WHY YOU NEED GOOD FATS
Fats can be a complex and confusing topic. What’s healthy, what’s not; how much should I have, do they make me fat, can heating them be dangerous, how much is too much? These and other questions will hopefully be answered here without too much complicated science.
First of all, fats are NOT bad! As you will see in the following paragraphs, fats are absolutely essential to the functioning of virtually every system in your body. Without adequate dietary essential fatty acids, the following body systems and functions would be jeopardized:
structure and function of all cells
modulation of cell division
maintenance of inflammatory processes
transportation of cholesterol
hormone production and balance
Because the role of good fats in the body is primarily as a result of its protective sheath around all nerve fibres and its anti-inflammatory benefits, and because inflammation is now being recognized universally as the primary culprit behind all disease and illness, we can consider healthy fats the ultimate protector in your body.
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ALL ABOUT OMEGAS / EFAs
Omega-3 and 6’s are types of unsaturated fats, and are often referred to as the essential fatty acids. Our bodies are unable to synthesize these types of fatty acids on their own, and so must be obtained from the diet. These fats are essential to the maintenance of all cell membranes, for normal growth, energy production, regulating inflammatory processes, healthy arteries and nerves, brain function and mental health, regulation of blood sugar levels, metabolism and weight control, transport and absorption of minerals, hormone regulation, cardiovascular support, and so much more.
You can understand why these healthy fats are so vital in our diets, and why restricting them (for fear of “getting fat”) is downright dangerous! Because fatty acids play a role in virtually every organ and system in the body, just imagine the consequences of deficiency in the body. Symptoms of a deficiency in these vital fats could include brain fog, dry skin and rashes, impaired digestion, intestinal disorders, brittle hair, infertility, irregular menstrual periods, sore muscles and joints, arthritis, poor wound recovery, reduced athletic performance, reduced cognitive abilities, poor memory, depression, and anxiety.
We need both omega-3 and omega-6 fats, however the ratio is a much debated topic. The general consensus is that a ratio of about 1:1 is ideal for optimal health. Although there are health benefits to omega-6 fats (supports bone health, reduces nerve brain, regulates metabolism, just to name a few), they are also pro-inflammatory. Most omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are the building blocks of several types of inflammatory molecules, whereas the omega-3 fats are antiinflammatory.
Today’s dietary habits equate to a ratio as high as 20:1 omega-6 to omega-3. This is largely due to the tremendous increase in consumption of commercial packaged products that include types of omega-6 oils.
Hence, the loud message in nutrition is to get more omega-3 in the diet, not necessarily because omega-6 is bad, but simply because not enough of the anti-inflammatory 3 is consumed.
Most common dietary sources are processed vegetable oils (corn, canola, safflower, soy), margarine and shortening. Pick up virtually any packaged, processed food on the grocery shelf and you’ll find these highly processed and inflammatory fatty acids. Because society eats such an abundance of packaged foods, you can see how they get far too much omega-6 in the diet. Cleaner, more natural forms of omega-6 fatty acids can be found in dairy, eggs, beef and chicken.
Anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids are in a vast variety of whole foods, including both animal and vegetable sources. A combination of both is optimal to get sufficient omega-3s. Plant based sources include green leafy vegetables, nuts, tofu, flaxseed. Animal based sources are wild salmon, mackerel, black cod, halibut, rainbow trout, shellfish, sardines, herring and tuna.
NOT ALL FAT IS CREATED EQUALLY
To remain healthy, our bodies need both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. When fat is fully saturated (meaning it is holding all of the hydrogen it can – here I go using that chemistry that I swore I never would!), it interacts the least with other molecules in the body. Thus, we say it is the most stable. That is what makes saturated fats helpful to us structurally – because they help stabilize cell membranes, making the cell less susceptible to damage. It is damage to cells that ultimately lead to illness and disease. Therefore, YES even saturated fats have a use in our bodies. Although these fats have gotten a bad rap in older reports, new research has shown that some saturated fats (shorter-chain ones) offer important health benefits. Butter, for example, contains butyric acid and is associated with reduction of cancer risk.
Dr. Mercola states that the claim that all saturated fat should be eliminated is “a misguided fallacy that has been harming our health for the last 30-40 years”. Saturated fats found in butter and coconut oil (myristic acid and lauric acid) play key roles in immune health. Loss of sufficient saturated fatty acids in white blood cells hampers their ability to recognize and destroy foreign invaders, such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Additionally, certain saturated fats, particularly those found in butter, coconut oil, and palm oil function directly as signalling messengers that influence metabolism, including such critical jobs as the appropriate release of insulin. Of course, moderation is the key. The inclusion of a few small servings each week of saturated fats from lean cuts of organic red meat and tropical oils (coconut oil) will provide these benefits, as well as provide a healthy dose of iron, selenium, zinc and many B-vitamins. Likewise, the occasional small pat of grass-fed butter provides a healthy dose of this saturated fat and some vitamin A and D2.
1 Source: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/05/31/coconut-oil-for-healthyheart
WHEN GOOD FATS TURN BAD
Unsaturated fats provide flexibility to our cell membranes and allow them to stay in dynamic communication with the rest of our bodies as needed. However, this flexibility in the fats means they are much more susceptible to damage, especially when exposed to heat, light and air. It is during exposure to these conditions that nasty radicals move in and turn the fat “rancid”, rendering it unable to function properly in the body. Associated health risks come from the production of potentially toxic compounds that are associated with neurological disorders, heart disease and cancer. This is one way in which a good fat turns into a bad fat, a new form called a RANCID FAT.
To minimize this type of damage, keep your unsaturated fats away from heat, light and air by storing in cool, dark, and in airtight containers. This includes nuts and seeds, and nut butters.
Because unsaturated fats are less stable, the food industry is all about extending their shelf life with a process called hydrogenation – which makes it act a little more like a saturated fat by artificially adding in some hydrogen gas. This does in fact, make it a little less delicate and create a longer shelf life, but the process lowers the quality of the oil and converts some of its components into an entirely new form called TRANS FATS. This dangerous new fat increases blood cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, and increases the risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Trans fat is considered by many doctors to be the worst type of fat you can eat.
The food industry also adds synthetic antioxidants BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) to plant oils as a food preservative to help reduce the radical oxidative damage. However, there are numerous studies suggesting that these chemicals are possible carcinogens, hormone disruptors, and more. These chemicals should be avoided in your diet. A more natural alternative is to add your own antioxidant vitamin E oil to your unsaturated oils at home to preserve your unsaturated oils.
Some meat and dairy products contain small amounts of naturally occurring trans fat. But most trans fat is formed through an industrial process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oil, which causes the oil to become solid at room temperature, and particularly extends its shelf life so the product is less likely to spoil as quickly. This manufactured form of trans fat, known as partially hydrogenated oil, is found in a variety of food products. Some restaurants use partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in their deep fryers, because it doesn’t have to be changed as often as do other oil.
Check labels for trans fats. If a food has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat in a serving, the manufacturer can label it as 0 grams. This hidden trans fat can add up quickly, especially if you eat several servings of multiple foods containing less than 0.5 grams on a regular basis. When you check the food label for trans fat, also check the food’s ingredient list for partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, which indicates that the food contains some trans fat, even if the amount is below 0.5 grams.
Common food items that contain hydrogenated or trans fats include packaged snacks and baked goods, fast food, creamers and margarine.