Which Fats & Oils
Obtaining optimal health & performance using the OFM approach means using the correct Fats & Oils (F&O), limiting consumption of others and which ones to avoid. This is a primer to assist the athlete understand and implement the correct F&O’s into their diet. While this information is based upon peer-reviewed journal literature on lipids and lipid metabolism it is simplified so most athletes can gain a workable understanding.
What F&O’s to avoid:
To make this as simple as possible our starting point is which F&O’s to avoid. Bear in mind the goal should not be elimination of these F&O’s because, in today’s food supply, most people would have great difficulty eliminating certain F&O’s from the diet entirely, however, with awareness and some planning most people can get these F&O’s down to a fraction of their current F&O intake, a fraction a Fat-Adapted body can easily deal with.
Unfortunately most people do not realize the extent that these F&O’s are in the food supply thus many athletes are obtaining much of their F&O calories from F&O’s which have been extracted or altered using high heat and/or high pressure and/or chemical processes. These processes make the F&O’s fundamentally different from F&O’s which are naturally-occurring and quite prone to oxidation. So, not only does the human body have difficulty metabolizing them, but these F&O’s tend to produce more Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS / Free Radicals)
Avoid Your Common Vegetable Oils:
(Corn Oil (especially corn oil), Canola Oil, Cottonseed Oil, Soybean Oil and other such vegetable oils.)
Avoid Commercial Mayonnaise and Salad Dressings. All of these utilize either soybean oil, cottonseed oil as their base oil.
Avoid any F&O’s which are “Hydrogenated” (Shortening, Margarine, Spreads etc.).
Avoid plant based, industrially-produced Trans-Fats but NOT naturally-occurring Trans-fats found in ruminant fat and milk/milk products. These contain Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), a healthy trans-fat.
Avoid deep-fried foods unless you are preparing them at home with a heat stable F&O like ghee, tallow, lard or duck/goose fat. Peanut Oil and Sesame Seed Oil are acceptable plant based oils for deep frying due to their high smoke point.
F&O’s to use in moderation: Polyunsaturated/Monounsaturated vegetable oils which are not extracted using high heat, high pressure and/or chemical extraction methods:
Common Examples: Olive oil, Almond Oil, Avocado Oil, Peanut Oil, Sunflower Seed Oil, Flax Seed Oil, Borage Oil, Sesame Seed Oil, Grape Seed oil, etc.
Polyunsaturated F&O’s which are naturally-occurring and produced without the use of chemicals, heat or high pressure should be consumed in limited amounts and scope. Avoid using these oils for high temperature cooking. Many people mistakenly think they are being “healthy” by cooking with olive oil or other oils high in poly-unsaturated fatty acids.
With regards to Olive oils it is recommended to use California Olive Oil over imported extra virgin olive oil. This is because the harvesting and pressing of olives for olive oil in California is generally accomplished within a 4-8 hour window to maximize cost efficiency and minimize oxidation. In many countries harvested olives sit in piles for up to 48 hours before pressing. When tasted side-by-side you can literally taste the difference in Oxidation levels.
Balancing Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids:
Most people obtain too much Omega 6 fatty acids and not enough Omega 3 fatty acids in their diet. Current research suggests the average American diet contains a balance of 16:1 or more whereas research also suggests a balance of 3:1 or lower is optimal.
Understand Omega 6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory and “bad” when out of balance with Omega 3 fatty acids and have a vital role to play in human physiology.
So the goal is to increase Omega 3 intake to balance it with Omega 6 intake and both should be consumed in moderation for the OFM athlete. How do we accomplish this?
Avoid F&O’s high in Omega 6’s. Many vegetable oils, especially, corn, safflower and sunflower seed oils etc. are high in Omega 6 fatty acids so minimizing vegetable oils is the first step.
Increase food and supplement sources high in Omega 3 fatty acids, especially the Omega 3 fatty acids DHA & EPA. Food sources include fish and fish oil, meat and other food products from grass fed ruminants (if you can afford it). Supplements include fish oil and fermented cod liver oil. If an athlete is vegetarian / vegan there is an algae-based supplement which contains DHA & EPA.
There is a great deal of marketing of plant based Omega 3’s from Flax, Chai and Borage oils. The Omega 3 from these plant and other plant sources is ALA (Alpha Linoleic Acid). While the human body can convert ALA to EPA and EPA can further be converted to DHA, however, these processes are rate limited. Additionally these oils oxidize easily and require careful handling.
Saturated Fatty Acids (SFA) or Saturated Fats are an OFM athlete’s base energy source. While most people firmly believe Saturated Fats are “bad”, in a fat-adapted athlete’s body saturated fats are the preferred energy source.
Think of it this way; in a “Fat-adapted” or “keto-adapted” athlete Saturated Fats are metabolized rather than accumulate. This is because the hormones and enzymes (principally lipases) necessary to metabolize saturated fats are highly up-regulated. On the other hand, the hormone insulin, which suppresses fat metabolism, gets back to the levels the human body was meant to have. Due to increased insulin sensitivity and the “strategic” use of concentrated carbohydrates the athlete does not compromise their ability to quickly metabolize carbs when needed, rather, the glycolytic pathway is enhanced because glucose does not have to supply the majority of the athlete’s energy needs.
Additionally, F&O’s high in saturated fats contain many critical fat-soluble Vitamins (A, D, E, & K1/K2) in highly bio-available forms. Saturated F&O’s are very stable and resistant to oxidation.