There’s no shortage of stories online talking about low fat diets and how they’ve helped people with their acne. But then there’s the high fat crowd telling you to increase the fats and lower the carbs. Who’s right!?
Well, they’re both right… for different problems.
However, since this is about acne, let’s focus on that. First though, let’s dissect fats and see what they’re really all about.
What Are Fats?
Lipids, which are known as fats, are in every cell of our body. The fats that are in foods are called triglycerides. I like to call them tri-acyl-glycerides because it’s easier to understand. You can picture a triacylglyceride as the letter “E.” The “glyceride” part is the backbone. The fatty acid chains are the extensions off of the backbone. And the acyl bonds are what holds them together. Fat molecules in food are called “tri”glycerides because there are 3 fatty acid chains on them, just like there’s always 3 lines drawn for a capital E. “Tri” mean three. This picture makes it easier to understand.
How Do We Digest And Absorb Fat?
Our bodies absorb fats by cleaving the acyl bond and freeing the fatty acid chains while the food is in our intestinal tract. These fatty acid chains then get absorbed into our intestinal cells. For better transport, our intestinal cells reattach the free fatty acid chains to reform triglycerides and send them through our lymphatic vessels (these vessels are separate from our blood vessels and work to detoxify the body).
Next, fat gets deposited in our circulatory system where it quickly gets broken down back into separate free fatty acids and absorbed into our adipose tissue (fat tissue), muscle tissue and other tissues. After the small amount of glycogen sugar that’s stored in our muscles is used up when we exercise, we use our liver glycogen stores, and then finally we use our fat to produce energy. If we look at eating habits throughout evolution (prior to 10,000 years ago), it looks like fat is actually our body’s preferred source of fuel. Food and carbohydrate scarcity for the majority of the history we’ve been on this planet have primed us to be able to metabolize fat extremely effectively. This makes higher fat diets seem more natural. At the very least it should tell us that fat is crucial for our body and without it we certainly wouldn’t live very healthy lives. But does that mean we should load up on fat? How much is too much? And can it harm us?
When Does Fat Become Harmful?
Many people believe that fat is the enemy and we need to eliminate it from our diet to be healthy. This is not the case. We cannot live without fat. It’s an essential nutrient, which means that we will die without it. Fat has huge implications in the health of our neurological system and other functions in our body. It’s important to eat some fat. We just need to eat healthy fat (i.e. fat from real, whole foods).
Depending on what type of fat we consume, it can either be extremely beneficial or extremely harmful. Fat works a little bit different than amino acids and carbs in that it gets sent to the lymphatic system first (as opposed to being immediately absorbed into our bloodstream). Our lymphatic system helps to detoxify our body, so it’s crucial that the fat we eat is stable and does not carry free radicals that may damage our lymphatic vessels and decrease our body’s ability to filter and rid toxins from our body.
How To Make Sure The Fat Is Healthy?
Eating the right fats is crucially important for our health. The wrong fats either enter our bodies with copious free radicals from heat, light and oxygen exposure, or they oxidize in our bodies and cause free radical damage.
To make sure fat is healthy, make sure it is stored in a dark container, away from light and oxygen exposure. Also, unless it’s a saturated fat like coconut oil, or it’s a high quality olive oil, such as that from OleaEstates, make sure it is not heated, as heat degrades the molecular structure of unsaturated fats and can create free radicals. Avoid dry heating fatty things like animal products, as high temperature and high heat creates AGE’s which can be harmful to the body and possibly carcinogenic.
*As a side note, be diligent when choosing olive oil, as many of them are laced with inferior oils. one study demonstrated about 69 percent of olive oil imported and labeled “extra-virgin” failed to meet standards in an expert smell and taste test (standard testing for this type of labeling).
A great analogy of how heat damages unsaturated fats is to imagine the fat molecule as a school bus. If all of its seats are filled, it is “saturated.” If there are empty seat, it is “unsaturated.” If it’s saturated, no one can switch seats and it’s all very stable. If there are empty seats, free radicals can come in and cause damage. That’s what happens when unsaturated oils are heated to higher temperatures.
While coconut oil and animal fats are labelled as “saturated,” that is because most of their fat is saturated. Some of the fat is still unsaturated. So yes, you can heat these things up to higher temperatures, but I still think that lower heat is best no matter what fat is used.
Personally, I believe that sticking to real, whole foods, and using less oil (but not necessarily less fat) is better for acne. Instead copious amounts of coconut oil, I eat whole coconuts much like the Kitavan islanders. Instead of dousing everything in olive oil, I eat real olives. The closer we get to eating real, whole foods, the better.
Why Saturated Fats May Not Be The Best For Acne Sufferers
There is great controversy on saturated fats. They are not as problematic as people claim. However, for people with acne, it’s a better idea not to go overboard with them (like some people on paleo or WAPF diets do). Here’s why saturated fats aren’t the best choice for acne sufferers.
From a particular study on acne and lipids… “The inflammatory chemical leukotriene B4 (LTB4) is now known to up-regulate sebum production … Synthetic inhibition of LTB4, in the form of the drug Zileuton, leads to significant improvement in acne.” So the more LTB4 we make, the more sebum we make. LTB4 is made from a certain type of fat in the body called arachidonic acid. Saturated fats increase arachidonic acid levels. So when we eat too much saturated fat as acne sufferers, more LTB4 is made and more sebum may be produced. We don’t want that. Arachidonic acid also competes with omega 3 fats in the body, leading to more inflammation and acne. Omega 3 fats inhibit LTB4, so acne patients want more omega 3, less omega 6, less arachidonic acid, and less LTB4. So eat saturated fats, but don’t go overboard. This is why I don’t recommend lard or butter. My recommendation would be to eat fish (particularly salmon) that you steam, along with vegetables. That way you’ll get more omega 3’s with less free radicals.
Other than “saturated vs unsaturated fats,” you should also know about omega 3 vs omega 6 fats.
The Fats To Avoid
The only fats that we need to completely avoid are trans fats, or hydrogenated oils, soy oil, canola oil and processed vegetable oils. Increasing hydrogenated oils by just 2 percent has been shown to increase the rate of heart disease by 23 percent. A major aspect of being healthy involves having blood that can circulate freely in your body. In a study by the American Heart Association, they found that when people eat trans fats, their blood vessels lose 30% of their ability to dilate. You need to have proper circulating blood so it can easily travel to your liver to be filtered.
It blows my mind that hydrogenated oils and artificial trans fats are still allowed to be sold in the world. Hydrogenated oils and trans fats are found in processed foods. Even if a food says that it’s “trans fat free,” don’t believe it. Always read labels and make sure that hydrogenated oils is not in the ingredient list. Honestly, this is why I advocate eating foods without labels. If you just eat real whole foods, you won’t have to worry about these things.
You also need to watch out for vegetable oils, canola, corn and soybean oils. They’re even in places you might not think they would be, including “health” food stores. I’m writing this inside of a Whole Foods Market and just looked at their hot bar and soup selection. Almost every single item has canola oil in it. I resorted to getting the orange-ginger beets and mixed them into a salad, adding in some mushrooms, a cucumber and an avocado. It was quite tasty and there was no canola oil involved. I tell you this to let you know that you can still eat out at places. You just have to be creative.
Genetically Modified Oils Are Destroying Us
About 95% of soy crops, 90% of corn, 90% of canola, 95% of sugar beets and around 50% of Hawaiian papaya in America are genetically modified today. Genetically modified crops are sprayed with pesticides and herbicides at many times the concentration of both conventional crops and organic crops. The nutritional profile of organic crops has been shown to contain more protein, glucose and zinc than conventional and GMO crops.
The chemicals sprayed onto genetically modified organisms, like corn and soy, leach into the plant. When we eat them, these same chemicals enter our cells. Is it any wonder that the number of toxic chemicals found in umbilical cords is in the hundreds? Roundup is the most widely used pesticide used on genetically modified crops, and it is also one of the most toxic pesticides that we unwillingly consume. GMO crops have substantially higher residues of harmful chemicals on them. When we consume the soy, corn and canola oils that come from these genetically modified plants, we are involuntarily consuming more of the pesticides and herbicides that are sprayed on these crops. These chemicals are toxic and cause hormonal disturbances. People who have acne already have imbalanced hormones, so eliminating any elements that can further disturb our endocrine system is a must.
A much easier approach — and one that I highly recommend and follow myself — is to just stop eating anything that comes in a box or package. Just eat real food. It’s that simple. I can simplify this entire book into those four words. Just. Eat. Real. Food. Michael Pollan, New York Times best selling author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, also summarizes healthy eating in a most elegant phrase: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Foods that are genetically modified, refined, processed, microwavable and plastic wrapped are not real foods. “Healthy” dairy-free cheeses and organic pop tarts are not real foods. Real foods have one ingredient. Things that have soy oil, corn oil and canola oils may have been real foods, but now they are no more than genetically modified food-like substances that are damaging to our health.
Along with the GMO controversy surrounding soy, corn and canola, all vegetable oils are highly unstable and damaged by heat, light and oxygen. Vegetable oils, including soy, corn and canola oils, react to heat by creating free radicals which damage our cells. Free radicals cause oxidation and inflammation. People with acne have higher levels of inflammation. They need to lower the inflammation by eliminating foods such as soy, corn and canola oil and drastically increasing their consumption of phytochemical-rich whole fruits and vegetables.
- Fat is an essential nutrient. We need it. Don’t fear fat. The important thing is to eat the healthy fats and to stay away from unhealthy fats.
- Healthy fats are things like olives, coconuts, avocados, walnuts and fatty fish like salmon and halibut. Unhealthy fats are hydrogenated oils and genetically modified oils such as canola, soy and corn oils.
- Saturated fats are more stable than unsaturated fats when heated, but we shouldn’t go overboard with saturated fats because they can increase arachidonic acid levels. Higher AA levels can lead to higher levels of LTB4 that up regulates sebum production.
- Overall, steaming or using water (as in soups and stews and boiling) seems to be the healthiest form of cooking. Eating whole plant sources of fats can provide more phytochemicals than the oil alone.
- Having 40-60% of our diet comes from fat, while less from carbohydrates, may help with hormonal issues regarding acne. Going gluten free can also help lower inflammation.
- The important thing — no matter what dietary theory we end up abiding to — is to eat real, whole foods that have been around for thousands of years, and to limit sugar intake.
- Remember that quality trumps quantity every time. Choose organic. Choose local. Choose real foods and live your life.
- For a list of healthy and unhealthy fats, see the ClearNutrition Fat Guide. Feel free to print out this free PDF.
Knowing what fat, protein, carbohydrate and food to eat specifically for acne is hard. But it doesn’t have to be. You can learn about all of these different nutrients and a lot more in the free Clear Skin Guide. You’ll get everything you need for clearer skin. Just sign in with your name and email below and be on your way to naturally clear skin today!