Now that we’ve discussed the importance of natural dietary fats for human performance and the necessity of healthy body fat, it’s just as important to outline how to balance your consumption of certain fats in the diet. It’s accomplished in three simple steps. When using fats and oils:
• For cooking, use only olive oil, butter, coconut oil or lard.
• Avoid all vegetable oil and trans fat.
• Balance consumption of omega-6 and omega-3 fats in a 2:1 ratio.

The issue of balancing fat consumption is quite complex; volumes have been written on the subject and many scientists have devoted their entire careers to this topic. But I have simplified the explanations to help you achieve this important task. First, let’s look at three common types of fats: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated.

Monounsaturated Fat
This fat is associated with improved health and disease prevention and should make up the bulk of fat in your diet. Monounsaturated fat, also referred to as oleic or omega-9, has been shown to have many
health benefits, including helping prevent cancer, heart disease, obesity and other chronic illnesses. The Mediterranean diet, with its
lower incidence of obesity and diseases, is relatively high in monounsaturated fat, which may be the key reason for the health benefits. In some cases, we know how monounsaturated fat can prevent disease.
For example, this fat is known to raise “good” HDL cholesterol and lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, which can greatly improve cardiovascular health.
Monounsaturated fat is also very stable. As discussed later, polyunsaturated fat is easily oxidized and can form dangerous oxygen free radicals from exposure to air, light and heat. These free radicals
can lead to bodily dysfunction and even disease. Due to its chemical structure, monounsaturated fat is virtually immune to oxidation through cooking or exposure to air and light.
Monounsaturated fat is found in many foods, and some oils are predominantly this type of fat. Foods highest in monounsaturated fats are avocados, almonds and macadamia nuts, with other nuts and
seeds containing moderate amounts. Olive oil is very high in monounsaturated fat and is the best oil for both cooking and use on salads or other foods.
The best olive oil to use is the least processed and most nutritious— extra virgin olive oil. This is obtained from the whole fruit by using the cold-press technique, which does not alter the natural antioxidants, phytonutrients or quality of the oil. The most potent phytonutrients
are phenols, which give the oil its slight bitter taste. Very high amounts of phenols are found in extra-virgin olive oil.
Phytonutrients, including phenols, are virtually absent in almost all other oils, including olive oils that are not extra-virgin. The benefits of phytonutrients are discussed in more detail in a later chapter.
Most olive oil comes from Spain, Greece and Italy. Graded by international standards, much like fine wine, for flavor, aroma and acidity, extra-virgin olive oil is the tastiest and has less than 1 percent
natural acid. Highly acidic oils (above 3.3 percent acidity) have an offensive taste and are neutralized by added chemical agents, so avoid other forms of olive oil including “pure” and “light” versions.
By using extra-virgin olive oil for most of your oil needs, as well as eating foods that are high in health-promoting monounsaturated fat such as avocados and almonds, you’ll be taking an important step to balancing your dietary fats.

Polyunsaturated Fat
Many foods naturally contain polyunsaturated fat. They include omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids that play a vital role in regulating inflammation as well as performing other key functions.
Concentrated and potentially dangerous amounts of omega-6 fat are in vegetable oil, with the highest levels contained in safflower, peanut, corn, canola and soy oil, and many processed foods including
infant formulas. Too much omega-6 polyunsaturated fat, whether from vegetable oil, processed food or dietary supplements, can adversely affect health in two significant ways. First, an excess of
omega-6 oil can convert to a fatty acid called arachidonic acid. Too much of this fatty acid may contribute significantly to chronic inflammation, the first stage of all chronic diseases and other problems. This is detailed below.
Second, polyunsaturated fat is easily oxidized to chemical free radicals, making it a potentially dangerous food. Oxidation occurs when this type of fat is heated, or exposed to light and air. When we consume oxidized fat, this free-radical stress can damage cells anywhere
in the body, speed the aging process, turn LDL cholesterol “bad” and significantly increase the need for antioxidant nutrients.
The fat content of most people’s diet is very high in concentrated omega-6 fats from vegetable oils and dairy products, a serious imbalance.
One way to make polyunsaturated fat work toward optimal health, rather than contributing to disease, is to balance consumption. To accomplish better balance, avoid all vegetable oils and processed
food; instead, use extra-virgin olive or other recommended fats. Before discussing this issue in more detail, let’s discuss saturated fat because it’s part of the balancing act.

Saturated Fat
Of all the dietary fats, saturated fat is always considered the least healthful. But saturated fat is important for energy and hormone production, cellular functioning and other important actions much like other fats.
Like other fat, saturated forms are made up of many different fatty acids, some of which have been linked to ill health when consumed in excess. The worst may be palmitic acid, high in dairy fat.
This fatty acid can raise cholesterol, and some of the dietary carbohydrate that converts to fat becomes palmitic acid. High blood levels of palmitic acid may predict type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and carbohydrate intolerance. However, when fats are balanced, palmitic acid does not seem to be such a health problem. (Palm-kernel oil is also high in palmitic acid, but palm-fruit oil is not, and actually contains important tocotrienols that can lower LDL cholesterol.)
Arachidonic acid — AA — is another component of saturated fat that gives it a bad name. While small amounts are essential for health, high AA levels are very unhealthy. AA is found in dairy, egg yolks, meats and shellfish. However, the amounts in these foods are relatively
small compared to the amount of AA produced by the conversion of omega-6 fatty acids from vegetable oils in the average diet. Like many other situations regarding fat, balance is the key. In the
case of AA, it’s an essential fatty acid, especially for the brain, for the
 fetus, newborns and growing children. But in larger amounts it can cause problems. Too much AA, either from saturated fat or vegetable oil, can create chronic inflammation, bone loss, increased pain and other problems discussed later.
The good side of saturated fat is important too. Stearic acid, for example, has various health benefits for the immune system. This saturated fatty acid is found in cocoa butter and grass-fed beef. And,
stearic acid can be converted within the body to monounsaturated fat. Another healthy saturated fatty acid is lauric, which plays an important role in energy production and has anti-viral and anti-bacterial
actions, especially in the intestine (and the stomach in particular, against H. pylori). Coconut oil, high in saturated fat, is also high in healthy lauric acid (and contains very little polyunsaturated fat,
making it an ideal fat for cooking).
In animal foods, which contain relatively high amounts of saturated
fat, the most important factor that determines the fatty acid profile
is the food consumed by the animal. Grass-fed beef, for example,
contains a much healthier content of fatty acids compared to corn-fed
beef. For the same reason, wild animals usually contain healthier fatty-acid profiles than animals that are fed grain in confinement. In plants, the soil plays a certain role in determining fatty acid content. Before discussing a key feature in balancing dietary fats, it’s
worth looking at the fat content of various foods to demonstrate the mixture of mono, poly and saturated fat in each. A few foods contain predominantly one type of fat or another, but most foods, even oils, contain a combination of all three. Many people are surprised to  learn, for instance, that the fat in an average steak is about half monounsaturated and half saturated, with a small amount of polyunsaturated.
The following table shows approximately how much of each type of fat is contained in some foods.


The ABCs of Fats: Optimal Balance

Together, polyunsaturated and saturated fats contain three important
fatty acids I’ll call A, B and C fats. In the body, each of these fats is converted
to three different groups of hormone-like substances called
eicosanoids (pronounced i-cos-an-oids). I’ll call these groups 1, 2 and
3. Basically, A fats make group 1 eisosanoids, B fats group 2, and C
fats group 3. This is a very simplified explanation, but fairly accurate;
and it’s important to understand the basics of fat metabolism because
of its powerful effect on overall health and human performance. All
these fats are important for optimal health. But when there’s an
imbalance, the result is reduced health and higher risk of disease.
An imbalance of eicosanoids resulting in too much of group 2
promotes inflammation, pain, bone loss, muscle problems, allergy,
asthma, and potentially, disease such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes,


stroke and heart disease. The right balance of eicosanoids can prevent,
postpone, and even treat these conditions. Eicosanoid balance is
so powerful — so influential to overall health — that billions of dollars
are spent by pharmaceutical companies to research and develop
new drugs that attempt to balance the eicosanoids. But you can do it
for pennies by eating the right foods! And while drugs that attempt
to balance fats have some short-term success, they come with significant
unhealthy, and sometimes deadly, side effects. Balancing fats by
eating right only has healthy — nearly miraculous — benefits.
The term eicosanoid is a general one that encompasses a variety
of very different compounds with names such as prostaglandins,
leukotrienes and thromboxanes. They’re involved in complex reactions
from moment to moment in all cells throughout the body. For
now just remember that balanced eicosanoids regulate certain bodily
functions that are central to optimal human performance and disease
prevention. With this in mind, understanding how to balance the A,
B and C fats, and the 1, 2 and 3 groups of eicosanoids, is vital. First
let’s discuss A, B and C fats in more detail.
A fats are found in vegetables with the highest amounts in their
oils: safflower, soy, corn, peanut and canola. These fats are referred to
as omega-6, and contain an essential fatty acid called linoleic acid that
I’ll call LA for short. Like all essential fatty acids, they are “essential”
because the body can’t make them and we must eat them to be
healthy. When we do, LA is converted to other fats, including GLA
(gamma-linolenic acid), with the end result being the series 1
eicosanoids. These are powerful substances for promoting and maintaining
health. Among the benefits are powerful anti-inflammation
effects that can reduce the risk of many problems and prevent chronic
illness throughout the body. Common dietary supplements of
omega-6 products include black-currant-seed, borage and primrose
oils that contain high amounts of GLA.

While group 1 eicosanoids from A fats can produce powerful
health effects, there are potential problems. One is that conversion of
Afats to group 1 can be impaired by a variety of things; these include
reduced nutrients, including niacin, vitamin B6, magnesium, protein
and others. In addition, trans fats can reduce the conversion, as can
too much stress. And, as we age, the process tends to slow down. The
remedy? Eat the best diet possible to ensure you obtain all the nutrients,
avoid bad fats and moderate stress (a topic discussed in detail in
later chapters).
Another more serious problem is that, as noted above, A fats can
convert to B fats and inflammatory eicosanoids, which can wreck
health and destroy human performance if produced in excess. These
are the B fats and group 2 eicosanoids.
The B fats are sometimes considered bad fats because of the
effects they can have in the body. But these effects are only bad when
in excess. B fats contain the essential fat AA (arachidonic acid), as
noted above, and produce group 2 eicosanoids. Among the effects
these eicosanoids promote are inflammation and pain. But these socalled
problems can actually be important for health at the right time.
For example, inflammation is a vital first stage of the healing process.
Following this acute inflammatory process, as healing proceeds, antiinflammatory
eisocanoids in group 1 and 3 are produced to reduce
inflammation. Another example is pain; the body uses pain to help
you be aware of problems so you can remedy it. Chronic pain is not
normal, or healthy, and usually associated with an unresolved problem
associated with an imbalance of eicosanoids.
Another important function of AA (which is also considered an
omega-6 fat) is that it’s very important for the repair and growth of
the brain. This is especially vital in the fetus, newborns and developing
children, but as adults, we continually should be repairing and
growing the brain as well.
B fats are highest in dairy products such as butter, cream and
cheese, and in lesser amounts in the fat of meats, egg yolks and shellfish.
However, for most people, the largest source of AA is from A
fats. This is especially a problem when too many Afats are consumed,
usually from vegetable oils, or if too much GLA is taken as a supplement.
By eliminating vegetable oil and using only olive or coconut
oil, the overall balance of fats is usually greatly improved. In addition
to the common use at home, vegetable oils are often used in packaged
foods and in restaurants.
The C fats are termed omega-3, and are found mostly in ocean
fish, with lesser amounts in beans, flaxseed and walnuts. Smaller
amounts are found in vegetables and wild and grass-fed animals.
These fats contain ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), an essential fatty acid
that is converted in the body to EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), with the
final production of group 3 eicosanoids. This conversion can be
impaired by the same problems that impair the conversion of A fats
to group 1 eicosanoids — poor nutrition, trans fat, stress and aging.
Fish oils derived from cold-water ocean fish already contain EPA
and are very useful for people who require an omega-3 supplement
to balance fats. Flaxseed oil is also common, but does not contain EPA
and therefore requires other nutritional factors to convert to EPA.
And, in humans, conversion of flax to EPA is very inefficient. Flax oil
is also very unstable and can turn unhealthy if not fresh and refrigerated.
(EPA also exists in conjunction with another important fatty
acid, DHA, which is especially important for the fetus through childhood.)
It’s relatively easy to balance A, B and C fats to promote a balance
of the 1, 2 and 3 groups of eicosanoids. This can be accomplished first
by eating approximately equal amounts of A, B and C fats. It does not
necessarily have to be at each meal, but in the course of a day or week,
balance is of prime importance. And, by eating a balance of A, B and
C fats, you’ll consume polyunsaturated and saturated fats in the optimal
ratio of 2:1. In the typical Western diet, many people consume
ratios of 5, 10 or even 20:1! It’s no wonder there’s an epidemic of pain
and chronic disease. (If you don’t eat meat or dairy, consume approximately an equal ratio of A and C fats; in this case, some of the A fats
will convert to B fats.)

Fat imbalance typically occurs from some combination of eating
too much A or B fats, and too little C fats; but it can also can be affected
by certain foods, vitamins and drugs. The most common food that
does this is refined carbohydrates, including sugar. Recall that insulin
can be produced in higher amounts when these carbohydrates are
consumed. This causes more A fats to convert to B fats, as AA, and
into the group 2 eicosanoids. This is another reason refined carbohydrates
are so unhealthy. Two foods can prevent too much A fats from
converting to group 2 eicosanoids. These are EPA found in fish, and
raw sesame oil, which contains the phytonutrient sesamin.
An important item mentioned above is that a number of other
dietary and lifestyle factors can impair the conversion of A and C fats
to their respective group 1 and 3 eicosanoids as summarized in the
following table:



A Note about Inflammation
I’ve mentioned inflammation often in this book so far, and will continue
to do so (including a whole separate chapter) because it’s such
an important issue. Balancing the body’s inflammatory/anti-inflammatory
mechanism can help you attain optimal health and human
performance — that’s what balancing fats is all about.
Inflammation is the body’s way of responding to and repairing
itself from daily wear and tear, and injury. For example, just going for
a walk, working on the computer, washing the dishes, or any other
repetitive motion, not to mention exercise, produces chemicals that
cause inflammation as part of the body’s complex recovery process.
More serious injury produces inflammation, too — a cut hand, a damaged joint, or an irritated stomach. The reddish, swollen, hot area of
a cut finger is an example of this normal inflammatory process. Once
the initial inflammation (from group 2 eicosanoids) has got the healing
under way, anti-inflammatory chemicals (groups 1 and 3) are produced
to stop the inflammation process and allow the healing to be
completed.
One problem with this mechanism is that sometimes the cause of
the initial problem is never resolved. For example, continued physical
overuse of the shoulder, or irritation of the stomach with too much
alcohol, perpetuates inflammation because the body is not allowed to
heal. Another common problem is that the body is unable to make
sufficient anti-inflammatory substances because there is too little
group 1 and 3 eicosanoids; or there is too much of the inflammatory
group 2 eicosanoids.
When inflammation becomes chronic a variety of end result signs
and symptoms prevail, from arthritis and colitis to chronic muscle
and joint injuries. Along the way, the process of disease may also
develop. In time, the end result may be any type of ulcer or cancer,
heart disease, cognitive brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s and
other chronic illness. Quality of life is greatly diminished and health
and human performance are gradually destroyed.

Anti-inflammatory Drugs
In the conversion of A, B and C fats to eicosanoids, an important
enzyme called cyclooxygenase, or COX, is required. There are actually
two COX enzymes, and many people are familiar with the term
“COX-2 inhibitors.” These are drugs that act on these enzymes.
Aspirin, and all other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
(NSAIDS), including Advil, Motrin, Naprosyn and Nuprin, temporarily
block the COX enzyme, so much less of the inflammatory
series 2 eicosanoids are formed. While this reduces the inflammatory
group 2 eicosanoids, these drugs can also eliminate groups 1 and 3,
along with their beneficial properties. This may result in an improvement
of symptoms, but it also turns off the important anti-inflammatory
mechanism. In addition, the cause of the problem — fat imbalance
— goes untreated. If aspirin makes you feel better, it usually
indicates that your fats are not balanced.
In addition to controlling inflammation and pain, eicosanoids
have many other important functions. Both groups 1 and 3 decrease
blood clotting and dilate blood vessels, which lowers blood pressure
and increases circulation. Group 2 eicosanoids, however, do almost
the opposite, increasing blood clotting, constricting blood vessels and
increasing blood pressure. But these activities can be healthy when
balanced. For example, without the constricting of blood vessels and
the raising of blood pressure during stress, blood circulation would
be poor and not enough oxygen and other nutrients would be circulated
to where these things are needed. Or, without blood clotting,
you could bleed to death from a small cut. Balance is key.
But excess group 2 eicosanoids can be deadly: they constrict
blood vessels too much, and clot blood too much. They can also trigger
tumor growth, atherosclerosis (fat deposits), asthma and allergy,
bone loss and even promote menstrual cramps.
Many people are unaware that their fats are not balanced. Certain
signs, symptoms and lifestyle habits may offer powerful clues that
your eicosanoids may be out of balance. The following survey can
help you determine the likelihood that you have an imbalance in fats
and eicosanoids. Check the items below that apply to you:
* Aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
improve symptoms.
* Chronic inflammation or “itis”-type conditions such as
arthritis, colitis, tendinitis.
*History or increased risk of heart disease, stroke or high
blood pressure.
* Often eat restaurant, take-out or fast food.
* Low-fat diet.
* Feelings of depression.
* History of tumors or cancers.
* Periods of reduced mental acuity.
* Diabetes or family history of diabetes.
* Over age 50.
* Blood tests show increased triglycerides or cholesterol.
* Carbohydrate intolerance.
* Seasonal allergies.
* Intestinal problems such as diarrhea, constipation, ulcers.
If you checked one or more of these items there’s a chance that
you have a fat imbalance. The more items you check off, the more
likely you have a problem.
Most people find they are too high in A and B fat and low in C
fats because omega-6 fat and dairy foods are so prevalent in most
diets. This can be remedied by balancing dietary fats — eating less A
and more C fats. The greatest problem for many people is consuming
enough C fats, especially EPA. Most foods high in C fats such as
almonds, walnuts, pecans, flaxseeds and green vegetables, don’t contain
EPAand their conversion to EPAis very limited in humans, so we
must rely on fish. Wild ocean fish — including salmon, sardines, tuna,
anchovies and mackerel — are high in EPA. Unfortunately, the
world’s oceans continue to be seriously polluted, especially with mercury,
and fish intake should be limited, especially by children and
pregnant women. Farmed fish should be avoided — they are a poor
source of EPA and have other problems discussed in a later chapter.
One remedy that can significantly help balance fats is fish-oil supplements.
These contain high amounts of EPA, and in combination
with reducing vegetable oils can make fat balance a reality. EPA also
helps prevent some of the A fats from converting to B fats. In addition,
raw sesame-seed oil helps prevent this process too. Be sure to
buy small amounts of only raw sesame oil, don’t cook it, and keep it
refrigerated because it’s a relatively unstable polyunsaturated oil.
How Much Fat Should We Eat?
Equipped with the knowledge of how important balanced fats are for
the body, you are in a position to improve your diet in accordance
with your body’s particular needs. How much fat should you have in
a healthy diet? The amount of fat in a healthy diet depends on the
individual.
You must first get over the idea that the less fat the better, or a diet
that’s 10 percent or 20 percent fat is ideal. Actually, a low-fat diet can
be very unhealthy. For example, studies show that people following
a very low-fat diet can increase their risks for heart disease. This is
due to the fact that their intake of essential fatty acids could be too
low. There are many populations in which fat intake exceeds 40 percent,
like the Eskimos and people living in the Mediterranean region,
who on average are healthier than people who eat a lower-fat diet. In
addition, the American Heart Association, the World Health
Organization (WHO), the Surgeon General, the USDA and many professional
health organizations have recommended a diet that’s 30 percent
fat.
I have found that most people are healthier with at least this
much fat in the diet. Some may need more — 35 or even 40 percent.
But rather than follow these numbers, experiment and find what
works best for you. In general, once you’ve found your optimal level
of carbohydrates, and balanced your fats, the amount of protein you
need to eat is fairly easy to determine; this is the subject of the next
chapter.