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Nutritional health

‘The skinny on fats’: What is a “good” fat?

Of all the topics on nutrition, food, and health, there are few that are more controversial than fats. We have been thoroughly and well taught to understand and believe that fats are very bad for us; that they cause heart disease and that they make us fat. For the last 60-plus years we have heard that we must eat a “non-fat” to “low-fat” diet in order to be healthy. It is impossible to watch TV or read magazines without seeing commercials for “heart-healthy” margarine or other fat-replacement products.

Folks, we have been duped. Removing true, healthy fats from the foods we eat has been one of the biggest contributing factors in the rapid decline in our health. Have you, or do you know anyone who has had their gallbladder removed? Without real fats, the liver and gallbladder cannot properly do their jobs. If there are no real fats coming in, eventually the gallbladder just stops working. Stones form, causing great pain and unfortunately for many, the removal of this vital organ. This is just one example of the many unfortunate consequences of the removal of fats from our diets.

Let me explain what fat is, the different kind of fats, and why we need them. For now, when I refer to fats, I am only talking about healthy, good fats. I will talk about fake, unhealthy fats further on.

Fat is a macronutrient, along with proteins and carbohydrates. When they are digested, fats become fatty acids, which the body uses for energy, building and repairing of hormones, cell membranes, the brain, heart and all other organs and muscles. A proper balance of all three macronutrients is essential for the health and wellbeing of the entire body.

There are three classifications of fats and we need all three types in our diets. All fats and oils are some combination of the following:

Saturated fat is highly stable, does not go rancid easily, is solid at room temperature, and found in tropical fats and animal fats. Examples include coconut oil, butter, ghee (clarified butter), and butter and whole-fat milk from grass-fed or pastured animals.

Monounsaturated fatty acids are relatively stable, do not go rancid easily and are liquid at room temperature. These are the best fuel for the heart. Examples include olive oil, avocados, oils from nuts and seeds.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids are relatively unstable, go rancid quickly, are always liquid, should never be used for cooking and must be refrigerated. Two are essential: linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid. Examples of essential fatty acids are fish oils, nuts, seeds and the oils from nuts and seeds.

Vegetable oils like canola, corn, cottonseed and soybean are the primary polyunsaturated fatty acids that cause problems in the body. They are highly refined, often made from genetically modified plants and are most likely rancid before you even use them. If they are not already trans fats, they will turn into trans fats in the body, which, in turn will be stored as triglycerides, (a.k.a. rolls of fat), in the body. These make you puffy.

Even if a food label touts, “no trans fats,” if you see the words “hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated” in the ingredients, put it back; it’s a trans fat!

The roles of fat, not to be confused with rolls of fat:

Fats provide a slow burning source of energy — very different than the fast burning energy of carbohydrates. When you eat healthy fats, you are satiated for a long time.

Fats slow down the absorption of food for proper energy regulation and they serve as a protective lining for organs and joints.

They make food taste good and are necessary for the make-up and absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. They also are needed for the makeup of every cell membrane in the entire body; the formation and function of every hormone; healthy liver and gallbladder function, the absorption of proteins and managing the inflammatory process.

What is inflammation?

Inflammation is part of the body’s immune response to remove damaged cells, irritants and pathogens. The body has this mechanism of healing by design. The body inflames to heal before it anti-inflames. Problems arise when these two processes are out of balance. This is most often caused by a highly refined, high sugar or polyunsaturated fatty acids diet and/or food sensitivities.

What happens when we don’t have enough healthy fats in our diet?

Low body weight, high body weight: This is often caused by excess insulin or cortisol levels due to overconsumption of carbohydrates; dry, scaly skin; hair loss; cold intolerance; bruising easily; poor wound healing; poor growth; lower resistance to infection; loss of menstruation.

The difference between a “good” fat and a “bad” fat has more to do with how it is processed than the fat itself. The exception to this is canola, soy and cottonseed oils. These polyunsaturated fatty acids are highly processed and refined and found in all processed foods .

Myth: Fat makes you fat. Fact: Sugar, refined carbohydrates, trans, or fake, and hydrogenated fats make you fat. The only macronutrient fats associated with excess body weight are highly refined polyunsaturated fatty acids and fake fats. Healthy saturated, monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids keep the body healthy, will help you lose weight, and are used as fuel for the body.

Myth: Fat will give you heart disease. Fact: Sugar, refined carbohydrates, trans (fake), hydrogenated and highly processed fats will give you heart disease.

Think about this: Until the mid-20th century, heart disease, obesity, auto-immune disease and cancer were rarities. Today they have become commonplace. Occurrences of these modern-day diseases increased in direct proportion to two important dietary changes: The removal of healthy fats from our diet and the replacement of those fats with sugars, salt and man-made fats; the increase of processed foods and the addition of sugar and salts in those processed foods.

Picture a fire in a fireplace. At the bottom are the big fat logs, then the twigs, and at the top is the kindling. Think of good, healthy fats as those fat logs at the bottom of the fire. Think of carbohydrates as the kindling. You would never build a fire using only kindling but this is what we do to our bodies with the huge amounts of carbohydrates we eat on a daily basis. We try to keep our fires burning with mostly kindling. Whereas, if we use a little kindling to get it started, those big fat logs will burn for hours and hours with barely any assistance needed. The same goes for our bodies.

Jeni Hall of Dublin is a board certified nutritional therapist practicing in the Monadnock region. Her mission is to empower you to heal your own body and keep it healthy. See, for more information.

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