The Fats of Life

The Fats of Life

by Jim Goodwin

The middle of the Holiday Season is here and the temptations will increase. It is not just the temptation to indulge like everyone else, but it is sometimes the temptation to accept well-meant hospitality from friends and loved ones who don’t need to be concerned about amounts and types of fats in the same way as we do. Cookies come to mind first but even turkey breast when cooked with the skin can come with more saturated fat that we need. Gravy, of course, has to be passed by.

The beginning of Dr. Swank’s understanding of factors that exacerbated the MS condition were in Norway where he saw the different incidence of MS with the high dairy/meat diet in the mountains compared to that along the coastal region where fish was the major protein component. The low saturated fat diet became one of the three pillars of the Swank MS diet. Recall the other two are good doses of vitamin supplements like vitamin D and a change of lifestyle to reduce stress (with its subsequent hormone release) and provide a regimen of adequate rest.

Since Dr. Swank’s seminal work, we have heard a great deal about the benefits of unsaturated fats and the omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturates compared to saturated fats. To most of us, we know what foods are rich in which types but the names don’t tell us why they are important. A lot of Dr. Swank’s research was aimed at this and much has been done by others too. A simple appreciation of the differences can be gained when we think about the temperature at which fats melt. Fats from beef, pork and lamb (we can call them hard fats) have to be heated to a temperature higher than our body temperature before they will melt. The unsaturated fats – olive oil is an example – are fluid at room temperature. That is why they are known as oils. The polyunsaturates are also oils.

Why does this matter? Well, Dr. Swank studied the microcirculation of the blood and showed that when saturated fats were present, tiny sticky fat particles known as chylomicra, were present. These could block the tiny capillaries that are carrying nutrients to our organs and impair their function. As diets high in animal fats have increased over the years, so have diseases such as MS, heart disease and diabetes. Most of us are now aware that low animal fat and exercise are good for our circulation, our hearts and our brains. That means our blood-brain barrier – the myelin sheath.

Transfats are now becoming discarded from our processed food supply. But it is worth exploring the problem a little. Saturated fats stick together and form solids so easily because the molecules are straight, like wheat stalks in a wheat field. The molecules of unsaturated fats are bent and don’t line up so well and so don’t stick together so easily. Polyunsaturates have two kinks and so are even less likely to stick together. Remember the stickier the molecules, the harder and stickier are the ‘blobs’ of fat and we can do without hard blobs of fat in our blood. When we make a transfat, we take an unsaturated fat and saturate it. The result is it becomes straight and therefore much more sticky than the original oil. There is still some done industrially for butter-like spreads and we can avoid those. BUT (note that it is a big BUT) when we overheat unsaturated oils like olive oil, we turn them into transfats. So avoid frying foods as Dr. Swank advised.


1.     No more than 5 g (1 teaspoon or an egg yolk) per day, aim for no more than three times a week;

2.     About 40 g of oil (8 teaspoons) per day of unsaturated oils. Be aware that oil capsules must be included in this.