Fats are Essential to Life
Fat has gotten such a bad rap that I think it’s time you really understood what are the good fats, the bad fats and the trans fats and how each impact your body. So get ready! This is definitely going to be a shift in your thinking!
What is fat, really? We think of fat as blobs that hang on our hips and thighs, arms and belly, clog our arteries and cause all sorts of problems. Actually, it is not eating fat that makes a body look like this.
Fatness is a symptom that your body is not healthy. If you are struggling with weight, you may have allergies, hormone imbalances or some other stress that your body can’t handle. (We can help you with these!) If you want to find out what could be causing these problems, call the clinic for a complete health evaluation. 770-937-9200. Or you can fill out the “Have a Health Question” form in the right hand column.
Fat on our bodies really is tissue (called adipose tissue) that holds fatty acids. Fatty acids are the building blocks of fat. When there isn’t enough sugar available for the body to use for energy, it will burn fatty acids instead. In an upcoming article I’ll explain how overeating sugar is making you fat and sick!
We can’t live without fatty acids. Every single cell in your body has a membrane (the outside “skin” of the cell) that is made from fatty acids. So if there were no fatty acids, there would be no cells, and ultimately no life. It’s that basic. Here are some of the bodily functions and how they use fatty acids:
- Heart: 60% of the heart’s energy is from burning fatty acids, and fatty acids help keep the heart beating in regular rhythm.
- Brain: 60% of the brain is made out of fat. Fat in the brain helps to move nervous signals quickly.
- Eyes: Eyes have a high percentage of fatty acid in them, specifically the rods and cones, where images need to be transmitted into the nervous system rapidly.
- Nerves: The nerves are surrounded by something called a myelin sheath which surrounds, insulates and protects the nerves, keeping the electrical impulses in and speeding up their transmission. The myelin sheath is made up of fatty acids.
- Hormones: Fatty acids are the basic building blocks of hormones.
- Soft skin & hair: When you feed oil to a dog, its coat gets all shiny. The same is true for humans. Fatty acids are like an internal moisturizer, so much better than any product you could put ON your skin.
- Lungs: There is fluid in the lungs called lung surfactant that enables the lungs to work and keeps them from collapsing. This fluid has a high concentration of saturated fatty acids.
- Digestion: Fat in a meal slows down the digestive process so that the body has enough time to absorb the nutrients from the meal. Specifically the Vitamins A, D, E & K require fat in order to be absorbed. The slowdown also provides a nice constant level of energy instead of the shooting up and down that happens with a high carbohydrate (sugar), low fat meal. Moods are better and the slowdown keeps you from getting hungry longer. Did you know that there is actually a shutoff mechanism in your body that stops you from eating too much fat? That is why you can’t eat a cup of olive oil without getting sick.
- Energy: The body burns fatty acid for fuel and stores extra fuel in the adipose tissue. Adipose is the perfect storage medium for energy. It’s light weight. If the body was to store the same amount of energy in the form of carbohydrates it would weigh twice as much and take up more space. The adipose also cushions and protects organs (like the kidneys) and acts as insulation, keeping us warm.
So, fat is one of the very things keeping us alive. This is significant, especially when you consider that our nation has such a great fear over eating fat.
The Fatty Acid Families
Fats and oils are made up of fatty acids. Each type of fat or oil is a mixture of different fatty acids. They are categorized into Fatty Acid Families:
- Saturated Fats
- Mono Unsaturated Fats
- Poly Unsaturated Fats, if it is a Poly Unsaturated fat it is either an:
- Omega 3 or
- Omega 6
Each family has its unique traits and characteristics. But each member of the family has its own unique traits and characteristics as well. In the simplest of terms what separates the characteristics of the different families is the number of bends the fatty acid molecule has. Let’s take a look:
Note: Omega 3 and Omega 6 is just a numbering system that scientists use to determine what family the fatty acid is in. It has nothing to do whether a fat is good or bad.
The bends in the fatty acid molecules give them very different characteristics. The more bends the fatty acid has the more alive, electric and vibrating it is. Alive, electric and vibrating is important because in your body there are high activity areas and low activity areas. Your body uses the appropriate fatty acid to do the correct job. For example, the Poly Unsaturated fatty acids (multiple bends) are used in the areas with the highest activity, like the brain and the eyes. Saturated fatty acids (no bends) are used more for stability and structure, like maintaining cell and lung function. This tells you that one fatty acid is not more important than another. The body uses the fatty acids from all of the families.
What about that Bad Saturated Fat?
Saying that saturated fat is bad so avoid eating it is like saying that the air is polluted so avoid breathing it. It’s only bad if you get too much of it. Too much of any of the fatty acids is going to cause problems.
Saturated fatty acids are a family of fats. There is not a single, evil saturated fat. Some members of this family of fats protect us from disease. So avoiding the entire family is not a good idea.
Saturated fat is so important to proper function and good health that nature has incorporated saturated fat into almost all of the foods we eat both of animal and plant origin. A lot of people believe that the less saturated fat we eat the better. But this is simply not true. Nature doesn’t put saturated fat in vegetables, mother’s milk, and other foods for kicks; it’s there for a reason. We need ALL the fatty acids and ALL fats are good if they are natural. The closest to their natural form the better they are for you. You can find fatty acids straight from nature in:
- dark leafy greens
- animal products
- dairy products
The Importance of Fat Ratios in Foods
In nature foods will never contain only one type of fat; they will contain some combination of all three of the families. Some examples:
Some foods contain more of one kind of fatty acid than another, so you may get the impression that a particular food only contains one type of fat. For example, flax seeds are very high in Omega 3 and sunflower seeds are high in Omega 6.
All Saturated Fats are NOT Created Equal
Coconuts are 92% Saturated fats, and 65% of the Saturated fat is what is called “medium chain” (there are short, medium and long “lengths” of fatty acid molecules, each working differently in the body). Medium chain has unique characteristics that put them in a different category from the other fatty acids.
Medium chain fatty acids don’t require bile from the liver to digest so they are quickly absorbed into the body. Since they are absorbed rapidly, the body uses these fatty acids for ENERGY instead of storing them away for later use as adipose tissue. They also protect us from disease by disabling and killing viruses, bacteria and parasites.
Until recently coconuts have been given a bad rap. Scientists and nutritionist have begun to realize their extraordinary benefits from the medium chain fatty acids they contain. Manufacturers have started extracting specific compounds from the medium chain saturated fats. The three medium chains in coconut are Lauric, caprylic and capric acids. Check the image below for the breakdown:
Note: Manufacturers pull out caprylic and capric acid and label it as MCT oil (Medium Chain Triglyceride) on their products. So that is a triglyceride with 3 medium chain fatty acids.
Definition of Triglyceride
Triglycerides are the chemical form in which fat moves through the bloodstream to your body’s tissues. They are derived directly from fats in your diet and are also made in the body from other energy sources such as carbohydrates. A Triglyceride is basically three fatty acids attached to a Glycerol molecule (an alcohol substance). When calories you consume are not used immediately, they are converted to triglycerides, sent through the blood stream and then stored in fat cells. Hormones are used to regulate the release of these stored fats to meet energy needs. Although they contribute to the calculation of total cholesterol, triglycerides themselves are neither bad nor good. They’re either too high or they’re not.
High triglyceride levels can be genetic, and may be related to obesity or untreated diabetes; however your diet plays a huge role in their levels. Carbohydrates in the diet are the main factor affecting triglyceride levels in the blood, especially quick-digesting ones such as processed foods. In many people, these foods elevate insulin levels, (Insulin is the substance that regulates the sugar in the blood. The higher the sugar in the blood the more insulin is needed to regulate it) and insulin affects triglyceride production and the storage of fat. High triglyceride levels usually accompany low HDL cholesterol and often accompany tendencies toward high blood pressure and belly fat. These are the conditions that increase the risk of developing insulin resistance, a very common disorder underlying obesity and increased risks of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
In my opinion, the conventional medical recommendation for a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet to lower triglycerides and bring down cholesterol is dead wrong. Instead you want to be eating a healthy combination of fats, proteins and carbohydrates.
Next I want to talk to you about Poly Unsaturated Fatty Acids in greater detail — the Omega 3’s and Omega 6’s. I’ll cover why they are essential fatty acids–meaning that our body can’t make them– why we need them, and what special role they play in our body. Stay Tuned!