Fats are essential.
But you do need to understand some fat facts to make good choices for your health and dietary intake.
Fats are lipids, and are found in both animal and vegetable sources. Fats provide a concentrated energy source.
Some of the important functions that fat performs in the body are:
integral part of every cell membrane
the building blocks of hormones and hormone like substances
constitute a large proportion of the myelin sheath that surrounds most of our nerve cells
are carriers for fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, without fats these are not absorbed
The Chemistry Of Fats
If you wish to understand better your blood test results read this.
Fats are not soluble in water.
Most of the fat in our bodies is in the form of triglycerides - 3 fatty acid chains attached to a glycerol molecule, hence the name ‘tri'. Elevated triglycerides in the blood do not come from dietary fats but are made in the liver from excess sugars that have not been used for energy, especially the refined carbohydrates sugar and flour.
Fatty acids are chains of carbon atoms with hydrogen filling the available bonds. Fats are classified according to their saturation, which refers to the presence of double bonds.
Saturated Fats - highly stable and solid at room temperature, they do not normally go rancid and are good for cooking that requires heat. Animal fats such as butter, lard and tallow and tropical oils such as coconut oil. Essentially comprised of short-chain (less carbon atoms) fatty acids also have anti-microbial properties contributing the health of the immune system and may be directly absorbed for quick energy.
Monounsaturated Fats - relatively stable and tend to be liquid at room temperatures. Can be used in cooking but not to high temperatures. Most common is oleic acid found in olive oil, and oils from almonds, pecans, cashews and avocados.
Polyunsaturated Fats - Are liquid even when refrigerated and are highly reactive, going rancid easily and therefore should never be heated or used in cooking. Two polyunsat fatty acids are called ‘essential’ as they cannot be made in the body, and are Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids.
Dangers of Polyunsaturated Fats
The problem with polyunsaturated fats, the vegetable oils, is that they are unstable chemically due to the double bonds and go rancid easily with heat and light. This means that as a chemical compound they are extremely reactive and are like roving grenades causing damage to cell membranes and red blood cells, damage DNA/RNA processes that can trigger mutations such as in tissues enabling an environment for cellular organ dysfunction setting the stage for tumours, blood vessel wall damage ripening for plaque buildup, and skin damage with wrinkles and premature ageing.
Polyunsaturated oils also contain an imbalance of essential fatty acids leaning towards excess omega 6s which can interfere with prostaglandin balance, an essential component of our immune system that leads to inflammation with resulting chronic disease.
You need saturated fats. Cell membrane function, bone health with calcium into skeletal structure, immune system enhancement, and protection of liver from toxins all require saturated fats.
The Low Fat Fad
Do not associate the fat that you eat with body fat or your cholesterol levels.
As members of western society it is so very difficult to break free of the low fat dietary mindset. It has been of great detriment to the health of society as a whole that over the past 40 years there has been mass marketing from main stream media for a low fat diet on the grounds of cardiovascular health. This has been at a cost to society with obesity on the rise in all developed countries leading to epidemic levels of chronic inflammatory diseases, just have a look around when you are out and about. And as an aside, cardiovascular disease statistics have not improved.
Where Did the Low Fat Fad come from?
A research study in the 1950’s by Ancel Keys established a theory of direct relationship between the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet and the incidence of coronary heart disease. Following on from the study countless researchers and studies have highlighted flaws in the data and conclusions drawn, however publicity and support from vegetable oil, food processing industries, governmental health departments remained strong.
Early 1900s fats were primarily from butter, lard, tallows, coconut oils and small amount of olive oil. Todays fat intake is primarily sourced from polyunsaturated vegetable oils - soy, corn, safflower and canola, all contained in processed foods. Prevalence of vegetable oils rose dramatically post WWII era around the 1950’s when convenience in all things especially diet became highly desirable. Fast Food chains blossomed, supermarkets shelves filled with boxes and packets of convenience and so did obesity and chronic health problems blossom.
The fat in our foods of the low-fat dietary era, was replaced with sugar, and lots of it.
A Bit About Cholesterol
Cholesterol is manufactured in the liver and most human cells. Cholesterol, both what we make and we we eat play many vital roles such as:
Cholesterol is the base molecule by which our stress hormones and sex hormones (testosterone, oestrogen, progesterone) are made.
Bile salts are made from cholesterol and are essential for metabolism of dietary fats.
Acts as an antioxidant to protect against free radical damage
Required for proper functioning of serotonin receptors in the brain
Raised blood cholesterol levels can mean many things such as under functioning thyroid or over-exposure to free-radical containing fats (polyunsat fats). Not an increased risk of heart disease.
The majority of the information has been sourced from learning and training in education as a naturopath.
More specific information has been sourced from the book which I find an invaluable resource, 'Nourishing Traditions' by Sally Fallon. I strongly recommend this as a resource to really learn and understand food and you and how to feed yourself.