Fat: the good, the bad, the uglyl

Fat, fatty acids are they healthy or bad for you? Opinions vary. It used to be so easy, when I watched my great aunt eat her daily boiled egg. She took out the yolk. The yolk was very bad for you because it contained cholesterol, which is bad for your blood vessels. Thinking the yolk was the best part of the egg I thought this was strange. But I took the information for granted and stored it in my head, because my father is a cardiologist. He looked after people's hearts and I knew, grew up with the knowledge that high cholesterol causes heart problems.

Recently I decided to start with the Keto diet. Immediately I received a lot of advice from people who were concerned for my health because Keto is a fat based diet.

When I read about Keto, it is definitely fat based, but it is supposed to be healthy. So is Keto healthy or bad for you? Is fat healthy or bad for you?

As my father was a cardiologist, I've always had this love hate relationship with fat. I love my eggs, which are supposed to be bad. I love cheese, especially the full fat old cheese that is very salty, fat and bad for your health. I love bacon and crispy pork belly.

Choosing a diet in which I can eat all these things that I love, is that bad or good for me? And therefore I've researched the different types of fat and what they do with your body. The good, the bad and the ugly. It is not as black and white as I thought. But here's my analysis.

The good

So when I was young I learned that you should not eat too much fat. When I was studying as a biologist I heard you needed to eat unsaturated fats and plant based fats where better than saturated fats like you would find in meat. In Wageningen being a vegetarian, or even vegan was great and eating meat was …. let’s say …not very popular among biology students.

Being a vegetarian meant eating a lot of vegetables, soja based products, olive oil, a lot of eggs and cheese.

This was the first time I heard eating eggs was good. Especially the yolk. How can that be? Egg Yolk contains a lot of lecithin. Lecithin is important for your cell structures. But does the amount of lecithin balance out the effect on cholesterol? In the keto diet the egg is seen as the golden egg. You can eat as many eggs as you like. Eating more than one egg a day is not raising your cholesterol level. I Love eggs, especially the yolks, so I love to hear and believe that.

But what is it about cholesterol: is it good or bad?

Cholesterol is a good type of fat. It is used as a building block for the walls of cells. It also plays roles as a carrier for certain hormones. Cholesterol is a very important substance of our body. The problem arises when your blood vessels show signs of deterioration. A lot of fluid is pumped trough your blood vessels on a daily basis. These vessels are smooth and clean. But when a tiny flake or miniscule crack appears on the inside of your blood vessels, a tiny vortex can appear in the fluid that is pumped through. That is not a good thing and it will cost more energy to pump that blood around. Your body will immediately restore your blood vessels to pristine condition so that the blood can flow around unimpeded. Your body does that by sticking a band aid of cholesterol on the minor damage on the inside of your blood vessel. This makes the wall of your blood vessel smooth again so blood flows evenly without any hiccups around your body.

This raises the question: Are blood vessels blocked with cholesterol leading to a heart attack the consequence of high cholesterol levels in the blood, or are they consequences of poor conditions of the blood vessels?

The ugly

Whether fat is good for you or bad for you is up for debate. One thing is clear: trans fats are bad for you. These are the ugly fats. The problem with trans fats are in the chemical composition of the chain of fatty acids, making it very hard for your body to break them down and digest them. They naturally appear in low amounts in meat and dairy products. When we (mankind) started the industry of making our own margarine, we started to harden the fatty acids. In the process we are man-made, created by ourselves.

I personally never liked margarine. I remember having a tiny package of margarine in my fridge for my friends. But every time a package was opened, it dried out and became some kind of plastic or rubber kind of substance. I was wonderstruck by this. In my opinion fat would turn rancid. What was the process of turning margarine in some inedible structure that didn’t turn rancid at all. As a biology student I wondered why I should eat margarine if the bacteria that turned butter rancid would not even eat margarine. With the knowledge I have today I just keep wondering: is it the trans fats that prohibit the bacteria to turn the margarine rancid?

These days in Europe there is an agreement that there can be no more than 0,02% of trans fats in margarine. But there are still a lot of man-made products that contain hardened fats like cookies. When you see hardened fat or trans fat on the label please realize these are the ugly fats.

The bad

Fat is bad for you is what I learned as a child. Fat is good for you is what I learned as a biology student. Fat is the best resource of energy there is. You will gain the most amount of energy (ATP) when you are burning down fat. But burning down fat is costing your body more energy than burning sugar. So when your body can choose it will choose to burn sugar, before it will start burning fat. The idea of the keto diet is that you give your body only resources of fat and protein, so your body has no other choice than to burn fat (ketosis). The keto diet leans heavily on animal fat products like meat, fish, cream, cheese, butter and eggs. This includes the so-called ‘unhealthy’ saturated fats. As I absolutely love these products and that is one of their reasons for me to choose to try the keto diet. But also leans on healthy fats like coconut fat (although this one is also saturated) and olive oil. And a special place is reserved for avocados. Avocado is said to contain a perfect balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids.

I have heard a lot of great stories on omega 3 and omega 6. These are important fats, like cholesterol that serve as building blocks. These fats can be found in fish, fish oil and in vegetables like avocado. They are supposed to be found in seeds and nuts, like flax seed.

These are the unsaturated fats that are good for your health.

Saturated fats like the once in meat, dairy products and coconut oil are supposed to be bad for you. Except in the keto based diets that thrive on saturated fats. So are saturated fats good for you or bad for you?


To be honest: I really do not know what type of fat is good for you and what type of fat is bad for you.

There is a good story and a bad story for each type of fat, except the man-made trans fats: we all agree on them being bad for your health.

I know many people who consider themselves vegetarian and who eat non-saturated plant based fats. They are very healthy and I am very happy for them. I personally love meat. I loved meat as a child, I loved meat even when I lived as a vegetarian during my student era and now, as an adult I still love meat. I have a craving for eggs, I do not know why, but it has always been there. Eating an endless amount of eggs daily and being allowed to is probably one of the main factors for me to choose the keto diet. I love creamy butter and I do not like plant based fats like oil or margarine. Olive oil on salads is not my thing, but I love a bit of butter in my green beans or Brussels sprouts.

I become an unhappy person when I can only eat plant based food, mainly because I cannot digest a lot of plant substances like grains, legumes. I also do not react well to soja based products. So an animal based diet suits me better.

What is good for you, is for you to find out. I recommend that you give every type of diet a try, and then stick to the one that suits you. You may thrive on a plant based diet, or maybe even on raw-food. It is worth it to find out.

Whatever you do, make sure you do eat your fats. Both saturated fats and unsaturated fats. Fat is a healthy resource for energy. And do not eat hardened fats or trans fats. Those are the only ugly ones.



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