If you got no time for silly chitter-chatter, then skip ahead to the summary. If you do, well, last post I wanted to solidify the organization of saturated, unsaturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, omega-6, and omega-3 in our heads. To see how all those terms fit together. They fly around EVERYWHERE, whether you’re perusing the peanut butter label at the supermarket or just the cover of Women’s Health while you wait in line. If you read any health information from the internet, you DEFINITELY get tangled up in fat terms.
Quick review from someone who learns (and explains) by repetition.
My apologies if you don’t like repetition. It’s just how I think. Always starting at the beginning and building and building. Some people don’t like it. They feel kind of belittled. I don’t mean to do that, but I have to see the whole picture.
1. Fats can be categorized many ways, just like we categorize people. We can organize by gender, age, height, weight, skin color, and so on. And JUST like when we try to box people, when we try to box up fats, the lines get crossed.
2. One way to organize and box up fats is by whether or not the fat’s chemical bonds are single or double bonds. Remember, fats are made up of three fatty acids tied onto a backbone called glycerol. You can think of it like a big E. That will be sufficient.
3. Fatty acids are organic acids made up of strings of carbons hooked together. If the carbons are hooked together by single bonds they are very stable because nothing is being shared and everything is saturated (with hydrogens). Having to share can create problems in relationships sometimes, even though it provides the best solution. Like a family sharing a bathroom. In unsaturated fatty acids, at least one carbon is sharing a bond with another carbon, which makes them less stable than the saturated fatty acids.
4. Unsaturated fats can be monounsaturated (MUFA=monounsaturated fatty acid), meaning only one double bond. (Oleic acid is a MUFA in olive oil.) Or polyunsaturated (PUFA=polyunsaturated fatty acid), meaning “many” double bonds. Omega-6 (linoleic acid) and omega-3 (linolenic acid) are examples of types of polyunsaturated fatty acids that you hear about like crazy.
Okay. Set that aside. I’ll repeat it in another post and build on it. Now, what’s MCT?
Today let’s figure out where that term MCT comes from! MCT oil is all the rage. And you’re told that coconut oil is nectar from the gods because it contains MCTs. Good. Good.
But WHAT are they talking about? How does MCT fit into what we just learned about saturated and unsaturated?
Well, it doesn’t really. It’s a different way to box up and categorize fats, this time not thinking about double or single bonds between strings of carbons. Instead, this time thinking about HOW MANY carbons there are in the string! Let’s get some acronyms out of the way. Acronyms are killers.
MCT=medium chain triglycerides
MCFA=medium chain fatty acids (6-12 carbons)
LCT=long chain triglycerides
LCFA=long chain fatty acids (13-21 carbons)
SCFA=short chain fatty acids (less than 6 carbons)
So MCT (medium chain triglyceride) simply means a fat made up of that glycerine backbone and medium chain fatty acids on the arms.
And LCT simply means a fat made of that glycerine backbone and long chain fatty acids on the arms.
Short chain fatty acids do not really bond to a glycerine backbone. So they are simply short chain fatty acids and not short chain triglycerides.
Most natural fats are combinations of all the terms we’ve thrown around so far. For example, MCTs are not only in coconut products.
Summary for Today
Now you should be able to see a spot on the shelf for each of the terms that are commonly thrown around in health writings.
Think. Can you now place where omega-3s go in a box? And how about MUFA? And PUFA? And MCT?
I will keep laying out more and more about fats in little pieces. In the end, what I hope to illustrate, is that for most people, keeping fats as real as possible is the best nutritional plan. Not isolating and calling out the individual components like we have over the last several decades. I KNOW there are times when more or less of anything is called for to intervene at times in life, but overall, the boxing up of fats, like the boxing up of people, can lead to broken hearts, brains, and bodies.
Eat real fats. Eat less processed fats. Eat your omega-3 as fish or grass-fed meat or fresh flax. Eat your MUFAs in butter or avocados or olives. Eat your omega-6s in nuts. Eat real.
That is key.
When the terms start swirling. The brain starts whirling. The experts start shouting. Diet camps start pouting. Studies are retracted. Twinkies– they sound attractive. Stop. Don’t throw up your hands and say they’re all crazy. Just stop. Eat real food. Tell them all, doctors and food manufacturers alike: YOU ARE NOT A TOOL.