“The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition.”
Are you afraid of fat?
For the past 50 years, we have been told to avoid eating fat because it would cause weight gain, heart attacks, and a variety of other health issues. By the early 80’s, obesity was well on its way to becoming an epidemic, despite the fact that 10 years before that, the recommendation of a low-fat diet had been implemented. Low-fat products lined the shelf, and foods such as animal meat, full-fat dairy, and eggs were avoided like the plague. With this low-fat diet came the rise of an overweight and very sick population. More recently, information has been released from many professionals claiming that our dietary recommendations were more about whose pockets were getting lined rather than who had the most education and knowledge about nutrition. Today, I want to debunk the myth that fat is bad for you, and is in fact, a necessity to the human body.
What is Fat?
Along with Carbohydrates and Protein, Fats are one of the main macronutrients essential to the human body. There are three types of fats commonly referred to in nutrition: unsaturated, saturated, and trans fat.
During the digestion process, fat is broken down into fatty acids. Fatty acids are chains made up of carbon atoms. These chains can be short, medium, or long depending on the number of links. Our bodies need all three kinds of fatty acids to remain healthy. Our body also needs fatty acids that are both saturated and unsaturated.
Up until recently, we were cautioned to avoid saturated and trans fat, while limiting our intake of unsaturated fat to the bare minimum our bodies needed to survive. Oddly enough, rather than getting thinner, the population only got fatter.
You NEED Saturated Fat!
In recent years, many studies have been reviewed showing no connection between saturated fat and heart disease. There appears to be a stronger link between sugar consumption and heart disease, but further research is needed before this will become an accepted claim. When looking at the function of saturated fat in the human body it is obvious that we need it! Below are some of the reasons we need saturated fat.
- The brain is made up of mostly fat; a lot of it is saturated. Getting the proper amount of saturated fat contributes to brain function.
- White blood cells need saturated fat to complete their function of recognizing foreign invaders.
- Saturated fat is needed as insulation for your nervous system. Without it, you are more susceptible to stress.
- Certain saturated fats function as signalling messengers. If you do not consume enough saturated fat, the communication between your cells will not function properly.
These are only a few of the reasons saturated fats are necessary in your daily diet. Hopefully, future research will help determine how much is really needed and will set us on a healthier path with new dietary guidelines. Saturated fats are found in animal products such as milk, meat, and eggs.
Is this me giving you permission to stuff your face with butter and ice cream? NO! balance is key.
Unsaturated Fat is the new hero!
Even the American Heart Association agrees that unsaturated fat is beneficial in preventing heart disease. It has been shown to lower your LDL cholesterol levels, which in turn lowers your risk of heart disease. Unsaturated fats are found in nuts, seeds, fish, olive oil, and avocado.
There are two essential fatty acids that can only be ingested through eating unsaturated fats, specifically polyunsaturated fats. The two essential fatty acids are omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fatty acids. Both have unique and necessary functions in the body. I have listed a few below.
- Reduces triglycerides in the blood
- Reduces buildup of plaque in your arteries
- Can slightly lower blood pressure
- Improves brain health
- Helps reduce blood sugar levels
- Lowers blood pressure
- Has anti-inflammatory properties
In the North American diet, omega 6 is easily accessible. Omega 6 is found in many packaged items, as well as nuts, and the oils extracted from them. Omega 6 does not need to be supplemented as often as omega 3. It is not as easy to get the proper amount of omega 3, as it is omega 6. Consciously adding foods to your diet that contain omega 3 can help ensure the proper balance. The following link lists different foods, and the levels of omega 3 contained in them. http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Fat/Food-Sources-of-Omega-3-Fats.aspx
What about Trans Fat?
Trans fatty acids are formed through a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogen is added to oil to turn the fat molecules into solid fat. Trans fats are mainly found in packaged food items such as baked goods, margarines, snack foods, and deep-fried food. Many childrens’ snacks contain high amounts of trans fat. Trans fat has many negative side effects! It causes LDL (bad) cholesterol to rise, and HDL (good) cholesterol to lower. It has also been linked to an increase in type 2 diabetes. Avoiding trans fat as much as possible is widely suggested by medical professionals.
Natural is best
When it comes down to it, natural food sources are still the best. When choosing your fats, try to pick a majority of them from natural sources. Meat, eggs, avocados, nuts, seeds, and fish are all sources of dietary fat. In addition, pay attention to the fact that you need both saturated and unsaturated fat. Cycling different fats into each meal can help you maintain a good balance. As to how much you should eat, I believe balance is key. Making sure that each meal includes a small portion of fat along with larger portions of protein, vegetables, and starch will ensure you get enough of each macronutrient. Many nutritionists suggest the size of your thumb is a good tool for measuring the amount of fat on your plate.
Eat your veggies!