Fats (also referred to as lipids) contain nearly two and one-half times as many calories per gram as does protein or carbohydrate.  Fat also requires more oxygen per gram, in order to be utilized by the body for energy.  While most of our energy comes from the burning of glucose which is derived from carbohydrate, the body will burn fat when carbohydrate levels become depleted.  Triglycerides are the primary class of food fats that we consume, and these fats account for most of the stored fat we carry around.  Another class of fats called phosphatides are important to the formation of our cell membranes. 


       The best known fat is cholesterol which has the very important function of keeping the membranes of our cells functioning properly. This function is so important that every cell in your body has the ability to synthesize cholesterol.  The liver, intestines, adrenal glands and sex glands also make cholesterol as necessary. All steroid hormones are made from cholesterol.  Vitamin D is, in part, synthesized from cholesterol.  Bile acids, secreted into the small intestine from the gall bladder, are made from cholesterol and play a vital role in the digestion of fats consumed in the diet.  Finally, cholesterol is secreted by the glands in the skin to protect the skin from dehydration.

       The dark side of cholesterol is that the so-called bad LDL and VLDL (low and very low density lipo protein) cholesterol can oxidize and create free radical activity causing damage to the walls of the arterial system.  One way to guard against such oxidation is to insure that you are consuming a large variety of anti-oxidant nutrients on a daily basis.  HDL, (high density lipo protein) the so-called good cholesterol, helps to remove LDL cholesterol by collecting it and returning it to the liver. Aerobic and resistive exercise is the best way to raise HDL levels.

       You can lower LDL cholesterol levels in the body by moving bile through the colon and out the stool.  Bile is basically a cholesterol waste product and failure to remove it can result in excess cholesterol circulating in the arterial system, which may end up as deposits in the arteries. Consuming thirty to forty grams of water soluble fiber per day will insure the elimination of cholesterol waste.  Oat bran, rice bran, apple pectin, flax fiber and psyllium are all examples of fibers that will facilitate this process.

       Many people are using prescription Statin drugs such as lovastatin, Lipitor and Mevacor to lower cholesterol levels. Statins lower cholesterol by inhibiting the enzyme HMG-CoA Reductase that catalyzes the production of cholesterol in the liver.  The mechanism by which Statin drugs lower cholesterol also inhibits the biosynthesis of CoQ10 in the liver.  CoQ10 is absolutely necessary for proper function of the heart. Some doctors have observed a marked increase in heart failure, among those using statin drugs.  It even has a name, “Statin Cardiomyopathy.”  Anyone using Statins should take a CoQ10 supplement.

       An extract of Red Yeast Rice, contains similar compounds to that found in Statins.  Red yeast Rice extracts lower cholesterol levels by the same mechanism as Statins but because they are weaker, they don’t generally cause problems with the liver or muscles as has been reported with the use of Statins.  Since Red Yeast Rice extracts interfere with CoQ10 production just like Satins, users should supplement with CoQ10.  Red Yeast and CoQ10  are available at Milk ‘N Honey.

       Cautionary note:  When Statins or Red Yeast Rice products are consumed in conjunction with grapefruit juice, the blood concentration of their active ingredient Mevinolin is increased by up to 15-fold.  Such increases are dangerous. Don’t drink grapefruit juice when taking these products.

       Another natural substance shown to lower cholesterol is Policosanol, a lipid alcohol derived from sugar cane wax. A number of studies show this substance to effectively lower total cholesterol, raise HDL levels and guard against LDL oxidation.  This product is well tolerated and has no significant side effects.  Policosanol is available at Milk ‘N Honey.

       Most of your cholesterol is made in the liver. Cholesterol derived from the diet comes only from the eating of animal products.  Vegetables, fruits, grains and beans do not contain cholesterol.  While lowering your intake of animal products will help lower cholesterol levels in the body, more importantly, eating less animal products will lower triglyceride levels which tend to push up the livers production of cholesterol. 


       Hydrogenated fats are produced by adding hydrogen to liquid oils that have been heated to high temperatures. This results in the liquid oil becoming more solid (more saturated).  The Hydrogenation process creates what are called trans fatty acids.  Trans fats are stickier than normal “cis” fats like found in butter. They encourage fatty deposits in the arteries, liver, and other body organs.  These fats also make your blood clotting platelets more sticky and therefore increase the risk of stroke and heart attack. Trans fats have been shown to raise blood levels of both cholesterol and triglycerides and in general create free radicals.  Trans fats also interfere with the action of what are called the essential fatty acids. All hydrogenated fats such as margarine should be eliminated from the diet.  Consumption of hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats, which are found in many processed and refined foods, should be kept to a minimum. Read labels!


       Of all the fats that you consume, the two essential fatty acids (EFA’s), linoleic (omega 6) and linolenic (omega3), are the most important to your health.  These fats must be obtained from the diet, as your body does not make them.  That’s why they are called essential fatty acids.  When ingested, the EFA’s go through a number of conversions which lead to the production of what are called prostaglandins.  These prostaglandins are hormone like substances that play a role in much of what goes on in the body.

       At levels above 12 to 15% of total calories, EFA’s increase the rate of metabolic reactions and thus facilitate more rapid burning of fat.  EFA’s are very involved in the energy making process and must be present in order for oxygen to transfer from the lungs to the blood plasma.  EFA’s actually hold oxygen in cell membranes and thus create a barrier to viruses and bacteria which cannot live in the presence of oxygen.  These acids form a structural part of all cell membranes and play a role in the recovery from muscle fatigue.  Essential fatty acids lead to reduction in inflammation, play a role in the regulation of cholesterol and blood sugar, immune response, calcium metabolism, nerve function and the list goes on and on.

       A lack of these acids in the diet can lead to multiple health problems. These problems include dermatitis, eczema, reproductive inefficiency, menstrual irregularities, atrophy of the adrenal and thyroid glands, elevated cholesterol levels, arthritis, low energy, and neurological problems, to name just a few.

       If you’re eating the standard American diet of packaged, canned and boxed food, the chances are you are getting to much omega 6 linoleic acid and not enough omega 3 linolenic acid.  If you are regularly consuming products containing oils from safflower, sunflower, peanuts or corn, you may be getting more than is necessary of omega 6 linoleic acid. These oils are high in Omega 6 and are used extensively by the food industry in making processed and refined products.  These oils are also used in cooking.  An additional source of omega 6 is found in the meat we eat from animals raised on grain rather than green vegetation. The American diet is very high in omega 6 fatty acids.

         Typically, Americans have body tissue ratios of from 10:1 to 20:1 omega 6 over omega 3. Such imbalances lead to a variety of health problems including excessive inflammation, hypertension and cancer.  While Omega 6 linoleic acid converts to GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) which has health benefits, this fatty acid also converts to arachidonic acid which can lead to inflammation. 

       Good sources of  EFA’s that are heavier on the side of having omega 3 fatty acids are flax seed, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and most dark green leafy vegetables.  In the body, omega 3 EFA linolenic acid converts to the fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoate acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).    These conversion fatty acids are important to all aspects of our health.  As we get older or become diabetic, our bodies do not efficiently convert linolenic acid to EPA and DHA.  Fortunately, you can obtain EPA and DHA direct from the diet by eating fish such as salmon, sardines, cod and herring.  Taking a fish oil supplement will insure a steady intake of these important omega 3 fatty acids.  

       It is sometimes asked whether one should supplement with a fish oil or flax oil.  Flax oil will provide the body with the two essential fatty acids linoleic and linolenic.  Fish oil will provide EPA and DHA.  Both these oils have advantages.


       In addition to providing the two essential fatty acids, flax contains lignans which are a group of phytochemicals (plant chemicals) that are similar to dietary fiber but do not act as fiber in the body.  Research shows lignans to be protective against breast, colon and prostate cancer and block estrogen receptors within the body, thereby inhibiting the toxic effects of excessive estrogens.  Flax seeds are the highest dietary source of plant lignans (they contain 100 - 800 times the quantity of plant lignans compared to any other source of plant lignans).  The majority of the lignan component of flax seeds is located in the outer husk of the flax seed.  Flax seed oil is taken from the inner part of flax seeds and contains smaller quantities of lignans.  Good quality flax oil such as Barleans has added flax lignans to their oil to enhance this substance.  Using a ground up flax product (flax seed meal) such as Fortified Flax from the company Life of Balance will provide EFA’s plus an abundance of lignans and fiber.

       Flax oil has a ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 of 4:1.  Therefore flax oil provides the much needed omega 3 without adding much additional omega 6.  Research indicates the presence of omega 3 linolenic acid in the body is protective against breast cancer independent of it being converted to EPA and DHA.  Therefore flax oil is seen as a protective agent.    


       Fish oil provides EPA and DHA without your body having to make it from the essential fatty acid linolenic.  Some fish oil will also provide some linolenic acid.  For diabetics and the elderly, fish oil will insure that the body is receiving EPA and DHA.  Flax oil can also be taken along with fish oil as it will provide additional linolenic acid along with lignans. Taking flax meal as an adjunct to fish oil will provide the EFA’s, lignans and fiber all rolled up into one package.  

       When taking a fish oil, be sure it is of high quality.  Mass market fish oils are often highly refined and do not provide the fatty acid nutrition sought after.  Cod liver oil will provide EPA and DHA along with some linolenic acid and vitamins A and D.  We recommend cod liver oil from the Carlson Company.  A very high quality fish oil is Wholemega from New Chapter. This fish oil is obtained from wild Alaskan salmon. It is minimally processed and provides not only EPA and DHA but a number of other omega 3 fatty acids along with the antioxidant astaxanthin which is naturally found in salmon.  Go to our PRODUCTS page for more information on this product and another high quality EPA/DHA product called Vectomega.   


       Cooking oils, such as corn, safflower, sunflower and sesame are good sources of the omega 6 fatty acid linoleic, provided that this acid has not been destroyed in the processing of the oil. Because omega 6 is so prevalent in our diets, there seldom is a need to be concerned about not getting enough of this fatty acid.  When using oils for cooking and baking, be sure to purchase unrefined oils.  Many oils commonly sold at your supermarket are highly processed using high heating temperatures to bleach, deodorize and generally refine the oil. The heating of oils alters the molecular structure of their fatty acids and creates trans fats. These polyunsaturated oils have little nutritional value and can actually contribute to health problems.    

       When using “cooking” oil, it’s best to buy a cold pressed, unrefined oil and then use it raw on salads and sparingly in cooking.  Using an unrefined olive oil is excellent for cooking as it is more stable than other oils and won’t easily break down when heated. Butter and coconut oil are even more stable and won’t create trans fats even at high temperatures. The little cholesterol that you may ingest from using butter is insignificant when compared to the dangers of trans fats which are created when cooking with less stable oils.


       Like butter, coconut oil is a very stable oil because it is high in naturally occurring saturated fat as opposed to the man made saturated fat created through the hydrogenation process. Because of its high saturation fat content, coconut oil, like butter, holds up well under high cooking temperatures and will not produce trans fats as is true when cooking with less saturated liquid oils such as safflower or canola. As is true with butter, coconut oil has been demonized because it is believed saturated fat contributes to heart disease. What is not commonly recognized is that butter, coconut oil and even lard has been used in cooking for thousands of years and yet it is only in the past 60 years or so that heart disease has become the health problem it is.  Studies of the dietary habits of Pacific Island peoples have determined they get from 30 to 60% of their calories from coconut oil and yet have very little heart disease. Studies done on native Alaskans found their diet to largely consist of saturated fat from eating whale meat and yet heart disease is largely absent.

       It would appear that saturated fat is not the culprit in the onset of heart disease. It now appears that consumption of trans fats is much more the villain along with oxidation of cholesterol in the arteries. Excessive free radical activity results in oxidized cholesterol which leads to plaque buildup in the arteries.   It is interesting that for many years the medical professionals have been telling us that saturated fat and dietary cholesterol were the culprits in heart disease. Consequently we were told to avoid eating butter, coconut oil, eggs and other sources of saturated fat and instead use hydrogenated products such as margarine.  While we are still being told to cut back on foods containing saturated fat, we are now being told to also stay away from hydrogenated fats. I anticipate the day will come when we will be told that neither saturated fats or cholesterol are the culprits in heart disease but that it is oxidative and inflammatory processes that lead to heart disease and many other health problems as more and more research is beginning to reveal.

       As to coconut oil, it has been demonstrated that this oil has a number of health benefits in addition to being a very stable oil under high heat conditions. Around 50% of the fat content of coconut oil is a fat called lauric acid.  In our body, lauric acid is converted to a monoglyceride called monolaur.  This substance has been shown to have anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.  Coconut oil is a good source of medium-chain saturated fatty acids. These acids are readily utilized by the body in the energy making process.  Some research has shown coconut oil to raise HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol.  Other research has shown coconut oil to reduce inflammation.

       The food industry tends to partially hydrogenate coconut oil to change the medium-chain fatty acids into more saturated long chain fatty acids which are then used in everything from bakery products to popcorn.  This makes the coconut oil more saturated and also creates trans fats. To obtain the health benefits of coconut oil, use only extra-virgin, unrefined coconut Oil.  Avoid hydrogenated fats, including partially hydrogenated coconut oil

       I titled this article, Fats: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.  The only really ugly fats are the hydrogenated fats and highly processed and refined fats.  Such fats lead to free radical damage and a host of other health challenges.  Triglycerides, cholesterol, essential fatty acids and a host of other fats all have a positive role to play in our bodies.  The key is to maintain these fats in their proper balance and protect them from damage.  To learn more about fats, go to Nutrition 101:Part three.