There’s one food you need to add to your diet to maintain optimum health, which you might not prioritize right now. That food is high quality FAT. This may be surprising to you if you only get dietary advice from doctors who align with the United States Department of Agriculture, who don’t recognize the importance of fat. You might be wondering:
Which fats are healthy?
Which fat is good, saturated or unsaturated?
What are examples of good fats?
In this article, I’ll answer these questions and teach you how fat is an essential nutrient that can give your health a big boost!
How Fat Brought Me Back To Health
For most of my life I ate the popular high-carbohydrate (whole-grain centered), moderate protein, low-fat diet to manage my weight and sustain health, as my doctors and health magazines suggested. However, even though I was committed to what I assumed was a balanced diet, I wasn’t healthy. I had terrible digestion, I had acne, and I started to gain weight. I finally woke up and started to question this dietary approach when diagnosed with Hashimoto’s (autoimmune) thyroiditis in my early 30’s.
Since that time, I’ve made many lifestyle & dietary changes that have helped to manage symptoms. Transitioning away from vegetarianism and committing to a traditional whole food diet made the most dramatic change. This included adding more fat to my diet every day. Not just any fat, but SATURATED FAT. Yes, the kind that the American Heart Association is still blaming on clogged arteries and heart disease.
More on that in a moment, but back to my story…
In this last year, I’ve gradually increased the amount of high quality fat in my diet. It’s what my body is craving the most! Currently, I’m exploring a combo Autoimmune Paleo / Ketogenic Diet. According to my last blood panels, I’m closer to remission (and my pre-baby shape!) than ever. And by the way, my blood pressure and cholesterol are well within normal limits.
Current Research on the Importance of Fat
I’m a huge fan of fat, as are many holistically-minded people these days. There is a ton of research out there disproving that saturated fat causes heart disease.
Check out this article, where Dr. Aseem Malhotra, consultant cardiologist at London’s Lister Hospital says (based on meta-analysis, review of previous studies, and personal experience):
“This idea that dietary saturated fats build up in the coronary arteries is complete unscientific nonsense.”
And yet the AHA is holding on tight to it’s claims in a recent health report which again urges us to avoid saturated fats and replace them with unsaturated fats. They deny the importance of fat. Coconut oil in particular was targeted as being unhealthy. I will not refute this claim here myself because others have already done a beautiful job:
This thorough article on coconut oil shows us how versatile and important it is in our diets and lifestyle!
Fat is essential in our diets! Here’s more on the benefits of saturated fats in particular since their importance is the most misunderstood.
10 Important functions of saturated fats in human biology:
- Half of our cell membranes are made up of saturated fatty acids, giving them structure and integrity.
- Fat contains loads of vitamin A, D, E, and K and fat is needed to absorb these fat-soluble nutrients into the small intestine.
- Fat and cholesterol are building blocks of brain tissue and needed continuously to maintain function.
- Saturated fats protect the liver from alcohol, pharmaceuticals, and other toxins.
- Kids need fat in order to develop properly. Nutritional dwarfing and inadequate weight gain have been observed in children placed on low-fat diets.
- Researchers have shown that children oxidize fat quicker than adults and therefore need more. Even the American Family Physician (who is more in-line with government dietary suggestions) cautions against limiting fat and cholesterol in children less than 2 years old.
- Increasing dietary fat while decreasing carbohydrates (favoring low-carb vegetables instead of grains) lowers blood sugar and insulin levels and also promotes healthy weight by balancing metabolism.
- Cholesterol in foods with a lot of saturated fat is needed to make bile salts, steroid hormones (progestagens, glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids, androgens, and estrogens), and vitamin D.
- Eating fat keeps you satiated, reducing overeating. Try it and see for yourself!
- Saturated fats support healthy thyroid function by making receptors more available to use T3 thyroid hormone.
Dietary fats are definitely not equal though! The infographic below is what I know to be true about what we should indulge in and what we should avoid.
Good vs. Bad Fats
The concern with “bad” fats is that most are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which have unstable chemical structures that leave them vulnerable to damage from heat, light, and oxygen.
Damaged PUFAs = Oxidation = Inflammation = Chronic issues like cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, fatty liver disease, some cancers, and much more.
Also, PUFAs are made up of Omega-6 fatty acids. Our ancestors ate diets with 1:1 ratios of Omega-3 to Omega-6 oils. However, modern Americans typically eat greater than 10X more Omega-6 than Omega-3. The imbalance causes inflammation (and the diseases mentioned above) in addition to damaging of gut flora.
This article has a very thorough explanation about the dangers of PUFAs if you’d like to learn more.
I hope this post gives you a greater appreciation of fat in our diets and that you recognize it’s importance. And if it makes sense to you to eat more fat, then please do! Your gut, brain, and hormones with thank you! If you’re not sure how you feel about fat, saturated in particular, then I hope this post was thought-provoking and you look into it further.
I’d love to know how you feel about the role of fat in human diets and about animal vs. plant fats. Also, are the amounts/types you’re consuming working for you? Please let us know in the comments!