What is your relationship with fat? Dietary fat intake has long been linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity, and shortened life expectancy. These associations have been propagated through the media to create a fear of fat, the basis of which has been supported by deceptive nutrition research. For the past 50 years, fat has been demonized, shunned, and replaced by carbohydrates in the diets of many. However, dietary perspectives are now beginning to shift as new light has been shed on the health benefits that can be realized by increasing fat intake.
Get Your Fats Straight
There are three major forms of dietary fat found in the foods we consume. These include saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, and polyunsaturated fat. All fats have a similar chemical structure, the difference being the length and shape of the carbon chain and the saturation of hydrogen atoms. These differences dictate the stability of the fat at room temperature and the functions it is best suited for.
Room Temperature: Solid.
Uses: Cooking at high temperatures.
Best Foods to Eat: Grass-fed butter / ghee, grass-fed meat, coconut.
- It was previously believed there was a correlation between saturated fat intake and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. This meta-analysis shows that no true evidence exists.
- Saturated fat is a very stable form of fat. It is protective for cell membranes and has a long shelf life.
- When dairy and meat is sourced from grass-fed animals it contains high levels of anti-inflammatory fatty acids and cancer fighting compounds.
Room Temperature: Liquid.
Uses: Cooking at low heat, skin care.
Best Foods to Eat: Olive oil, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, avocado.
- Soak nuts overnight in water to increase availability of nutrients.
- Oils from olives and nuts must be stored in dark glass away from heat, light, and air to avoid oxidization and rancidity.
- Monounsaturated fats contain vitamin E, which is protective for the skin when consumed as food or used topically.
Room Temperature: Liquid.
Uses: Oils best consumed in raw form.
Best Foods to Eat: Fish oil, eggs, walnuts, flax, hemp, chia, sesame.
- Polyunsaturated oils are even more delicate than monounsaturated oils and need to be stored away from heat, light, and air.
- Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Three Reasons to Increase Fat Intake
Fat is a dense form of energy that provides fuel to the body while satiating appetite. Humans need both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, ideally from foods that are minimally processed, derived from clean sources, and have been properly stored. The daily requirement for fat intake differs for each person. Some health advocates promote a diet of 60-70% fat. However, as we are all biochemically unique, what works for one person may not be ideal for another. It is recommend that you slowly decrease your carbohydrate intake while increasing fat until you reach a place that feels right in your body. You may quickly notice an improvement in your energy level, skin appearance, and ability to fight off sickness. Here are three other reasons to increase fat intake:
1. Better Digestion and Nutrient Absorption
The absorption of nutrients from food takes place in cells lining the intestinal tract. Essential fatty acids support this system by increasing the thickness and surface area of these digestive-absorptive cells. This means more efficient digestion, better assimilation of nutrients, and efficient filtering of toxins and allergens. Further, fatty acids are required for the uptake of certain fat-soluble nutrients, which include vitamins A, D, E, and K. This study found that consuming vegetables with fat increases the availability of provitamin A in the form of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene has antioxidant properties and is important for tissue repair and immune function.
2. Improve Brain Function
The human brain is composed of 60% fat and requires fatty acids in order to function properly. Fatty acid consumption can improve memory, motor skills, and help to prevent cognitive decline. Specifically, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids found fish oil, flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts, have been shown to offer protection against depression and dementia.
3. Support Hormone Balance
Fatty acids are the building blocks of hormones, which are chemical messengers involved in virtually all bodily functions. Fat is required for the absorption of vitamin D, a hormone-like vitamin that is essential in the prevention of chronic disease. A low-fat diet can cause elevated stress hormones as the body senses nutritional scarcity and danger. If the body is in survival mode, it will not dictate energy towards restorative or reproductive functions. Therefore, increase fat intake to support healing and chemical messaging in the body.
In summary, we do not need to fear fat. Let’s face it, fat is delicious and eating the right types can be very beneficial to overall health. Make small changes every day to work more fat into your diet. Say yes to extra guacamole, try blending butter into your tea or coffee, or reach for a handful of nuts when it’s time for a snack.
Please stay tuned for some fat friendly recipes!
With Love and Nectar,
Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. New York: Avery, 2010. Print.
Erasmus, Udo. Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill: The Complete Guide to Fats, Oils, Cholesterol, and Human Health. Burnaby, BC, Canada: Alive, 1993. Print.