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I can’t count the number of times someone has come to a cooking class and become appalled that a nutrition therapist, who advertises the class as healthy, eagerly promotes high fat foods. They, like so many, equate consuming fats with becoming fat. Or how many times someone has thought me a dietician, not a nutritionist and expected me to pay homage to the food pyramid, my plate, whole grains, dairy, low fat foods, olestra and diet soda. Nope, not me. Those are usually the same folks that want me to help them count calories and tell them exactly how many grams of fats, carbohydrates and proteins they should eat per meal for their age, sex, weight, activity level, etc. Nope… Not me. I hate counting calories and I hate measuring grams of anything. Actually, I hate measuring. I’m more of a “some of this” and “some of that” and by golly, nothing in excess kind of girl… Well, nothing in excess except happiness, flowers, seed catalogs and cats, but I digress.
I think fat is phat—alright, so I’m really not cool (or young) enough to use the word “phat,” but hopefully you will “catch my drift” as I give you the low down “skinny on fat” (and you thought it wasn’t possible to be so elusive). North Americans tend to be fat phobic when it is so important for our health. So why do I love me some fat? Let me count the ways…
If you’ve read many of my other posts, you know that I am also a huge fan of protein and without good fats (not the ones discussed further below) our body can’t use the protein, which means your high protein meals for balancing blood sugar, supporting detoxification processes or building healthy bones, muscles and tissues aren’t going to be so effective. Likewise, consuming fat without protein means the fat just gets stored instead of burned for energy or used by the brain. Fat helps us build muscle and brain power through helping us utilize protein and protein is what activates the fat. Think of them as Team Protein and Fat—Phat right?
Eat Fat to Lose the Fat
Fat is what satiates us—fat actually triggers being satisfied. This means that all those folks that are on low-fat or nonfat diets tend to be more hungry than those of us fat-mongers. The end result of all that extra hunger tends to be binging on foods, usually refined carbs. Unfortunately, unless you are extremely physically active, your body can’t use all of those carbs for fuel and instead ends up storing them as fat. This is why eating loads of veggies, fats and proteins can actually result in weight loss; whereas, a low fat diet tends to result in weight gain (of course there can be many other factors involved in the weight game too—thyroid, neurotransmitters, blood sugar, adrenals, mindset, physical activity and more).
Other fatty benefits
Fats are critical to enzyme function as enzymes are surrounded by fatty acids. Fats also help with hormone regulation and development. Fats are necessary for digestion and absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. As a result, people on low-fat or non-fat diets can become nutrient deficient. Finally, fat slows down the absorption of sugar in the blood stream which means if you are eating a sugary meal, snack or dessert—fat is your best friend. Balancing blood sugar is impossible without fat—yes, impossible.
The Fats that Warrant Phobia
Okay, so truth be told, I am not a friend to all fats… And all fats are definitely not created equal. I’m not a fan of vegetable oils, which are highly processed (canola oil is so processed and molecularly changed that pre-processing it has a different name–the rapeseed plant and good luck squeezing a drop of oil on your own out of the safflower plant), go rancid fast and promote oxidation in our bodies when we consume them (the real risk for heart disease—oxidation).
I callously and mindlessly shoot lightning bolts of big fat hate at anything containing partially hydrogenated oils (aka transfats) because only Newt Gingrich is more evil. Transfats actually disrupt all the good stuff that Omega 3 EFAs do for us (a later topic). Our brain is 60% fats and when we consume a lot of transfats, our brain replaces some of the healthy fats in our brain tissue with transfats which wreak all sorts of havoc on our ability to think, remember things and stay upbeat. Hmm… Actually, perhaps that explains how Newt Gingrich thinks… or doesn’t… I suspect he eats a lot of transfats. It would be interesting to do a study to determine if transfats make a person racist, homophobic and non-rational… What research does indicate is that trans-fats raise cholesterol, lower the “good” HDL, increase risk for atherosclerosis, lower immune function, decrease testosterone in men, are linked to problems in pregnancy, lower quality and quantity of human breast milk, increases risk for diabetes, interferes with the liver’s ability to detoxify, increases fat storage and causes many other equally sinister things (Mary Enig, 1993; Willett, 1994).
Oh and then there are the fake fats…Those fats you find peering out at you from low-fat, non-fat, highly processed foods. These fats are supposed to mimic the useful baking qualities of fat while not scaring off our fat phobic society. Don’t get me started. Okay, just for a minute… One such popular (with the wrong crowd) fake fat is Olestra (Olean). When Olestra is consumed, all fat soluble nutrients (vitamins A, D, E and K) in the body are absorbed stolen by Olestra and ushered out of the body so they can’t be used. So, it shouldn’t be any surprise that studies link Olestra to nutrient deficiencies. Also, it results in gastrointestinal problems for most people (yep, just what you want while you’re throwing back some “diet” chips and socializing at a par-tay).
What fats do I party with?
My favorites are unprocessed fats in their pure form, so animal fats, coconut, olives, nuts, seeds and avocadoes. My favorites for cooking with are the naturally saturated fats coconut oil, ghee and butter. And I love adding unrefined, cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil raw to meals after they are cooked, but never cooking with it.
I am not going to discuss Omega 3 essential fatty acids in this post, because it’s getting mighty long already, but let it be known that I’m a fan! They increase our metabolism, help us think clearer, counter depression and anxiety, help us overcome addictions and much more… Omega 3 EFAs are highest in fish and seeds.
Yes, it is possible to have too much of a good thing and people without a gallbladder or low bile production may need to watch fat intake and utilize enzymes to help with digestion (and favor coconut oil which is the only fat that doesn’t require bile for digestion so score yet another point for coconut oil). And people with heart disease or markers for it need to watch their consumption of fat and hope for a time machine so that they can go back in time and prevent oxidation, transfat consumption and too many refined carbohydrates (the real impetus for heart disease, not cholesterol—yes a whole other topic in and of itself).
When I cook (and eat), I run through a checklist in my mind… Veggies (check), protein (check) and fat (check). Of course in cooking classes, when I run through this checklist out loud and I say, “oh, we need some fat,” it startles folks, because I’m taking it to its base level and everybody knows that fat is bad—right? I guess I could say instead, “oh, we need a polyunsaturated fatty acid so that we’ll feel satiated from our meal and be able to think through how to clean up this mess.”
So, go ahead… Add that blurb of olive oil to your veggies after they are cooked, consume that coconut milk ice cream after dinner and by all means if you are going to eat dairy, please don’t eat non-fat or low fat dairy. My dears what is the purpose of consuming the dairy protein if you aren’t going to help it do its thing with fat. And you need the fat to slow down the dairy sugars in your blood stream so it doesn’t require a surge of insulin—lactose is a sugar. Plus, nonfat and lowfat yogurts usually have some pretty creepy ingredients added to them. For instance Dannon nonfat yogurt contains modified food starch, fructose (sugar), natural and artificial flavors (like there is much of a difference), preservatives, colorings and three artificial sweeteners (aspartame, acesulfame K and sucralose). Please, please, please… choose full fat yogurt instead.
And as a secret glimpse into my secret world, if somehow you are invited over, you might just catch me eating my favorite snack… coconut butter straight out of the jar, but I’m also a fan of it in mock-peanut butter cups.
So, how do you like your fat?
Want more? Learn about anti-inflammatory foods (including some of our favorite fats) in our free Anti-Inflammatory Video Training Series.