Did you know that every cell in your body is surrounded by a membrane that is made of approximately 50% fat and that is absolutely essential to proper cell function?
The concept of dietary fat has been a tumultuous one over the years. When I was growing up, it was all about eating less fat and believing that eating fat made you gain...fat. Currently many people are adhering to the opposite notion and eating a high fat diet known as the ketogenic diet. And then, there are those who simply continue on continuing on, eating whatever ratio of fat they please and disregarding all of the tumult regardless.
But what is really the case when it comes to eating dietary fat?
As with many diet-related queries, this is a complex topic. Also, as always, each person is biochemically unique which means that one way of eating may be excellent for you and dreadful for your neighbor. However, there are some excellent points to be made in this hotly debated topic.
Dietary fat can do your body a world of good.
Consider this, your brain is made of about 70% fat, the main form of which is found in a fatty covering that insulates your neuron axons (the "tail" coming off the body of the neuron cell) and is called a myelin sheath. You may have heard of this, as it is attacked and degraded in patients with multiple sclerosis which results in a myriad of problems. As mentioned before, your body's cells are protected and surrounded by a double layered membrane that is constituted of about 50% lipids, or fats. Essentially, your body needs fats to operate as a healthy, vibrant organism. Not only this, but fats are packed full of more energy than protein or carbohydrates. They can be a cleaner burning fuel for your body. And they sustain appetite longer than sugars.
This aspect of appetite sustenance is a great one for your pocketbook. Getting hungry less often means eating fewer meals, which can equate to less grocery money every month. Also, because dietary fat tends to be more satisfying and for a longer period than carbs, you may find yourself snacking less as well. This is key to more than just finances. Between meals, your body instigates what is called the Migrating Motor Complex (MMC in your intestines. Essentially, this is your gut performing housecleaning in your digestive tract and it is incredibly anti-inflammatory as well. You need this MMC as part of daily life. And yet, it depends on being in a fasted state. If you graze throughout the day, the MMC cannot function properly and you lose out on its health benefits.
Another benefit to consider is that consuming fat with a meal aids in modulating blood sugar levels during and after eating. A meal with just carbs or predominantly simple sugars can upset blood sugar levels compared to a meal that includes fat and protein. And a meal with fat can keep blood sugar levels more stable after eating to help with hypoglycemia, the "hangry," and the inflammatory physiological consequences of having jacked up blood sugar.
Lastly, fat tastes good. I can toss all the science in the world at you, but eating is always more than just charts and numbers. What we eat impacts and interacts with our relationships, our beliefs, our emotional and mental well-being, and much more. Never underestimate the power and benefit of eating "healthy" foods for more than their health benefit: color, texture, taste, smell - these are all important too!
Butter, cream, dark chocolate, red meats, fatty meats, avocados, nuts, olives, coconut...I will never again understand why you can go to the store and buy "reduced fat" products. It degrades the taste and, personally, makes my day a little bit worse. Think of the foods you love, they are likely a combination of sugar and fat. Sugar is an instant fix that your body loves like an addiction, but fat is a powerful pull as well. Your body knows it needs fat. It also knows that eating fat doesn't make you fat. Eating excess sugars, having inflammation, having health conditions: These can contribute to weight gain and weight loss resistance. Fat however, isn't really the culprit.
But are some fats still bad for me?
I'm glad you asked.
Of course we are still learning about fats and the research is still developing as we have this chat. That's the nature of science and the beauty of being able to learn more and more about how nutrition affects our bodies. However, we do still know quite a bit. For instance, saturated versus unsaturated fats can be viewed from the lens of inflammatory processes. Consuming saturated fats can instigate a bit of an inflammatory response from your immune system and can actually support you if you are fighting off a pathogen. However, this isn't cause to sound the alarms and never eat saturated fats because they make you inflamed. Rather, it is about balance. Only ever eating saturated fat would be extreme and probably a poor choice, but incorporating saturated fats and animal fats into your diet is a great choice for a well-rounded diet.
Another issue with fats is that toxins tend to be stored within fatty tissue. Thus, eating a steak that came from a cow raised in a concentrated animal feeding lot, was pumped full of antibiotics, was weak and sick, and surrounded by a less than hygienic environment is an animal whose fatty tissue will likely be more saturated with toxins than a cow that was raised on pasture on a family farm that employed natural methods and slaughtered the cow humanely and with no trauma. This is why you must know where your food came from or, at the least, how it was raised.
This point extends to vegetables as well. Did you know that root vegetables tend to store certain toxins such as metals? Thus an organically grown root vegetable in your home garden compared to one grown in Mexico with pesticides and chemicals allowed in production that are banned in the United States is probably a better option. But I digress...Demonizing certain fats over others may not be a great idea. Look at what the fat does in your body, use balance, and enjoy your food. This is a common and crucial theme in nutrition. Learning how your meals impact your body is far more important than simply categorizing one fat as bad and another as good. Part of the balance of nutrition is using food as a tool, as a mouthful of information for your body, and using that tool and that information to encourage and support health.
Eat fat. Your brain will thank you. Your metabolism will probably wish you well. You may find yourself feeling less cranky during the day or other enjoyable changes. Give it a whirl. You may be surprised.