Fat is such an important nutrient!
Healthy fatty acid balance is one of the 6 foundations of health that nutritional therapy is based upon. In the last 100 years fat has gotten a bad reputation. This is due to flawed studies, misinformation and a whole lot of marketing spin, among other things.
While it is true that not all fats are healthy, our unnecessary avoidance of healthy ones and consumption of many unhealthy ones has not benefited our health. Today, in our society, healthy fatty acid deficiency is epidemic and contributes to musculoskeletal issues, endocrine issues, cardiovascular issues, immune issues, allergies, skin problems, depression, and more.
The most common fat myth that perpetuates despite evidence to prove the opposite, is that saturated fat causes heart disease. If you believe this myth, know that you are not alone. I once believed it too. Olive oil was my main oil, and even that, I used sparingly. Butter was (I believed) an artery clogging substance that I used so infrequently I kept it in the freezer.
There are plenty of resources providing evidence to support that this myth is wrong and explaining how the myth started in the first place, so I’m not going to do that here. Instead, I’m going to share my 5 favorite things fat does for you and share which fats to eat and which to avoid for your health.
But first, what is fat??? Fats are made from collections of molecules called triglycerides. A triglyceride is made from three fatty acids (there are many kinds!) and a glycerol molecule. The shape varies based on the kind of fatty acids and number of bonds.
We classify fats into groups based on their degree of saturation, determined by the number of bonds between molecules. They are saturated fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. We need all 3 types. Two polyunsaturated fats, alpha-linolenic-acid (an omega 3) and linoleic acid, (an omega 6) are essential, meaning our body doesn’t make them, and we must get them from food.
Many people think of fats as being just one kind, but really fats are a combination of all 3. For example olive oil is 14% saturated, 73% monounsaturated and 11% polyunsaturated. Lard is 39% saturated, 45% monounsaturated and 11% polyunsaturated. Are you surprised that lard is more monounsaturated than saturated? I was too.
Here are 5 of my favorite things that fats do...
1. Fat gives you energy. Like a big log on a fire, it provides lasting energy.
2. Fat helps you heal. To heal, your body first inflames then later anti-inflames. Not all inflammation is bad. You need all 3 kinds of fat to make the different prostaglandins that control this function.
3. Fats build healthy cell membranes. You are a collection of trillions of cells. Fats are an important component for building each cell membrane. By the way, cholesterol it too! One thing a healthy cell membrane does for you, is it enables nutrients to get in, and waste products to get out of your cells as needed. This is SO important!
4. Fats are critical to your endocrine system. Your body uses them to make hormones. Hormones are like messengers that pass along information and instructions from cell to cell.
5. I saved my very favorite for last.... Fats make food taste good!!!!!!!! Delicious food is one of the greatest pleasures in life. Food with fat is SO much more delicious!!!!!
So which fats should you eat and which ones should you avoid?
The difference between a healthy fat, and an unhealthy fat is the way they are processed. It’s what we humans (surprise!) do to these fats that makes them unhealthful. Exceptions are canola, soy and cottonseed oils, which should always be avoided.
Although safflower oil and sunflower oils could be a healthy oil if cold pressed and unrefined, most of the time in our food supply they are heavily refined and best to avoid unless you are sure they are high quality. Even then, they should not be heated, which they are in many processed foods.
Other fats to avoid are trans fats, hydrogenated fats, partially-hydrogenated fats, highly processed vegetable oils and fried fats. These fats are toxic and interfere with the important things healthy fatty acids do in your body.
Look at the ingredient list on any packaged food. Chances are, if it has an oil in it, it is on the avoid list. These mostly heavily refined oils are inexpensive and shelf stable, but NOT supportive of your health.
Sources of healthy fats include: avocado, cacao butter, coconut, extra-virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds, cold/expeller pressed nut and seed oils, red palm oil, seafood (low toxicity) and animal fats from pastured or wild animals including butter and ghee, lard, poultry fat, tallow. Choose organic whenever possible.
One more thing to be aware of is, the bonds that determine if fat is saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated effect how heat and light stable each fat is. Saturated fats are the most stable and monounsaturated fats are second. They are best for cooking. Polyunsaturated fats are the most unstable. They are easily damaged by heat and light and should not be used for cooking. They should come in dark bottles, be kept in the refrigerator and used sparingly.
Some common signs and symptoms you may experience if you are either not getting enough of the healthy fatty acids, having too many of the wrong ones and/or not digesting or using them effectively include dry skin or dandruff, sunburning easily or craving fatty or greasy foods.
I hope this post is informative and helpful. If you would like to make sure you are getting all the healthy fatty acids you need, AND are digesting and using them properly, I would love to work with you! I offer both in person and virtual consultations. You can learn more in a free 15 minute call. (541)318-4757.