Now, don't let raw diets scare you. There are quite a few things that have lots of fat in them from seeds and nuts. But, let's talk fats for a minute here. If you are like everyone else (especially women! Yes, I'm talking to you!), you have probably been brought up fearing fats. "What? 17 grams of fat? AHHHHHH! Get it away!!" Yes, I have been there. I used to eat a whole tray of low fat cookies thinking, "well, they're low fat, they must be fine for me to eat," and then I wondered why I was chubby. Know this. Not all fats are created equal. Think about that. Let it sink in. So the fats that you're getting from say, a cake with vegan margarine and oils, sugar, flour and other sins is not the same as the fat you're getting from seeds, nuts and avocados. Believe me, I do not want to live in a world where eating avocados and almond butter is a bad thing! So what's the difference?
The following information has been pulled from "Becoming Vegan" by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina. This book is great if you want to know why a vegan diet is the healthiest diet out there. It is a great resource and was one of the first books I read when I became vegan. It answers all those annoying questions like "Where do you get your protein, calcium, iron, etc." Vegetables! Vegetables and more Vegetables! Jeez.
Saturated fats! These are molecules that are "saturated" with hydrogen. So what's the big deal? Well, these fats have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and some forms of cancer. Lucky for vegans, the highest concentration of these fats are in animal products. The higher saturated fat foods for vegans run about 5-20%, while fish have 20-30%, chickens have 33%, other meat has 50% and dairy has 66%!! And you thought being a lacto-ovo vegetarian was a good thing! Not for your cells! Or for those animals! It's important to note here that tropical oils are the exception: coconut fat is over 85% saturated, palm kernel oil is 80% and palm oil is about 50%! Yikes! While coconut is great for frying at high temperatures, please use this stuff sparingly.
Trans Fatty Acids: these are the undesirable monounsaturated fatty acids that have had the hydrogen atoms rearranged during food processing. Liquid oils are hydrogenated to form hard, stable fats, creating trans fats. This improves shelf life for foods while doing a number on your health! "Gram for gram, trans fatty acids apear to be 2 to 4 times damaging as saturated fatty acids." Yikes! These trans fats are mostly found in margarine, shotening, crackers, cookies, granola bars, chips, snack foods, and deep-fried foods. Since most of these foods contain dairy or eggs, they are not part of a vegan diet. However, there are some sneaky vegan processed foods that weasle them in there, so don't be fooled! Just eat mostly whole foods and cook with non-hydrogenated oils and you'll be okay.
Monounsaturated Fats! These are fatty acids with one spot in the carbon chain where hydrogen is missing (mono-). That is, one point of unsaturation. These fats are beneficial to your health and help protect you against chronic diseases, especially heart disease! There's even evidence that it helps slightly raise your HDL cholesterol levels. (That's the good kind, in case you were wondering.) These fats have also shown improvements in blood sugar control in people with diabetes without increases in triglyceride levels! Monounsaturated fats reduce blood pressure, enhance blood flow, and may even decrease cancer risk. Boom! You can find all these beautiful fats in olives, olive oil, canola oil, avocados (yay!), most nuts (except for walnuts and butternuts), high-oleic sunflower oil, and high-oleic safflower oil. Eat up!
Polyunsaturated Fats! These are fat molecules that have more than one spot in the carbon chain where hydrogen is missing (poly-). That is, multiple points of unsaturation. There is a lot of inconsistent research findings when it comes to the polyunsaturated fats. Some show that they lower cholesterol when they replace saturated and trans fatty acids, and others show that they actually increase cancer risk. This confusion stems from the fact that there are two families of polyunsaturated fats. You can get these fats from vegetable oils, seeds, nuts, grains, legumes, and other plant foods.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFA): these are the two polyunsaturated fatty acids required in the diet. Linoleic acid, the parent in omega-6 fatty acids, and alpha-linolenic acid, the parent in omega-3 fatty acids. These are considered the "good fats" that are necessary to our health. The problem is that you need to have these acids in the correct omega-6 to omega-3 ratio: somewhere between 5:1 & 10:1. It is estimated that the Standard America Diet (SAD) has ratios between 14:1 & 20:1. This is unhealthy!! There are serious health implications for this high of a ratio including chronic diseases and heart disease. Why does the SAD have such a high amount of omega-6? Well, omega-3 is very vulnerable to oxidation and rancidity, so it is removed in processing. Also, omega-6 fatty acids have increased with the replacement of saturated fats and trans fats with vegetable oils that are rich in omega-6.
Long-chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids: these are acids that aren't considered essential because they can be created from the parent fatty acids, but they are still very important for our health. These originate from two places. We can create long-chain fatty acids from the parent fatty acids in our body, or we can consume these long-chain fatty acids directly from food. For the omega-6 family we can either convert linoleic acid to arachidonic acid (AA) or AA can be consumed from animals products like meat and dairy (with all the other lovely saturated fats that go along with it). For the omega-3 family, we can convert alpha-linolenic acid to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) or we can consume these directly from fish or microalgae, the single-celled organisms that provide EPA and DHA to fish.
I hope that clears up a few questions you may have had about fats. This doesn't get you a free pass to OD on nuts, seeds and avocados, but it does mean you can eat all these good fats in moderation and not feel bad about it. And with that I bring you Kris Carr's Green Guru Smoothie from Crazy Sexy Diet. I have fallen in love with juicing and blending and this smoothie is delicious. While it's definitely not my favorite (I'm in love the Make Juice, Not War Green Juice), it is extremely satisfying and filling! Get creative and add some stuff you think you might like. In this recipe she suggests to use 2 ounces of E3Live probiotic powder, but just find any vegan probiotic powder you like. I got some from my co-op in the health and beauty section. Community Pharmacy also carries similar products. Probiotics help healthy bacteria grow in your tummy, which aids in digestion.
Green Guru Smoothie
5-8 romaine leaves (I used spinach or kale)
2 ounces E3Live (or 1 teaspoon probiotic powder, per package directions)
1 cup cocunut water (or purified water)
1 banana or 1-2 pears
Stevia to taste or 1 teaspoon agave
Place all the ingrediencts into a blender and blend until smooth.
Me enjoying my smoothie after giving away muffins to protesters at the Capitol.