Dietary fat has been given a bad rap over the last few decades. We see low-fat this and no-fat that everywhere! However, it’s really truly difficult to overstate the importance of fat in the diet in maintaining your overall health and wellness.
Did you know that the human brain is approximately 60-70 % fat? To function optimally, your brain needs to maintain this level of fat. We are seeing today that the low-fat/no-fat recommendations and diets that gained popularity in previous decades were not such a great idea.
Eating brain-healthy foods, especially the right kind of fats, can have a tremendous impact on your brain and overall health and wellness. From brain function to metabolism to cardiovascular fitness, fat is an absolutely essential macronutrient for your entire body.
Fat is not the villain!
Science has debunked the “low-fat is best” line of thinking time and time again. In fact, research has shown that eating a low-fat diet actually increases your risk for dementia.
It’s also important to know that you don’t get fat from eating fat! High-glycemic carbohydrates are the drivers of a hormonal cascade leading this process, not fat. A high-fat diet actually keeps you full and satisfied and can even reset and speed up your metabolism.
Your body’s cellular integrity and nutrient exchange depends on fats. Your cells would literally collapse and starve to death without them. Cholesterol, unsaturated, and even saturated fats are all crucial to vital bodily processes.
Here are 13 Reasons Why You Need Healthy Fats in the Diet:
1) They Transport Cholesterol
Without fats, there would be no transport of cholesterol from the liver to all of the various tissues where it is needed to produce hormones, build and repair tissue and assist in bile production in the liver to support digestion and detoxification.
2) They Maintain Your Brain and Your Mental Health
The brain is primarily made up of fats. We need fats to stimulate the release of neurotransmitters. DHA deficiency specifically can result in impaired cognitive function, learning deficits, poor memory, depression, anxiety, ADHD, a lowered stress response and Alzheimer’s Disease.
3) They Impact Your Eye Health Too
The retina contains a higher DHA concentration than any other tissue in the body.
4) Healthy Skin and Hair Depend on Fats
Fats play a vital role in maintaining healthy skin. Fats help form the skin–water barrier which helps the skin to retain moisture and act as protective skin barrier.
5) Fats Maintain Your Body Temperature
Loss of water through that protective skin barrier elevates skin temperature and results in increased heat loss from the body. This can lead to dehydration and intolerance to cold temperatures.
6) They Help with Cell Signaling and Repair
Certain fats act as precursors to molecules called eicosanoids, which act as signaling hormones. When the body is injured or infected, these signaling molecules stimulate an inflammatory response to begin the cellular repair process or signal danger to the brain.
7) Fats Impact Your Hormones and Fertility
Fats are also necessary for both male and female fertility. They are essential for hormone production and maintenance of hormone function - ultimately triggering ovulation and sperm formation.
8) A Healthy Gut Needs Healthy Fats
Fats are crucial for maintaining the health of the gut barrier. Loss of gut barrier integrity, or “leaky gut,” is associated with a wide range of chronic inflammatory diseases.
9) They Regulate Blood Sugar
Dietary fat is involved in the regulation of blood sugar. When carbohydrates are eaten with healthy fat, the fat slows down the absorption of the carbohydrate. This slower absorption also helps to maintain steady energy for several hours after a meal, as opposed to a quick spike in blood sugar and the subsequent crash with just higher carbohydrate foods alone. Fats keep you full longer and less likely to snack between meals.
10) They Store Energy
While we might not typically think of storing energy as fat as a good thing, it’s actually a critical function of fats. Adipose (or fatty) tissue is the body’s primary means of long-term energy storage. If food becomes scarce, these fat stores can be mobilized and used to supply the body with energy. Adipose tissue also helps to insulate body organs against shock or injury.
Note that all three macronutrients—carbohydrates, protein, and fat—can potentially be converted to fat in adipose tissue when energy intake is in excess. So, while fat is the primary form of energy storage, increasing your dietary intake of fat does not necessarily lead to increased body fat.
11) You Need Fats to Absorb Essential Vitamins A, D, E, and K
Fat is necessary for the absorption of essential vitamins A, D, E, and K. Essential meals we do not make it in the body and therefore needs to be consumed in the diet. Vitamin A is a must-have for eye health, skin health, and proper immune function. Vitamin D plays roles in immune function, bone health, and mood. Vitamin E functions as an antioxidant, protecting us from oxidative damage, while vitamin K protects blood vessels from damage and helps prevent calcification of arteries, among many other functions.
12) Fats Protect against Toxicity
Fat serves as reliable buffer against a host of diseases by protecting the body against the harmful effects of environmental toxins. When a particular harmful substance accumulates in the bloodstream, the body can effectively “dilute” the toxin by storing it in fat tissue.
This helps protect organs from such substances until they can be detoxified and excreted from the body. (Side note: This is also the reason why you should always choose sources of animal fats that have been humanely raised on pasture without antibiotics or hormones, as any environmental toxins—including pesticides—that the animal is exposed to will accumulate in the fat tissue of the animal.)
13) Fats May Improve Your Heart Health
While fats have been largely vilified for their potential connection with heart disease, several types of fats have been shown to actually reduce cardiovascular disease risk. Dietary fish, EPA, and DHA have all been shown to reduce coronary heart disease mortality, and fish oil has also been shown to reduce resting heart rate, lower blood triglycerides, and prevent irregular heart rhythm after a heart attack.
Symptoms of Dietary Fat Deficiency or Insufficiency
Fats are essential nutrients with many benefits that need to be incorporated in our diets every single day for our bodies and minds to function optimally.
Symptoms are your body’s way of communicating to you that it needs attention. It is up to you to be mindful of these symptoms and give the body what it needs. Real whole food nutrition is the medicine.
Do you have:
Cracks on the skin around the fingernails
Skin rashes/eczema/dry flaky skin or dandruff
Cravings for fatty or greasy foods
Tension headaches at the base of the skull or when out in the sun
Sunburn easily or suffer sun poisoning
Fatigued muscles or stiff joints
Hormonal imbalances (irregular cycles, mood swings, etc.)
Issues with memory, attention or imbalanced mood
If you have these symptoms, ask yourself - am I getting enough fat through my diet?
If so, then ask yourself - am I digesting my fats optimally?
If you’re not digesting your fats optimally, you may ALSO experience:
Bloating and nausea after eating
Fatigue (especially after eating)
Difficulty losing weight or unexplained weight loss
Belching or gas after eating
Heartburn or acid reflux
A sense of excess fullness after meals
Fingernails chip, peel or break easily
Stomach pains or cramps
Diarrhea shortly after meals or food in the stool
If you do experience symptoms of poor digestion, there are many ways to support it naturally.
Here are 8 ways to support fat digestion:
1) First and foremost, make sure that you are eating in a relaxed environment and remember to CHEW! Sometimes we eat in a rush or are not being mindful while we eat, and all of the sudden the food is gone, and we are on our way. Take your time and savor each bite! Digestion starts in the mouth.
2) Try to get yourself to 3 meals a day without snacking and eat around the same time every day so your body gets use to a routine and prepares itself for meals and digestion. It takes about 3-5 hours for food to leave the stomach and that food needs a specific pH to breakdown optimally – if you are constantly eating something, you never give digestion a chance.
3) Slowly increase the amount of healthy fats in your diet. Fats signal the gallbladder to release bile – bile supports fat digestion. Even 1 tbsp of coconut oil a day can be helpful – but take your time boosting the amount.
4) Increase hydrochloric acid which aids in digestion. You can do this by adding lemon or lime juice to water before meals or apple cider vinegar diluted with 4 tbsp of water.
5) Utilize herbal teas that support digestion like peppermint, ginger, cardamom, chamomile, dandelion root and lemon before or after meals. Or cut a few slices of ginger root (or a tsp or 2 of minced ginger) and steep it in hot water for 5 minutes, add lemon juice and a small amount of coconut oil and drink first thing in the morning daily.
6) Improve your probiotic diversity. Your gut is like an ecosystem and to work effectively it needs a balance of healthy bacteria in order to improve your digestion of fats and other foods. You can do this by increasing fermented foods (sauerkraut, fermented veggies, kefir, coconut or whole milk yogurt). Probiotics need prebiotics to flourish as well (fiber rich foods like apples with skin, asparagus, dandelion greens, ground flaxseed, garlic, raw honey, artichoke, onions).
7) Utilize bitters (like Urban Moonshine, Herb Pharm, or CarminaGest) prior to meals and include bitter foods in the diet (asparagus, artichoke, dandelion greens, lemon, cabbage). Bitters support the production of stomach acid or Hcl to digest foods better.
8) Digestive enzymes can be helpful until you can naturally boost your digestive capacity. Your digestive enzymes should contain Ox Bile and lipase for fat digestion specifically.
So, in the future, do not allow yourself to be tricked by special marketing and low-fat, no-fat products. Your body is craving good, healthy fats! In Part 2 of this series, we will discuss the different types of fats – the good, the bad and the ugly!