needs to pick up more LDLs.
  • Damage to roadways. Inflammation is present in the interior walls of the arteries.
  • Transformation of LDL packages into litter. Free radicals, which are breakdown products of some bodily functions, attach to certain LDL packages and “oxidize” them, causing them to become large and sticky and attach to blood vessel walls.”

Source: When Good Cholesterol Turns Badby Murdoc Khaleghi, MD (http://www.netplaces.com/low-cholesterol/what-is-cholesterol/when-good-cholesterol-turns-bad.htm)

So that is what’s going on and why cholesterol is so demonized.

I have only SCRATCHED the surface about cholesterol and could go on and on. But…I won’t bore you. If you want more I’ll post some further research links!

Let’s start talking about the other fats. The good the bad and the ugly.

Fats, or lipids (aka fatty acids) are classified in three categories: Saturated, Monounsaturated, and Polyunsaturated. In an effort to save time here, I’m going to break it down quick for you. The higher the saturated fat content, the more stable the oil is. Mono and poly unsaturated fat are highly unstable oils, meaning that they can be easily destroyed and become rancid (oxidized). Rancid oil not only has off-flavors and smells but the oxidation of the oil is causing free radicals to form. Free radicals are a BIG problem. One way the bonds are destroyed is by heat. Most of the vegetable oil on the market is expeller-pressed or chemically extracted with heat and chemicals. Heating of these fragile oils causes rancidity even before the oil is bottled for distribution! While canola, corn, grapeseed (etc) oils are usually touted as “heart healthy” oils as they are primarily mono or poly unsaturated, the very processing of these oils completely ruins the healthy properties. The ONLY way to maintain the integrity of unsaturated fats is to use Cold Pressed extraction (no heat). Then, the only way to safely consume these oils is in their cold or cool room temp form. Most vegetable oils (corn, canola, soy) cannot be manufactured by cold pressing due to the nature of the plant, so we are only left with the bad alternative. Unsaturated fats CAN be healthy and are an integral way to get Omega-3’s into your diet, but only if consumed in a safe way. The chart below will help you navigate that!

Saturated fat on the other hand, which are primarily found in animal products and tropical oils (coconut & palm) are very stable and can be treated with heat and not go rancid. Saturated fats also contain the most fat soluble vitamins (A and D), which are essential. Your body can only absorb these vitamins correctly with the presence of fat (hence why they are called fat soluble, as opposed to water-soluble such as vit C). Animal fats from healthy animals will also contain a host of other nutrients. Another post on that later. Below is a lovely chart from Balancedbites.com for you to post on your fridge!

Finally, we have not yet touched on the devil-fat itself- Trans fat or hydrogenated fat. In a nutshell, trans fat is UNsaturated fat that has been mechanically and chemically altered to give it the appearance and texture of saturated fats. These fats are shortening, margarine, etc. They were once considered healthy because technically they are unsaturated, which the public has been led to believe is healthy for us. After all this processing, we are left with a very dangerous form of fat that is causing major health problems. Thankfully, enough research has finally made its way into the public sector and trans fats have become a big no-no in most foods. However, don’t be fooled- it is still in there, just masked as something else (aka partially hydrogenated oil)  or in its place is a rancid vegetable oil. Avoid those if you can!!


I think that is enough for one post. I am sure I have bored you senseless by now! I love learning about this stuff and I am learning more and more everyday. I will probably do another post about fats somewhere down the line as there is just so much fascinating things! If you have a question, ask away! I will try my best to answer with my limited knowledge!

For now. I am going to go enjoy some coconut milk ice cream!

Thanks for reading!!

For further reading check out this post and subsequent links on her page!    http://kellythekitchenkop.com/2008/04/does-fat-make-you-fat-dieting-answers.html

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