Brad Marshall’s Fat Primer, part one.

Hello there! If you’re still following this string of nutrition-related posts, you’ll have read “The Oiling of America” and “Soy Alert – One Woman’s Story.”

I felt better informed after I read them, but as I mentioned in my last post, I still had some questions. So, I wrote my friend Brad Marshall, asking the following:

  1. So let’s say it was the soy that was the primary cause of her cancer. What do you think it is about the soy that caused it? The trans fats?
  2. What’s the difference between olive oil and, say, corn oil. Is it simply the monounsaturated fatty acids (in the olive oil) vs. polyunsaturated fatty acids (in the corn oil)?
  3. So what exactly is the difference between a “fatty acid” and just “fat”?

Brad responded with an interesting and entertaining primer about fat. Click below to read it.


There are several issues with soy products. One is that they contain a number of substances, like trypsin inhibitors and phytate, which have been widely shown
in the scientific literature to inhibit mineral absorption. This makes sense in historical context. In Japan, soy has long been used in agriculture in crop rotations because it adds Nitrogen to the soil. However, it doesn’t seem to have been used as a food until fermentation techniques were developed. Miso, for instance is soy, salt and wheat which is fermented in a sealed barrel for six months. It seems that a long fermentation removes a lot of these “anti-nutrients”. Soy sauce is another fermented sauce. The Chinese invented tofu later and tofu was incorporated into the Japanese diet. The precipitation of tofu removes many, although not all of the nasty compounds. But this was OK because the Japanese only eat it sparingly and usually in combination with fish broths, which are very high in the nutrients that the bad stuff prevents absorption of anyway. It is only in America that wide spread use of soy everything has become commonplace. Soy milk did originate in Asia, but it undergoes a long boiling process which removes many of these things. That organic soy milk place I talked about yesterday uses a COLD soy milk production process! And nowhere on their web site do they mention that their soy milk is full of phytate. What makes it more distressing is that it’s probably consumed by lots of vegans who are most at risk for many of these mineral deficiencies – in particular zinc.

The other thing about soy, and one that is more likely to cause cancer is that is has lots of phytochemicals which simulate estrogen in the human body. So eating large amounts of soy has a similar effect to taking an estrogen supplement. High estrogen levels have been linked to lots of cancers.

Ok, onto fats. Keep in mind that regular soy products don’t have trans fats. Trans fats are only produced in the hydrogenation process (actually, there may be trace amounts without hydrogenation, but probably not enough to worry about.)

Here’s my fat primer, I call it, “The miracle of fats taught through ASCII”:

Fats are composed of fatty acids. Often they are called triglycerides, which means that three fatty acids are connected into one fat molecule. I wouldn’t worry about it though. Think of fats and fatty acids as being the same thing is probably fine for our cases.

Fats are basically long carbon strands with hydrogens stuck on, like this:

H-C-H
|
H-C-H
|
H-C-H
|
H-C-H
|
H

Unsaturated fats have one or more unsaturated bond, like this:

H-C-H
|
H-C
||
C-H
|
H-C-H
|
H

Basically, the reason unsaturated fats tend to be liquid at room temperature while saturated fats are solid is that saturated fats are straight but unsaturated fats have a kink at the double bond. Think of saturated fats as being |’s and unsaturated fats as being <'s. It is a lot easier to pack the |'s tightly together, like this: ||||||||||||. This creates a nice tightly packed fat layer, which is solid at room temp. But when you pack saturated fats, it ends up like this: <<><><><<><>>><><. See, it doesn't pack together right and therefore the fats slide around a lot are liquid at room temp. So, hydrogenation doesn't necessarily remove the double bonds, it just flips them around, like this:

H-C-H
|
H-C
||
H-C
|
H-C-H
|
H

See how one of the H’s has flipped to the other side of the double bond? This has the effect of straightening the molecule and allowing them to pack together like saturated fats. The more saturated and trans fats there are, the more solid the fat is at room temperature. There’s not really anything inherently dangerous about trans fats. The problem is that, for reasons that are not clear, they are simply not produced in natural systems. And therefore, your body is not prepared to deal with them.

In terms of what fats do in your body, they do all sorts of shit, most of which is not really understood. The most important thing is that they make your cell
membranes. I think the importance of cell membranes is often overlooked. Cell membranes are how all extra-cellular signals, like hormones, immune factors,
etc. communicate with the actual cells.

So the thing is that you are what you eat. If you eat trans fats, those trans fats get incorporated into your cell membranes, and that’s where the problems
start. It has been theorized that they interfere with hormone signaling pathways and lots of other shit. Since these pathways are the main things your body uses to control everything, shit just gets fucked up. The truth is that we know very, very little about what actually happens on the molecular level in these situations, but the evidence clearly states that it isn’t good.

In terms of the rest of your diet, our membranes are mainly composed of saturated fats, mono-unsaturated fats and cholesterol plays an extremely important role in membrane fluidity. So logically, those are the types of fats we should eat.

We also need a small amount of polyunsaturated fats. About 2% of our calories should come from omega-6 polyunsaturated like in soybeans. We get plenty of
omega 6’s in regular foods, including animal fats. Furthermore, we should get at least one percent of calories from omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.
These fats are in lots of seafood, green leafy vegetables and certain nuts like walnuts. Many American’s diets are very lacking in omega 3s. (Actually, there are several types of omega 3’s, many of which are only found in animal foods.) Omega threes can also be found in GRASS FED meats and fats. The omega3s rapidly disappear when animals are taken off pasture.

And that’s the basics. Mostly. I didn’t mention that all the fats come in different lengths, but we’ll go over that next time 😉