Chances are you’ve heard of ghee at this point.
Whether you’ve seen it scrolling across your social feed or saw it in a recipe, it’s pretty clear that ghee is experiencing a surge in popularity.
But what makes ghee so different from butter? And is one better than the other?
In this article, I’m going to break down the difference between ghee and butter and shed some light on why each of them should hold a place in your kitchen.
Let’s start with the simple stuff – butter. Butter is made by churning cream until the fat separates from the solid. The solids are butter. Butter does have some water and dairy protein remaining, it is about 80% fat by volume.
Ghee is a form of clarified butter, a process where butter is heated at a low temperature to separate and remove excess liquid and dairy solids (*). As a result, pure butterfat remains. During this process, a caramelized, nutty, rich flavor develops.
The butter also changes from a pale to a deep yellow color. The resulting product is shelf-stable, has a higher smoke point (this means you can cook with it at higher temperatures) and, based on USDA food analysis, is a bit more nutrient-dense than butter.
The History of Ghee
Ghee has been used for thousands of years in the Indian culture. The origins of ghee have both historical and practical roots. The heat in India and other parts of southern Asia does not lend itself well to storing butter. Once the butter is processed into ghee, it has a longer shelf life.
Ghee is considered a sacred fat in Hindu mythology and is a pillar of sacred Hindu rituals even today. Prajapat, the god of offspring, is said to have created ghee by rubbing his hands together. When he poured the ghee onto the fire, he created the first offspring.
In Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient healing science from the eastern tradition, ghee is used to blend herbs for medicinal purposes.
The Benefits of Ghee
#1. Low in Dairy Protein and Lactose
Ghee has trace amounts of the dairy protein casein and milk sugar lactose. This is advantageous for those with an intolerance to dairy proteins or lactose as it is so low that most people with sensitivities tolerate it.
However, those who are highly sensitive or allergic should probably avoid it. Butter does not have much of either of these either but, if you’re sensitive, a little is problematic.
#2 Nutrient Dense
Because ghee has less water and protein than butter, the nutrients that hang out in fat, like Vitamins A, E, D, and K, are more concentrated (*).
Ghee also contains butyrate (*), a short-chained fatty acid that is found in animal milk as well as produced by intestinal bacteria in the digestion of carbohydrates.
It has a wide array of health benefits including reducing inflammation in the gut lining, nourishing and reinforcing the gut barrier and may play a role in the prevention of colon cancer (*).
Finally, ghee is a source of medium chain triglycerides (MCT). MCT’s are easier for the body to digest than other fats and are especially good for someone following a ketogenic diet as the body can convert them into ketones pretty efficiently.
Before we move on, you may be wondering what all these vitamins and other nutrients actually do for our bodies? Take a look at this quick simple summary of the nutrients and their function to wrap your brain around why we want to boost them in the diet.
Of course, these nutrients don’t have one singular function but the purpose here is to give you the basics and keep it simple.
|Vitamin K||Bone health, blood clotting|
|Vitamin E||Skin health, protects cells from oxidative damage|
|Vitamin D||Bone health, immunity|
|CLA||Anti-inflammatory, improve body composition by reducing body fat (*)|
|Butyrate||Anti-inflammatory, supports gut health|
#3 Shelf Stable
Ghee does not require refrigeration. Because it is newer to the US culinary and health food scene you may sometimes find it in the refrigerated section – mostly because some people just don’t know it doesn’t need to be kept cold!
Ghee will last about 3 months after the jar is opened. It’s best to store ghee (and other fats for that matter) away from light and heat to maximize nutrient density, quality, and shelf life.
#4 High Smoke Point
Removing the dairy proteins and lactose, gives ghee a higher smoke point than butter, 485 degrees Fahrenheit compared to 300 degrees, to be exact. This means you can cook with it at higher temperatures without fear of burning the fat or the rest of your dish. Burning fat and food cooked in fat doesn’t just taste bad, it’s also bad for your health.
Burning damages food, especially fats, and turns otherwise healthy food into something that is harmful to your health. Eating large amounts of burned or charred foods is associated with an increased risk for colon cancer.
#5 Rich Caramel Flavor
The process of making ghee creates a caramel-like flavor that adds richness to foods and beverages like bulletproof style coffee, curries, sauteed veggies, and soups.
#6 Transports Fat-Soluble Vitamins
Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble meaning they require fat for transportation through the body. Cooking or topping food with ghee ensures these vitamins are absorbed.
The Benefits of Butter
#1 Transports Fat-Soluble Vitamins
Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble meaning they require fat for transportation through the body. Cooking or topping food with butter ensures these vitamins are absorbed.
#2 Mild flavor
Butter has a milder flavor since it is churned rather than heated (like ghee) and doesn’t stand out as much as part of the flavor profile of a dish or beverage.
Butter and ghee have all the same nutrients but there is more water and dairy protein in butter so the nutrients are slightly lower.
So just like ghee, butter contains vitamins A, D, E and K as well as CLA and butyrate. There is some discrepancy in whether butter or ghee is higher in butyrate.
#4 Less expensive
In general butter is technically less expensive. This is because there is more water by volume and butter requires less processing (fewer steps, fewer resources = lower cost).
Whether using butter or ghee, always choose grass-fed when it’s an option.
Sure, you’ll be at a restaurant or neighborhood party and it may not be available but when it is – it’s absolutely worth it to choose grass-fed.
You’ve heard the phrase “you are what you eat”, well this goes for animals as well as people! Animals that eat green plants (ie cows that eat grass, fish that eat algae, etc.) are higher in nutrients like omega 3 fatty acids and the CLA I mentioned above (*).
The green plants have more nutrients per calorie than grains like corn or wheat.
As a result, the meat, dairy, eggs and any other byproduct of these animals are going to be higher in nutritional value. Like humans, grain fed cows are less healthy.
What About the Saturated Fat?
Saturated fat has gotten a bad rap for the last several decades but what we now know is that much of the research supporting the theory that saturated fat is bad for health is weak and more recent, well designed studies show that it does not increase risk of heart disease or death (*).
Saturated fats do play a role in good health, one of the biggest is raising levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and increasing the size of LDL particles (**). The small particles of LDL are the subtype of LDL that are most closely connected with heart disease.
In fact, the MCT’s I mentioned earlier are a saturated fat. MCT’s are more easily turned into ketones and used for fuel as compared to longer chain fats and have a number of health benefits as noted above.
Ghee vs Butter Comparison – Per 2 Tablespoons
Nutritional Data from the USDA Standard Reference Database and sourced through Cronometer
|Calories||225 kcal||204 kcal|
|Fat||25.5 g||23 g|
|Saturated Fat||15.9 g||14.3 g|
|Monounsaturated Fat||7.4 g||6.6 g|
|Polyunsaturated Fat||0.9 g||0.9 g|
|Omega 3||0.4 g||0.1 g|
|Omega 6||0.6 g||0.3 g|
|Trans Fat||1.0 g||0.9 g|
|Carbohydrates||0 g||0 g|
|Sugar||0 g||0 g|
|Protein||0 g||0.24 g|
|Vitamin A||786.4 IU (34% DV)||709.1 IU (30% DV)|
|Vitamin D||3.3 IU (1% DV)||2.9 IU (0% DV)|
|Vitamin E||0.7 mg (5% DV)||0.7 mg (4% DV)|
|Vitamin K||2.2 μg (2%)||2 μg (2%)|
|Flavor||Rich, nutty, caramel||Mild, sweet|
*Nutrients are measured in different ways based upon their chemical composition and the origins of their discovery, g=grams, IU = International Units, mg = milligrams, μg = microgram
Cooking with Ghee
Ghee can easily be swapped for any oil or butter in cooking. Because of its high smoke point its ideal for high heat recipes like roasting or pan-frying foods like meat, vegetables, and eggs. Ghee also blends well into hot liquids like coffee and tea for a foamy, frothy, latte like beverage.
Because ghee is higher in fat than milk, blended coffee with ghee is more satisfying and provides more energy than a traditional latte. Many people use ghee in morning beverages to simulate fasting without hunger. Because there aren’t any carbs in ghee, the body is sort of tricked into thinking it is fasting.
Where to Buy Butter and Ghee
Butter is typically sold in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. As discussed earlier, make sure to look for grass-fed butter. While organic butter does come from cows that eat grass, the labeling standards for using the terms “grass-fed” on the packaging are higher.
Anymore you don’t need to go to a fancy health food store to get grass-fed butter, in fact you can get it at most grocery stores.
Ghee is shelf-stable (hopefully, you’ve gotten that concept at this point!) so you can buy it through online retailers and specialty food companies or you can buy it at the grocery store.
Ghee should be on the shelf with other oils however, many grocery stores still put it near the butter. So, if you’re having trouble locating it, make sure to look in the dairy case.
Some good brands of ghee include Organic Valley Farms and Fourth & Heart. For butter, Kerrygold is my favorite.
How to Make Ghee
If you want to save some money, try making ghee at home. It’s simple. Here’s how:
1. Heat butter on medium low until it starts to separate
2. Skim the whey off top
3. Cook until it’s clear and all milk solids sink to the bottom
4. Let it cool and strain through a cheese cloth
Voila. One of the most nutritious foods in the world. It’s time to throw those vegetable oils in the trash.
The Take Home
Both grass-fed ghee and butter are nutritional powerhouses for the diet. Both have a place in the kitchen – butter in the refrigerator and ghee in the pantry.
While ghee can be used interchangeably in both low and high-temperature cooking, butter should be reserved for dishes cooked under 300 degrees F.
While ghee has slightly more nutritional value, the differences aren’t huge. The largest benefit of using ghee is that it is dairy protein and lactose-free.
So, if that is a concern for you choose ghee, if not use whichever you prefer for low temperatures and ghee for higher temperature cooking.
Does eating extra fat via Fat Bombs and Bullet Proof Coffee make you fat? Here’s the short answer. Yes and no. If you are slender, then eating fat will not make you fat. If you are obese/ overweight then yes, eating more fat will make you fat. Let me explain. The answer, of course, has nothing to do with calories (an entirely outdated and useless concept) and has everything to do with physiology. Let’s back up a bit.
Under a ketogenic/ Low Carb High Fat diet, people are encouraged to eat the large majority of calories as fat. Generally, they should eat real food, until full. Some people have taken this to mean that they should add extra fat to everything they eat – witness the popularity of ‘Fat Bombs’ – treats or foods with very high fat content or Bullet Proof Coffee – coffee with the addition of extra oil (MCT, coconut etc). There has been some people who find this slows down weight loss and others that feel it does not. What’s happening?
Insulin is the major driver of weight gain. When you gain body fat, the body responds by increasing secretion of a hormone called leptin, which tells the body to stop gaining weight. This is a negative feedback loop, designed to prevent us from becoming too fat. This is a survival mechanism because obese animals who cannot move properly will get eaten. This is also one of the reasons why people say “We are genetically programmed to eat everything in front of our face” or “We are programmed to get fat, but food was scarce before” are completely
idiotic mistaken. So why doesn’t it work for us?
Insulin and leptin essentially are opposites. One tells our body to store body fat and the other tells it to stop. If we continue to eat fructose, causing insulin resistance and persistently high insulin, then we will also persistently stimulate leptin. Like all hormones, a persistently high hormone level leads to downregulation of hormonal receptors and the development of resistance. So persistently high leptin levels eventually leads to leptin resistance, which is exactly what we see in common obesity. So, lean people are leptin sensitive and obese people are leptin resistant.
Let’s now think about the physiology of eating dietary fat. Remember there are only 2 fuels for the body – you either burn sugar or burn fat. When you eat carbohydrates or excess protein, it goes to the liver, through the portal vein and stimulates insulin, which tells the body to start burning sugar, and store the rest as glycogen or fat. Dietary fat, on the other hand, does no such thing. It is absorbed in the intestines as chylomicrons, goes through the lymphatic system to the thoracic duct and directly into the systemic blood circulation (not the portal circulation of the liver). From there it goes into the fat cells to be stored. In other words, the fat does not affect the liver, and therefore does not need any help from insulin signaling and goes directly into fat stores.
So, doesn’t that mean that eating fat makes you fat? No, no at all. Let’s take the lean person (leptin sensitive) first. Remember the story of Sam Feltham’s 5000 calories/day experiment? He ate an enormous number of calories per day, and still did not gain weight (53% fat, 10% carb). As you eat lots of fat, it will get stored into fat cells, but insulin does not go up. As fat mass goes up, leptin does as well. Since the lean person is sensitive to leptin, he will stop eating in order to let that body weight go back down. If you force-feed him, as Sam did, the metabolism ramps up to burn off those extra calories.
Now, the situation for the obese, leptin resistant person. As you eat lots and lots of fat, insulin does not go up. However, that ‘fat bomb’ does indeed go directly into your fat stores. You respond by increasing leptin levels in your blood. But here’s the difference. You body doesn’t care. It is resistant to the effects of leptin. So your metabolism does not go up. Your appetite does not go down. None of the beneficial weight loss effects of eating that ‘fat bomb’ happens. And yes, you will need to eventually burn off that extra fat you’ve taken in.
The practical implication is this. If you are lean and leptin sensitive, then eating more dietary fat, like cheese, will not make you gain weight. However, if you are trying to lose weight, and have some problem with obesity/ insulin/ leptin resistance, then adding extra fat to your meals is NOT a good idea. Once again, you can see that we do not need to go back to that outdated, and useless notion of calories. Obesity is a hormonal, not a caloric imbalance.
What can you do instead? Well, eating more carbs is not a good idea. Neither is eating more protein. Nor is eating more fat. So, what is left? That’s what we call fasting.
At this point, you might worry about nutrient deficiency. That is why so many people talk about nutrient density. How can you get the maximum nutrients for the minimum calories? This is muddled thinking. Why do I care? Ask yourself this – are you worried about treating obesity or nutrient deficiency? If you choose obesity, then worry about obesity. You don’t need more nutrients, you need less. Less of everything.
If you are instead worried about nutrient deficiency, then treat the nutrient deficiency, but let’s be clear – THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE TREATMENT OF OBESITY. If you are worried about, say, Vitamin C because you have scurvy, then by all mean, take foods dense with Vitamin C. But it will not make a bit of difference for the treatment of obesity. The issue of obesity and the issue of nutrient deficiency are completely different. Do not confuse the two. I treat obesity, not beriberi disease. So I worry about reversing hyperinsulinemia/ insulin resistance/ leptin resistance. If you are leptin resistant, then no, adding more fat does not make you lose weight. Fat bombs, for you, are not a good idea.
I think quite a few people misunderstood the point of this post, and think I suggest a low fat diet. No, I suggest eating a low carb, high fat diet until you are full when you eat. This is the point – if you have 2 choices:
A – Eat LCHF until full.
B – Eat LCHF until full, and then eat more butter, oil, BPC and fat bombs
You should choose option A. I would have thought that this is common sense, but apparently, many people choose option B thinking it better.
Source: Article by Dr. Jason Fung (https://thefastingmethod.com/who-needs-to-avoid-fat-bombs-and-bpc/)
When you think of animal fat, what comes to mind? Unsightly blobs of cellulite? Artery-clogging strips of gristle to be trimmed off your steak and tossed into the trash? Or a sophisticated substance that contains within it the secret to human intelligence?
Fun facts about fat
We think of fat as bad—the less of it we eat, and the less of it we carry on our bodies, the better—but this isn’t the right way to think about it. Fat is not just for insulation and energy storage, it’s also for nutrient absorption, cell signaling, immune function, and many other critical processes. Many people think the main difference between plant and animal fats is that animal-sourced foods contain more saturated fat, but here are a few fun, fatty facts that may surprise you:
- All whole plant and animal foods naturally contain a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fats.
- Some plant foods are higher in saturated fat than animal foods, with coconut oil topping the charts at 90 percent saturated fat. That’s more than twice the saturated fat found in beef fat (tallow).
- The primary type of fat found in pork is a monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) called oleic acid, the same fat found in olive oil.
For decades now, we’ve been told to avoid saturated fats—particularly those from animal foods—and to consume “heart-healthy,” cholesterol-free fats from plant foods such as seeds, nuts, and olives. Public health officials say these plant fats are important because they contain two essential PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids) that the human body can’t manufacture:
- The essential dietary omega-3 PUFA is called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA for short)
- The essential dietary omega-6 PUFA is called linoleic acid (LA for short)
What often goes unsaid is that both ALA and LA are found in a wide variety of both plant and animal foods, so it is rather easy to obtain both of these PUFAs regardless of your dietary preferences, so long as you include enough fat in your diet.
But here’s the rub: Our bodies really aren’t looking for ALA and LA; they’re looking for something better. ALA and LA are considered “parent” omegas, because they are used to manufacture the omegas we actually need: EPA, DHA, and ARA—none of which exist in plant foods.
EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) is an omega-3 PUFA that serves primarily anti-inflammatory and healing functions.
ARA (arachidonic acid) is an omega-6 often thought of as a “bad” fatty acid, because it promotes inflammation and is only found in animal foods (and algae). Yet ARA shoulders countless other responsibilities, and even promotes healing. Arachidonic acid recently stepped into my office for a long-overdue therapy session [links to my Psychology Today post entitled Do You Have Arachiphobia?, which takes you inside the tortured mind of this beneficial molecule and explains why there’s no need to fear consuming it. article continues after advertisement
But what about DHA? So glad you asked…
Our brains are extremely rich in fat. About two-thirds of the human brain is fat, and a full 20 percent of that fat is a very special omega-3 fatty acid called docosahexanoic acid, or DHA.
DHA is an ancient molecule so useful to us and our fellow vertebrates (creatures with backbones) that it has remained unchanged for more than 500 million years of evolution. What makes this particular PUFA so irreplaceable?
DHA’s job description is a lengthy one. Among many other functions, DHA participates in the formation of myelin, the white matter that insulates our brain circuits. It also helps maintain the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, which keeps the brain safe from unwanted outside influences.
Perhaps most importantly, DHA is critical to the development of the human cortex—the part of the brain responsible for higher-order thinking. Without DHA, the highly sophisticated connections necessary for sustained attention, decision-making, and complex problem-solving do not form properly. It has been hypothesized that without DHA, consciousness and symbolic thinking—hallmarks of the human race—would be impossible.
DHA plays a “unique and indispensable role” in the “neural signaling essential for higher intelligence.” —Simon Dyall PhD, Lipid Research Scientist Bournemouth University, UKarticle continues after advertisement
Professor Michael Crawford, a pioneering British scientist who has been studying essential fatty acids for 50 years, theorizes that DHA’s special configuration lends it unique quantum mechanical properties that allow it to buffer electron flow. This may explain why we find it in places throughout the brain and body where electricity is important: synapses where brain cell signaling takes place; mitochondria, where the electron transport chain is busy turning food into stored energy; and the retina of the eye, where photons of sunlight are transformed into electrical information.
This is a truly miraculous molecule. Plants don’t have it, because plants don’t need it.
Baby, have we got a molecule for you…
The most rapid phase of development of the infant cortex takes place between the beginning of the third trimester of pregnancy and age 2. If enough DHA isn’t available to the baby during this critical 27-month window, it is unclear whether the consequences can be completely undone. In fact we do see lower levels of DHA in people diagnosed with psychiatricdisorders, including those which manifest early in life, such as autisticspectrum disorders and ADHD.
“Similar to children and adolescents born preterm, patients with ADHD, mood disorders, and psychotic disorders also exhibit decreased frontal white matter tract integrity and reduced functional connectivity within cortical networks. Together these findings support the hypothesis that perinatal deficits in DHA accrual may contribute to diminished cortical circuit development observed in major psychiatric disorders.” [McNamara RK 2015]article continues after advertisement
Plant foods contain absolutely no DHA
For those who choose vegan diets, it is important to know that plant foods contain no DHA. The omega-3 fatty acid found in plant foods like flax, walnut, and chia is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Unfortunately, it appears to be rather difficult for the adult human body to make DHA out of ALA, with most studies finding a conversion rate of less than 10 percent:
Note that quite a few studies find a conversion rate of 0 percent.
Whether this pathway can generate adequate amounts of DHA in all adults under all circumstances continues to be a topic of debate. Some scientists have advocated that DHA, rather than ALA, should be officially considered the essential omega-3 fatty acid. Even vocal advocates of plant-based diets, such as the authors of the recent EAT-Lancet report, acknowledge that it is unclear how much ALA one needs to consume to fulfill DHA requirements.
Indeed, it appears that the fewer animal foods we eat, the lower our DHA levels tend to be:article continues after advertisement
However, when it comes to children younger than 2 years old, the science is clear that this conversion pathway cannot and should not be relied upon to keep pace with the DHA demands of the rapidly growing body and brain. Therefore, most experts agree that caretakers should provide infants and very young children with dietary or supplemental sources of DHA, as ALA alone is not sufficient to support healthy infant development.
DHA status and intake recommendations are based on blood levels, not brain levels. Unfortunately there is no way to measure brain DHA levels in living human beings, and it’s unclear whether blood levels reflect brain levels.
Bearing this in mind, it has been estimated that as many as 80 percent of Americans have suboptimal blood levels of DHA.
DHA: Don’t leave home without it
Include animal-sourced foods in your diet if you can
The USDA has not established specific DHA intake targets for the general population; instead it recommends everyone consume at least eight ounces of seafood per week. The easiest way to obtain DHA is to include some fatty fish in your diet, but as you can see from the table below, there are other options.
Minimize consumption of vegetable oils
Nearly all processed foods, prepared hot foods, packaged snacks, and convenience foods are made with refined vegetable oils, such as soybean or sunflower oil. Most vegetable oils are extremely, unnaturally high in LA (linoleic acid), an omega-6 fatty acid that reduces the production and effectiveness of DHA within your body. Excess linoleic acid can tilt your immune system too far towards inflammation and away from healing, so there are many reasons to minimize your consumption of vegetable oils. Your best plant oil choices are olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, or red palm oil. If you must include refined vegetable oil, canola oil and palm kernel oil are low in linoleic acid. Lowering your vegetable oil intake can increase the availability of DHA in your body, decreasing your need for dietary and/or supplemental DHA. The presence of high amounts of linoleic acid in the typical modern diet may help to explain why so many people appear to have low DHA levels despite the fact that most people do include animal foods in their diet already.
If you choose a plant-based diet, supplement properly
Thankfully, vegetarian and vegan-friendly DHA supplements extracted from algae are available. [Algae are neither plants nor animals . . . discuss!] These supplements are more expensive and contain lower concentrations of DHA than fish or krill oil supplements (meaning higher doses are recommended), but may be important for maintaining healthy DHA levels, particularly in mothers and babies during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Directly consuming seaweed and other forms of edible algae instead of taking algae oil extracts is unreliable, because it’s unclear whether the DHA within these fibrous foods can be released and absorbed by the human body; in other words, the DHA in edible algae may not be bioavailable. All baby formula in the U.S. is supplemented with DHA already, in an effort to mirror human mother’s milk, which naturally contains DHA. If weaning your child before age 2, be sure to include DHA in your child’s diet as food or supplements.
If you have psychiatric symptoms, consider supplementation
There have been numerous clinical trials of omega-3 supplements in the management of psychiatric disorders. You may be surprised to hear that most of these studies have generated only weak or mixed results. There are many possible reasons for this, not the least of which may be that the amount of linoleic acid in the diet was not taken into consideration. In other words, taking a decent dose of omega-3s without also lowering your linoleic acid consumption (by avoiding vegetable oils) may not be very helpful. However, supplementation is widely viewed as safe, and some studies noted modest benefits at doses of (combined EPA+DHA) of 1,000 to 2,000 mg per day, particularly for people with depression.
I titled this post “The Brain Needs Animal Fat,” because although DHA does exist in algae, algae are not plants, and we don’t know if we can access the DHA within edible algae without special extraction methods. Prior to the manufacturing of algae-derived supplements (which only became available recently), the only pre-formed DHA naturally bioavailable to everyone would have come from animal foods. For those who choose a vegan diet, I fully support and recommend algae-based supplements.
There are many questions left unanswered that go beyond the scope of this post and may deserve a follow-up post. For example, if most land animals are extremely low in DHA, does that mean everyone needs to eat seafood? Are wild land animal foods higher in DHA than standard land animal foods we find in the grocery store? How do adults choosing plant-based diets know whether they can rely on their ALA conversion pathway? Could eliminating processed foods and vegetable oils completely eliminate the apparent requirement for animal-sourced DHA (or algae oil supplementation)? Does eating a low-carbohydrate diet affect the conversion rate from ALA to DHA? Should you get tested for omega-3 deficiencies, and if so, how? Are there any disadvantages to obtaining DHA from supplements as opposed to obtaining them from animal foods?
The bottom line about DHA
Until next time, minimizing refined vegetable oils and other processed foods, and either including some animal foods in the diet or supplementing appropriately, seem to be reasonable options that likely minimize our risk.
One thing is clear. DHA is a wondrous fatty acid that the human body cannot function without, and it deserves our admiration and respect. While it is important for all of us, when it comes to building the brains of the future, it is precious and irreplaceable.
Source: Article by Georgia Ede, MD (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/diagnosis-diet/201903/the-brain-needs-animal-fat)
There’s no mercury to worry about, and flaxseed oil does contain omega-3 fats… but not the best kind.
Troll the medical literature, and you’ll come up with study after study showing that fish and fish oil are good for us, especially for our hearts but maybe also for our moods and immune systems. Various epidemiologic investigations have found that people who eat fish regularly are less likely to have heart attacks, suffer strokes, or die from sudden cardiac arrest. The definition of “regularly” varies, but it usually means at least a couple of times a week, although eating fish even once a month has been shown to make a difference.
Fish, and especially fish oil, have also been the subject of dozens of randomized clinical trials, most involving people with existing heart conditions. In large amounts (several grams a day), fish oil has been shown to nudge various cardiac risk factors (“good” HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure) in the right direction.
Getting fish oil into your diet can be difficult. Eating fish will certainly do it — if you feast on salmon, trout, mackerel, and other oily species. A three-ounce serving of those fish supplies about a gram’s worth. But you’d need to eat more than a pound of farmed catfish to get that much fish oil. Or 12 ounces of light tuna canned in water.
There’s also mercury contamination to think about. Mercury accumulates in the food chain, so some of the heaviest concentrations are found in long-lived predatory species that are also some of the most desirable from the standpoint of fish-oil consumption.
The third omega-3
The health benefits of fish oil are believed to derive principally from two omega-3 fats, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Flaxseed oil contains a third, plant-based omega-3, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Other foods (especially walnuts) and oils (canola and soybean, for example) contain ALA. But at about 7 grams per tablespoon, flaxseed oil is by far the richest source.
The main problem with ALA is that to have the good effects attributed to omega-3s, it must be converted by a limited supply of enzymes into EPA and DHA. As a result, only a small fraction of it has omega-3’s effects — 10%–15%, maybe less. The remaining 85%–90% gets burned up as energy or metabolized in other ways. So in terms of omega-3 “power,” a tablespoon of flaxseed oil is worth about 700 milligrams (mg) of EPA and DHA. That’s still more than the 300 mg of EPA and DHA in many 1-gram fish oil capsules, but far less than what the 7 grams listed on the label might imply.
The bottom line on flaxseed oil
Flaxseed oil will give your diet a nice little omega-3 boost in the form of alpha-linolenic acid. You might try adding flaxseed oil to your salad dressing. But flaxseed oils a backup, not a substitute, for the omega-3s in fish and fish oil because of the conversion factor. If you’re in need of omega-3s but are concerned about mercury, salmon, pollock, and catfish are all low in mercury. And canned light tuna tends to be lower in mercury than albacore (“white”) tuna.
The biological effects of the ω-3 and ω-6 fatty acids are mediated by their mutual interactions, but it is unclear whether the dietary ratio of omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids is important for human health.
Ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in the diets of hunter-gatherers
It has been claimed that among hunter-gatherer populations, omega-3 fats and omega-6 fats are typically consumed in roughly a 1:1 ratio. At one extreme of the spectrum of hunter-gatherer diets, the Greenland Inuit, prior to the late Twentieth Century, consumed a diet in which omega-6s and omega-3s were consumed in a 1:2 ratio, thanks to a diet rich in cold-water fish (which are a rich source of omega-3s) and completely devoid of omega-6-rich seed oils.
Optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats
To date, “no one knows what the optimal ratio in the diet is for these two families of fats.” Susan Allport writes that the current ratio in Japan is associated with a very low incidence of heart and other diseases. A dietary ratio of 4:1 produces almost a 1:1 ratio of highly unsaturated fatty acids (HUFAs) in cell membranes.”[clarification needed]
Andrew Stoll, who advocates the consumption of the two fats in a 1:1 ratio, states, “Once in the body, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids follow parallel pathways, continually competing with each other for chemical conversion to various structures and molecules inside and outside the cells. Given this mechanism, it makes sense that the two fats might be required in approximately equal amounts.”
Both Stoll and Allport assert that present-day diets in the developed world have departed dramatically from this ratio. It has been estimated that in developed countries, the ratio of Omega-6s to Omega-3s is closer to 15:1 Another estimate is that “[t]he diet consumed by the typical American tends to contain 14 – 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids.”[permanent dead link]
|Food||Citation||Serving Size (g)||Omega-6 fatty acids (mg)||Omega-3 fatty acids (mg)||Omega-6 : Omega-3 ratio|
|Atlantic Salmon, wild, raw||||100||172||2018||1 : 11.7|
|Atlantic Sardines, canned in oil, drained||||1 can|
|3260||1362||2.4 : 1|
|Tuna, canned in water, drained||||1 can|
|14.8||460||1 : 31.1|
|Tuna, canned in oil, drained||||1 can|
|4,588||345||13.3 : 1|
|Cod, fresh and frozen||||4 oz|
|100||600||1 : 6|
|Mackerel, canned, drained||||1 can|
|357||4970||1 : 13.9|
|Swordfish, fresh and frozen, cooked||||4 oz|
|300||1700||1 : 5.6|
|Crab, soft shell, cooked||||4 oz|
|100||600||1 : 6|
|Lobster, cooked||||4 oz|
|6||120||1 : 20|
|Bluefish, fresh and frozen, cooked||||4 oz|
|300||1700||1 : 5.6|
|Salmon, canned, drained||||4 oz|
|200||2200||1 : 11|
|Smelt, rainbow||||4 oz|
|200||500||1 : 2.5|
|Scallops, Maine, fresh and frozen, cooked||||4 oz|
|100||500||1 : 5|
|Pacific herring||||100 g||246||2418||1 : 9.8|
Nuts and seeds
|Food||Citation||Serving Size (g)||Omega-6 (mg)||Omega-3 (mg)||Omega-6 : Omega-3 ratio|
|Almonds, dry roasted||||100||12065||6||2010.8 : 1|
|Cashews||||100||7782||62||125.5 : 1|
|Chia seeds||||100||5785||17552||1 : 3|
|Flax seeds||||100||5911||22813||1 : 3.9|
|Hazelnuts, filberts||||100||7832||87||90 : 1|
|Pecans||||100||20630||986||20.9 : 1|
|Pistachios, raw||||100||13200||254||52 : 1|
|Poppy seed||||100||28291||273||103.6 : 1|
|Pumpkin seeds, whole, roasted, without salt||||100||8759||77||113.8 : 1|
|Sesame seeds, whole, dried||||100||21372||376||56.8 : 1|
|Sunflower seeds, kernels, dried||||100||23048||74||311.5 : 1|
|Walnuts||||100||33071||2006||16.5 : 1|
|Sacha Inchi seeds||||1 oz|
|5486||4771||1.15 : 1|
|Lentils, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt||||100||137||37||3.7 : 1|
|Food||Citation||Serving Size||Omega-6 (mg)||Omega-3 (mg)||Omega-6 : Omega-3 ratio|
|Avocado oil||||1 Tbsp (14 g)||1754||134||13.09 : 1|
|Butter||||1 Tbsp (14 g)||382||44.1||8.7 : 1|
|Canola oil||||1 Tbsp (14 g)||2610||1279||2 : 1|
|Coconut oil||||1 Tbsp (14 g)||243||–||–|
|Cod liver oil||||1 Tbsp (14 g)||126||2664||1 : 21.1|
|Corn oil||||1 Tbsp (14 g)||7224||157||46 : 1|
|Cotton seed oil||||1 Tbsp (14 g)||6953||27||257.5 : 1|
|Flax seed oil||||1 Tbsp (14 g)||1715||7196||1 : 4.2|
|Ghee||||1 Tbsp (14 g)||0.3||0.2||1.5:1|
|Grape seed oil||||1 Tbsp (14 g)||9395||13.5||696 : 1|
|Hemp seed oil||||?||?||?||2:1-3:1 [note 1]|
|Lard||||1 Tbsp (13 g)||1300||128||10.2 : 1|
|Olive oil||||1 Tbsp (14 g)||1318||103||12.8 : 1|
|Palm oil||||1 Tbsp (14 g)||1228||27||45.5 : 1|
|Peanut oil||[full citation needed]||1 Tbsp (14 g)||4950||–||–|
|Sardine oil||||1 Tbsp (14 g)||272||3253||1 : 12|
|Soybean oil (hydrogenated)||||1 Tbsp (14 g)||6116||378||16.2 : 1|
|Soybean oil, (Unhydrogenated)||||1 Tbsp (14 g)||6807||917||7.4 : 1|
|Tallow (Grain Fed)||||3.35%||0.200%||16.3 : 1|
|Tallow (Grass Fed)||||1.2% (168 mg)||0.8% (112 mg)||1.4 : 1|
|Walnut oil||||1 Tbsp (14 g)||7141||1404||5.1 : 1|
Grains and beans
|Food||Citation||Serving Size (g)||Omega-6 (mg)||Omega-3 (mg)||Omega-6 : Omega-3 ratio|
|Matpe (Vigna mungo bean), boiled||||100||24||335||1 : 14|
|Peanut, All types, raw||||100||15691||3||5320.3 : 1|
|Soybeans, dried, cooked||||100||4466||598||7.5 : 1|
|Tofu, regular||||100||2380||319||7.5 : 1|
|Nattō, regular||||100||5476||734||7.5 : 1|
|Chickpeas, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt||||100||1113||43||25.9 : 1|
Green, leafy vegetables
|Food||Citation||Serving Size (g)||Omega-6 (mg)||Omega-3 (mg)||Omega-6 : Omega-3 ratio|
|Arugula raw||||1 cup||26||34||1 : 1.3|
|Green leaf lettuce, fresh, raw||||100||24||58||1 : 2.4|
|Red leaf lettuce, fresh, raw||||100||–||–||–|
|Boston lettuce or Bibb lettuce, fresh, raw||||1 cup||–||–||–|
|Brussels sprouts cooked||||100||79||173||1 : 2.2|
|Cabbage red, raw||||100||34||45||1 : 1.3|
|Chinese cabbage cooked, boiled, drained, without salt||||100||31||41||1 : 1.3|
|Chard, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt||||1 cup||43.7||5.3||8.2 : 1|
|Sauerkraut, canned, low sodium||||100||26||25||1 : 1|
|Spinach, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt||||100||17||92||1 : 5.4|
|Turnip greens, cooked||||100||28||64||1 : 2.3|
|Dandelion greens, cooked||||1/2 cup||–||0.1||–|
|Kale, cooked||||1/2 cup||0.1||0.1||1 : 1|
|Kohlrabi raw||||1 cup||27||35||1 : 1.7|
|Beet greens, cooked||||100||65||6||10.8 : 1|
|Collard greens, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt||||1 cup||133||177||1 : 1.3|
|Mustard greens, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt||||100||24||22||1.1 : 1|
|Food||Citation||Serving Size (g)||Omega-6 (mg)||Omega-3 (mg)||Omega-6 : Omega-3 ratio|
|Carrots, raw||||100||115||2||57.5 : 1|
|Beets, raw||||100||55||5||11 : 1|
|Parsley, raw||||100||115||8||14.4 : 1|
|Turnips, raw||||100||12||40||1 : 3.3|
Pumpkins and squashes
|Food||Citation||Serving Size (g)||Omega-6 (mg)||Omega-3 (mg)||Omega-6 : Omega-3 ratio|
|Butternut squash, Squash, winter, butternut, cooked, baked, without salt||||100||14||24||1 : 1.7|
|Zucchini, Squash, summer, zucchini, includes skin, raw||||100||14||24||1 : 1.7|
|Acorn squash, Squash, winter, acorn, cooked, baked, without salt||||1 cup||451||759||1 : 1.7|
|Tomatoes, Tomatoes, red, ripe, raw||||100||80||3||26.7 : 1|
|Food||Citation||Serving Size||Omega-6 (%)||Omega-3 (%)||Omega-6 : Omega-3 ratio|
|Kangaroo, average of all cuts and species. Measured on raw cut weight.||[permanent dead link]||% of total fat||27.4||10.7||2.5 : 1|
- Monounsaturated fat
- For listings of particular classes of polyunsaturated fatty acids, see:
- Essential fatty acid – for biochemistry of most polyunsaturated fats
- Essential fatty acid interactions – for the interactions between ω-6 and ω-3 fatty acids
- Unsaturated fat
- ^ The authors state the ratio as Omega-6:Omega-3 and that it lies “between 2:1 and 3:1”.
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The ketogenic diet is about much more than weight loss
Your brain is the most advanced, sophisticated nerve centre on the planet. Or — depending on how you look at it — a crinkly lump of fat, housed within your skull. Either way, it is the accumulation of millions of years of human evolutionary biology.
No other organ contains so much fat, or needs it so much. Without it, the brain simply cannot function. Memory loss is one sign of that.
The dry weight of the brain is 60% fat. It’s all there: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. There’s also a good deal of cholesterol, a fat-like substance. As well as forming part of the structure of the brain, and providing fuel, these fats play a role in maintaining memory and other aspects of cognitive function.
By the same token, lack of the right fats plays a role in cognitive dysfunction, including poor memory and ultimately dementia.
Perhaps that’s why fat is so appealing. “Fat gives food flavor”, as chef and TV personality Julia Child once famously put it. Fat is filling, and instantly lights up your brain’s reward centres.
Doesn’t the brain run on glucose, not fat?
Yes, and no, is the answer to that question.
Although the human brain normally uses glucose as its main source of fuel, it can switch to burning substances called ketones, when glucose is in short supply. Times of short supply include fasting, endurance exercise and when on a low carbohydrate diet. Carbohydrate is the body’s main source of glucose.
When glucose levels dwindle, fatty acids are released from your adipose tissue — your fat store. Ketones are made in the liver from these fatty acids.
Fatty acids cannot cross into the brain via the blood-brain barrier, but ketones can, and do.
It’s a ketogenic thing
You may have heard of the ketogenic diet as a weight loss strategy. It is, basically, a very low carbohydrate, high fat diet, and is effective because when glucose runs out, you start dipping in to your fat stores.
The ketogenic diet is the latest in a long line of popular diets. But don’t be mistaken — this is not a new, or fad diet. Weight loss is just an added bonus; it’s not what the diet was originally about.
The ketogenic diet is a scientifically proven treatment for drug-resistant epilepsy. It was first used in the 1920s when it was found to be an effective way to control seizures.
Studies have found that half of children experience at least 50% reduction in seizures after 6 months on the ketogenic diet, and one third achieve over 90% reduction.
Now, the focus of attention is on memory, and brain function.
Epilepsy is a brain disorder — there’s your first clue.
Your second clue is the fact that there is a higher incidence of seizures in patients with Alzheimer’s disease than in people without the condition.
Researchers are optimistic that the ketogenic diet could be used as an effective dementia prevention strategy. A low carbohydrate diet has already proved effective in the treatment of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition that precedes dementia and is considered a risk factor for the disease.
In 2012, the journal Neurobiology of Aging published the results of a study into the effects of a very low carbohydrate diet on memory loss. The 23 participants, who were elderly and all had MCI, were given either a very high or a very low carbohydrate diet for six weeks. At the end of the trial period, improved verbal memory performance was observed in the low carbohydrate group, but not in those following the high carbohydrate diet. The low carbohydrate, ketogenic group also experienced reductions in weight and waist circumference.
How does it work?
People with Alzheimer’s have impaired brain glucose uptake — use of glucose by the brain deteriorates.
That is why type 2 diabetes increases the risk for dementia. Diabetics do not produce enough insulin, or cannot use insulin properly. A ketogenic diet circumvents this problem — ketones provide an important, non-glucose source of energy to the brain. The liver can produce enough ketones, per day, to meet the brain’s needs.
Ketosis occurs when the body is producing ketones. Ketosis can be induced on a dietary regimen of 20g-50g of carbohydrate per day. Such a regimen produces a shift from glucose to ketone metabolism, and is indicated by the presence of ketones in urine.
There is another way to burn ketones for fuel, other than restricting carbohydrates.
Some saturated fatty acids — the medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) — are easily metabolised by the body and converted into ketones. For that reason, scientists believe that these MCTs may be beneficial to people who have Alzheimer’s or some form of memory impairment. If they can’t use glucose, they can use MCTs instead.
The coconut is an especially rich source of MCTs. In fact, it has been singled out as a ‘potential cognitive strengthener’ for people with Alzheimer’s.
When a group of 20 people with either Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive impairment were given an oral dose of MCTs, or a placebo,
But is ketosis natural? Or even safe?
You did it in the womb; you just don’t remember.
Babies use ketones as brain fuel, before they are even born. Ketones supply as much as 30% of the brain’s energy requirement, pre-birth.
After birth, breast-feeding babies are in a sustained, mild ketogenic state, because human breast milk contains medium-chain fatty acids — just like coconuts.
It does you no harm as an adult, either. In 2003 a systematic review found no adverse effects of a ketogenic diet on blood fats, blood pressure or fasting glucose levels. Instead, trials resulted in improved health and significant weight loss.
There’s nothing new about a high fat diet. We humans developed a taste for fat around 3 million years ago, when we started to leave our tree homes, and abandoned our fruit-based diet. There’s your third clue.
We started off with small brains, and weren’t especially bright. But change is inevitable, and change we did.
First, we scavenged. Then, as we got smarter, we packed our tools and went a-hunting. The bigger and fatter the prey the better, as far as early humans were concerned.
Of course we didn’t know it at the time, but the change in lifestyle from fruit-eating to hunter-gathering is credited with triggering the most extraordinary, rapid expansion of the brain, for which we humans are so famous. The brain went on to almost triple in size — an exceptional feat, by any standards.
Mark Sisson, American former endurance athlete and now best-selling nutrition author and blogger, sums up the ketogenic diet as “A reset… a return to the ancestral metabolic state, the metabolic state we were born into.” I think that sums it up quite nicely.
Beyond ketones: DHA
Ketones are not the only fat that the brain loves, and needs. Ketones provide fuel, but when it comes to function, there are other fats. Perhaps the most important of those is the omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Only two mammalian species have disproportionately large brains and advanced cognition — humans and bottlenose dolphins. Both depend on DHA.
You need DHA for neurotransmitter function and the development of your cognitive skills. Neurons just won’t fire without it, and memory retrieval is a struggle.
In fact, without DHA you couldn’t even grow a brain in the first place.
Dependency on DHA begins before you are born, and doesn’t end until you die. During pregnancy, a mother will pass more DHA to her baby than she keeps for herself. That supply is normally enough to last for the first three months of life.
After that, it all depends on diet. And that’s the worry: children who lack DHA are more likely to have increased rates of neurological disorders, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism.
Young and old alike
Deficiency of DHA can affect memory, even in young adults. A team of researchers investigated whether supplemental DHA could improve cognitive performance in young people who ate little fish. Fish is the main source of DHA.
In their study, reported in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2013, A total of 176 healthy adults aged 18–45 who had a low intake of DHA were given either a daily DHA supplement, or a placebo, for six months. At the end of the study period, they were tested for cognitive performance. The researchers concluded that:
“DHA supplementation improved memory and the RT (reaction time) of memory in healthy, young adults whose habitual diets were low in DHA.”
The issue is not that taking DHA supplements improves memory – it’s that lack of DHA worsens memory. This could lead to more serious problems later in life.
In old age, deficiency could lead to dementia. That’s because DHA accumulates in areas of the brain involved in memory and attention, such as the cerebral cortex and hippocampus.
The bad news is that although high DHA intake has been shown in studies to have a clear protective effect against risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, supplementing with DHA once the disease has taken hold appears to have no benefit.
The only good, reliable source of DHA is seafood and oily fish. Oily fish includes salmon, trout, herring, sardines, fresh tuna, and anchovies. Meat and eggs make a small contribution, but only from pasture-fed animals.
Although some plant foods, most notably nuts and seeds, contain fats that can be converted into DHA, the conversion rate is so low it is considered neglible, and insufficient to meet the brain’s requirements.
So if you are not eating a lot of fish and seafood, or free-range, pasture-fed meat, what’s your source of DHA? I don’t wish to scare you, but perhaps it’s good to be a little scared at times.
It’s worth making sure you have a plentiful supply of DHA now, because
It’s all gone horribly wrong
There is no cure for dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form. Cases are rising exponentially: death from dementia increased by almost 40% from 2005 to 2015.
It is estimated that the number of people across the globe living with dementia is 46.8 million, and this is predicted to double by 2030. Furthermore, cases of early-onset diagnosis — under the age of 65 — are also on the rise.
These statistics have nothing to do with genetics, or living longer.
The evidence suggests that the alarming rise in dementia figures has everything to do with diet, and some decidedly dodgy dietary advice.
It all began in the 1950s, when American biologist and pathologist Ancel Keys proposed a theory that saturated fat was the cause of heart disease. In 1952 he presented his “diet-heart hypothesis”. He blamed saturated fat (and cholesterol) for just about every chronic disease known to humanity, and promoted vegetable oils as a healthy alternative.
In 1961, Keys, now on the nutrition committee of the American Heart Association, convinced the other committee members that his diet-heart health theory provided the way forward for the good of the nation. From 1961 onwards, the AHA recommended that saturated fat should be substituted with vegetable oils made from corn or soya.
Look at any fast food product, snack or ready-meal and you will most likely see the presence of these vegetable oils on the label.
These oils are highly processed, and high in omega-6 fatty acids. Consumption of these omega-6 fatty acids has sky-rocketed, since they replaced saturated fat in our diet.
And therein lies the problem.
They replaced saturated fat in the diet, and they displaced DHA in the brain. It is generally accepted that we evolved on a diet containing more or less equal amounts of both groups. They compete for absorption, and when omega-6 exceeds omega-3, DHA is knocked out.
If you’re scared of saturated fat, don’t be. The evidence against saturated fat has always been more speculative than factual. That is why the British Medical Journal published, in 2015, a review of the most robust studies into the assumed harmful effects of saturated fat — including risk of death — and concluded that there was no evidence to support claims that saturated fat was in any way a risk factor.
As Julia Child also famously said: “If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.”
Humans are the only land mammals born fat. That makes us rather special. (Dolphins, like us, are born fat, and they are pretty intelligent too.) The fat is there to serve as a reservoir for fuel and growth for the rapidly developing brain.
(The role of cholesterol, a fat-like substance, is also important. So much so that I’ve written a separate article on the subject — see below ).
It may have had a bad rap for the last 50 years, but fat is still essential to the healthy functioning of the brain. You can change dietary advice as often as you like, but you cannot change human biochemistry.
In the meantime, remember that you have a magnificent specimen of evolutionary biology housed within your skull. Please look after it, and reconsider the fat-free option.
Source: Article by Maria Cross MSc (https://medium.com/feed-your-brain/how-eating-more-fat-can-improve-your-memory-5b1331a8883d)
One of the timeless comparisons we are told growing up is that our body is like a machine. It needs fuel in order to power its daily functions. However, for a lot of people, that’s all they remember. What is the “fuel”? How does it power the “machine”? To put things in perspective: Carbohydrates, proteins and fats comprise 90% of the dry weight of the diet and 100% of its energy.
For all three of these, energy is measured in “calories.” However, carbohydrates and fats stand apart from proteins. These two macronutrients are the subject of many misconceptions when it comes to health and nutrition. Let’s explain how your body converts these substances into energy.
Carbs for Energy
The real changes start in the small intestine for all three categories: protein, carbs and fats. This is where the majority of nutrients are extracted from the broken-down food we eat.
In the case of carbohydrates, they are broken into sugars. Generally, sugars end up being broken down into glucose, fructose and galactose. One thing that separates carbs from proteins and fats is the speed at which the body can process them. Certain carbohydrates can be converted into sugars and be present in your bloodstream for use as soon as 60 seconds after you eat. This is why athletes prefer to eat carb-heavy meals before longer workouts.
In essence, the body enters a state of glycolysis (for glucose) or fructolysis (for fructose) that converts these simple sugars into energy. Excess calories from sugar that don’t get used immediately are stored in the liver as glycogen. However, not all carbohydrates are equal. Keep this in mind.
Fats for Energy
Fats have unfairly received a poor reputation over the years when it comes being a component of a healthy diet. For years, popular wisdom told us that fats were dangerous for our health and that they should be avoided as much as possible. Now we’re beginning to learn that fats are a critical component of total body wellness, and they provide energy to fuel our bodily processes .
When it comes to energy, fats are the slowest digesting of the three macronutrients, but they are also the most efficient. Every gram of dietary fat supplies the body with about 9 calories. To put things in perspective, protein and carbohydrates both supply 4 calories per gram.
In the intestine, fats are broken down into fatty acids and glycerol. These fatty acid chains are converted into energy via a process called beta-oxidation.
So, why the poor reputation? How does dietary fat become visible body fat? The answer lies with the energy that you don’t use. The body likes to store excess calories for later, even if that later never comes. This leads to deposits in the abdomen, under the skin, and even in blood vessels and organs. Fat itself does not cause weight gain, but consuming more energy (in calories) than your body requires does. This is true regardless of whether the calories are coming from protein, carbohydrates or fats.
Where Can Things Go Wrong?
People sometimes blame carbohydrates and fats for various health issues. This Is preposterous. These two nutrients are vital sources of energy for our body! Carbohydrates and fats are not inherently unhealthy. The main cause behind many of these problems is overconsumption without doing anything to convert the glucose and fatty acids into energy. To make those conversions, the body responds to stimuli. For example, if you work out, the body takes note of this and starts turning those calories into the energy you need to complete your workout. Without any use, the calories become the deposits of fat or the elevated levels of sugar in the blood that we associate with being unhealthy.
It’s also important to understand that not every carbohydrate and fat source are the same. For example, simple carbohydrates, like table sugar, quickly increase the level of blood glucose. In many cases, these are also refined sugars, where most of the vitamins and minerals that come with the original product are stripped away. In essence, you have something that can provide energy quickly, but it has no nutritional value. That’s not the type of thing you want to build a diet around, especially if you aren’t exerting a lot of energy.
By comparison, sweet potatoes or oatmeal are examples of carbohydrates which are digested more slowly, meaning they are less likely to end up as body fat, and they have plenty of healthy nutrients as well.
Not all fats are the same either. Many commercial foods that we consider fatty have “trans fats,” a man-made fat that has little nutritional value. However, there are plenty of other fatty foods that provide essential nutrients, like omega-3s from fish oil or plant-based fats from avocados or walnuts.
In essence, this means that you need to make sure that you’re eating the right types of foods in the right amounts.
One thing that’s important to mention when it comes to digestion is enzymes. Enzymes play a quiet but crucial role, acting on the smaller molecules the digestive system creates from food to finally power all the body’s metabolic functions. Different enzymes correspond to different nutrients, like fats and lipase. In some cases, you can also use supplements that contain those all-important enzymes.
Carbs and Fats For Energy
When it comes to nutrition, generally you want to adhere to two main principles: balance and quality. This means that you want to eat foods with good nutrient content, while also making sure that you get varied carbohydrate and fat intake. Checking with a doctor or nutritionist can do a lot to help you to find where you may be falling short, so you can develop healthy diet habits.