Why You Should Eat Fat
By: Leah Shannon, FullWell
I know we’ve been conditioned for 30 years to think that FAT is a four-letter word. Its not. (In case you didn’t notice.) Now LARD – that’s a four-letter word.
Nature made fat for a reason. Fat makes food taste good and gives you that feeling of satiety. Think of it. You open a bag of “fat free” or “low fat” edible food-like substance* thinking it is a better option. But pretty soon you find that its hard to stop digging for more — its as if the bag-to-mouth arm movement has developed a life of its own independent of your brain saying “um, I think the 3-chip serving size has been exceeded many times over.” What’s more, food marketers often compensate for the unnatural lack of fat by piling on the salt and sugar or worse, adding artificial sweeteners and flavorings to act as surrogate for the mouth-feel and taste that fat would have provided.
Why else do you need fat? Remember elementary school biology and looking into the microscope to peek at cells? Well, these “basic functional units of life” need good fat to keep the membranes fluid, flexible and healthy. Fat also allows us to store fuel efficiently, aids with hormone function and boosts our immune system. Additionally, recent research is consistently showing (good) fat may be an effective treatment for depression.
One big problem is the way the word “fat” has become pejorative, how it has been transposed to equal obesity and “overweight.” Fat in itself is not bad. But this is not license to go Paula Deen on me. What matters is the kind of fat that you eat. At this point, allow me to present the poster children of fat consumption – Greenland’s Eskimo population. Their diet consists of about 70% fat yet they have very low rates of heart disease and diabetes. The vaunted Mediterrenean diet is not low fat and yet they also have lower rates of heart disease.
Why? Because not all fats are created equal.
There are four kinds of fat: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and trans fats. Before we talk about them, here’s a good rule of thumb to start with. When I attended a workshop with Cornell University’s Dr. Antonia Demas, she presented a visual for an easy way to tell which fat to avoid – she took a straw (to represent your artery) then took a tub of Crisco and dipped the straw in. Then she took a cup of Olive Oil and dipped the straw in. She took both straws out at the same time and of course, the straw in the processed fat was clogged and the straw in the olive oil….was not. I think that’s a pretty powerful graphic of how your body processes Crisco and other trans fats.
So first rule. No trans fats. Also called hydrogenated fats or shorterning. There is a reason why New York City banned trans fats from all its restaurants. This is Crisco in your cookies. Transfats increase your triglycerides, raise LDL or so-called “bad” cholesterol and lower HDL or “good” cholesterol. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, “eating just 4 grams of transfats a day greatly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease…promote chronic inflammation, diabetes and different forms of cancer.” How easy is it to consume 4 grams? That serving of French fries has 5.
The other types of fat to limit are saturated fats (found in butter, whole milk, cheese, fatty meats) and polyunsaturated fats (found in vegetable oils such as corn, soy, safflower, sunflower). High saturated fat diets are very strongly linked to heart disease and polyunsaturated fats promote inflammation.
So what are the phat fats? Monounsaturated fats and Omega-3s. Monounsaturated fats such as those found in olive oil have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol, so use it as your main oil for cooking and eating. Nuts are also a great source of monounsaturated fats. And we’ve heard a lot about Omega-3s – for good reason. These Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) have been shown to have “heart-protective effects”, benefits the nervous system, lowers inflammation and have also been shown to help alleviate depression. You can get Omega-3s from oily fish such as salmon (choose wild), sardines, anchovies and from plant sources such as flax, chia and hemp seeds and even purslane, that weed growing in your backyard!
*thank you Mr. Pollan
Leah Lizarondo Shannon is an Integrative Nutrition Counselor and Food Educator. She founded FullWell and works with the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine as a Food for Life instructor. More information at www.befullwell.com