Fat Myths and Biochemistry

Hello and welcome to my blog

Fat gets lots of hate  in many part of the world we try and burn, fat, bust fat, dissolve fat destroy fat and so forth. As a biochemist I have observed that many people are fascinated by fat, but have no idea what it really is.

Fat is crucial for life. Half the brain’s dry mass is fat, nerves are coated in fat so fat is good. Eating good fat doesn’t make you fat.  Fat is not to be feared and the right amount and kind of fat is crucial for brain health, healing cell membranes, making hormones, weight management and a whole host more. After a hard work, out cell membranes need to be repaired as well as muscle and fat is a crucial building block for this.

Fat in the body has a purpose for insulation, shock absorption and sex appeal for those who like breasts. Fat in the body isn’t inert, it is biologically active and it can produce hormones and signaling molecules. Where we store fat in our bodies matters.  Research shows that the more visceral (internal abdominal) fat we have, the more inflammatory cytokines we produce, which in short stresses out our brain, as well as contributes to insulin resistance/type 2 diabetes. The final consequence of this is can even make the brain change structure and often get smaller. Dr Daniel Amon talks about this research and calls it T-Rex Syndrome.

For many reasons, vast amounts of  time and money have been devoted to making and  fat burning drugs,  compounds and treatments, both licensed and unlicensed. Fat is a topic of great interest and  pseudo-science.  In fact to be accurate, fat is not ‘burnt’ in the body it is oxidized by the mitochondria in a process called beta-oxidation.  The heat generated is a by-product of us being inefficient, but this is not how we get rid of fat in our bodies as fat has a mass or weight. A reduction in fat ‘mass’ or for body fat to ‘go’ is what people are after really. Fat is lost from the body carbon dioxide and water, both of these have a mass or weight (see the Periodic Table). When we succeed with a diet we breathe or  wee out  broken down ‘fat’ as carbon, oxygen and hydrogen atoms, millions upon millions of them.

The word fat, lipid and oil often get mixed up, the public don’t mind, but scientists do and it makes things confusing.  A lipid is a biological molecule which dissolves in a nonpolar solvent,  not water, that’s a polar solvent. Lipid can be a fats, waxes,  fat soluble vitamins, phospholipids, sterols, mono glycerides and other such molecules.

Oils in biology are  lipids with short or unsaturated fatty acid chains that are liquid at room temperature. Fats are lipids that are solids at room temperature, as they usually have long saturated fatty acid chains. However, “fat” in the fitness or diet industry means edible lipids or body fat, but nobody goes around talking about lipids. Most people want to know which lipids to eat and which to avoid, how to stop their bodies making too much of the wrong lipids, like LDL cholesterol and how to get rid unwanted lipids before weddings,  bodybuilding competitions and such like.

Fats, also known as triglycerides, are esters of three fatty acid chains (tails)  and glycerol (head), which is an alcohol as it has an OH group. The tail is the business end of the molecule.

  • Short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) are fatty acids with a tail of fewer than 6 carbons. These are made by our gut bacteria and have shown to have many health benefits
  • Medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA) are fatty acids with 6-12 carbons in their tail which can form medium-chain triglycerides, (MCTs) which are in coconut oil.
  • Long-chain fatty acids (LCFA) are fatty acids have tails between 13 to 21 carbons. The fats mentioned in the blog today are LCFAs or VLCFAs
  • Very long chain fatty acids (VLCFA) have tails over  22  carbons..

There are plenty of myths, cons and research mistakes surrounding fat. For example, for decades many groups have tried to pull the wool over the eyes of the public by stating saturated fat is bad, vegetable oil is good. There are now meta studies, which are the studies of the results of lots of studies, sort of a ‘mega study’ stating that saturated fat does not clog arteries or make people fat on its own and coronary heart disease is an inflammatory condition, with many other factors.

Trans fats and hydrogenated fats (margarine)  are  harmful and produce lots of inflammation and damaging free radicals in our bodies. Trans fats are in many processed foods and bakery items which need a long shelf life.  Everyone in the scientific community agrees. Here is what the FDA stated about trans fats

Federal Register of November 8, 2013 (78 FR 67169). In the notice, we requested comments on our tentative determination that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) are not generallyrecognized as safe (GRAS) for any use in food based on current scientific evidence, and therefore are subject to regulation as food additives

Omega-3,6 and 9 are unsaturated fats and have one or  more carbon double bonds,  C=C bond (the number tells us where in the molecule the double bond is). As you can imagine a whole blog could be written on just Omega-3! Nearly all unsaturated fats are liquids and are less stable than solid fats, which means they are more prone to oxidation  AKA molecular damage. The C=C bond acts like a ‘soft spot’ in the unsaturated fat molecule. Cooking or frying with cheap  vegetable oils, which are usually omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, damages the fat and oxidizes it.

In a way an oxidized  fat can act like  molecular razors in the body.  Oxidized fats damage and oxidize other fats like cholesterol and damage cell membranes. The cell membrane hold our cells together and contain very important signalling proteins, which allow our cells to communicate efficiently. Damaged cell membranes are a factor in disease and ageing. You can get a test to assess the health of your cell membranes. There is a supplement called Calcium 2-AEP which can help stabilize cell membranes.  

Ketosis, ketones  and fat loss

In chemistry a ketone is  carbon-oxygen double bond that occurs in a compound, but it can’t be at the end of the compound.

Ketone group

Fructose, a sugar,  is actually a ketose as it has a ketone group. There are thousands of ketones. The human ketones (the ones we are interested in) are supposed to be called ketone bodies, that is the correct medical name.


Looking up ketones or ketone bodies on google can get very confusing. Firstly the same ketone body can have more than once chemical name, for example  acetoacetic acid (a ketone body we make in our bodies) can be called 3-Oxobutanoic acid, β-ketobutyric acid and more ! Secondly,  acetoacetic acid has a different name depending on what form it is in. Under physiological conditions (in the body) acetoacetic acid exists as its conjugate base, acetoacetate so can be called by that name too.

If you read a paper or discussion about ketone bodies, it is safe to say acetoacetic acid and acetoacetate are the same.  Like the other two natural ketones we produce from fat,  β- hydroxybutyrate and  β-Hydroxybutyric acid are the same, acetone is propanone. Why have I told you this technical organic chemistry stuff?

It is possible to buy ketone bodies as a supplement  (exogenous ketones), so some companies will mislabel or mis-market ketone bodies, like they do with MCT oils from coconuts. There are 4 different MCTs in coconut oil and they are not all the same. In commercial MCT/MCFA oil Caprylic Acid (C8) and Capric Acid (C10) are real MCTs, Lauric Acid C12 is not a true MCT and does not provide a fast source of energy and can be stored as body fat. MCTs are converted into ketone bodies in the liver, but are called exogenous ketones as you took them in from outside.

Meaning, it is useful to know how to read the ingredients of products you buy. Ketone bodies act as appetite suppressants, efficient fuel for muscle,  brain and heart. Ketone bodies  can help manage blood sugar related issues like insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes  (in conjunction with correct diet),

Humans are natural hunters and gatherers, we could and still can  go for  long bouts without food so our  body adapted has to use ketone bodies from the breakdown of stored fat as energy. These are endogenous ketones as your body produced them, they are safe and beneficial (unless you have Type 1 diabetes or are starving).  Ketone bodies can be detected by a blood test, urine test or breath test. There are many devices and different opinions on which device is best and what concentrations of ketone bodies are optimum for health goals.

Thank you for reading

Read more here about ‘The Soft Science of Dietary Fat’ by Gary Taubes in the Journal ‘Science’


“Mar 8 2014 FDA filing by HARVARD SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH – on the Tentative Determination Regarding Partially Hydrogenated Oils; Request for Comments and for Scientific Data and Information”. regulations.gov. https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=FDA-2013-N-1317-0092



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