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The Truth About Fat

February 6, 2011


I’ve got your attention now. It’s hard to even mention the word without someone listening. We’ve been taught that this three-letter word should only appear with the word ‘no’ or ‘low’ in front of it. Everywhere I look I see how I should be eating a low- or no-fat diet; how my life depends on my being able to cut fat out; and how I will just simply be a more handsome, taller, and better person if I reduce the amount of fat I eat.


Here’s the issue I have with this thinking: it leaves out important facts. Fat is not a problem. By itself, it’s no more of a problem then any other source of nutrition that we put in our bodies. It’s how we get the fat that’s the problem. Think of this example. Alcohol by itself is not a problem. And many, many people drink alcohol with no negative repercussions. Heck, in small amounts certain types can actually be good for you. But when we drink too much alcohol, then there’s a problem. For example, a glass of red wine has many health benefits and has been shown to reduce inflammation (the importance of which we will see below), however a bottle of wine would not provide more of the same benefits, but could actually do harm. The same goes for fat.

Perhaps a quick and dirty primer on fat is in order. There are essentially two types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. Too much saturated fat is bad, as is not enough unsaturated. And that’s the issue in America. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, Americans eat way too much saturated fat, which usually comes in the form of dairy, red meat, and even some types of plants. Conversely, we don’t eat enough unsaturated fat, which usually comes in the form of nuts, seeds, and oils.

One reason that having too much saturated fat is bad is that our bodies already produce it. In fact, we produce all that we need. The other reason that it’s bad is that it contributes to a whole host of illness and diseases including heart disease.

There is, actually, one more type of fat: trans fats. This is the worst of the worst. If we were to make an analogy its sort of like being on the top 10 most wanted list. But just what makes it so bad? These are man-made fats that not only raise total cholesterol (as does saturated fat), but also LDL levels (again, as does saturated fat) AND at the same time lowers HDL levels (which saturated does not). For the most part, these fats do not occur in nature. These types of fats typically occur in foods like processed, pre-packaged snacks, baked goods, chips, and icings, and are added to increase food stability and shelf-life. These are also the fats that are most likely to cause unhealthy weight gain.

So, where does that leave us. The bottom line is that we are made of fat. No matter what your BMI or body fat percentage is, you are made of fat. Every cell in your body is encapsulated with fat. Our brain is fat. We need it to survive. Our organs are all protected by it. And it affects how we feel. It is believed that depression is caused, at least in some part, by inflammation. A diet high in saturated, trans fats, and unsaturated omega-6s can cause and/or aggravate inflammation in the body; whereas a diet high in most other unsaturated fat, which includes olive oil, avocados, and omega-3s, helps to lower inflammation.Additionally, in study after study, researchers have found direct links between inflammation and depression. For example, in one study researchers looked at a population in Spain (were they adhere mostly to the famous Mediterranean diet) and found that those who consumed the highest amounts of trans fats were up to 48% more likely to develop depression. If that isn’t enough to get you out of the fast food line, I don’t know what is! In case you actually needed more reason then there’s this: while trans fats are more likely to cause weight gain, most unsaturated fats actually contribute to weight loss. As a reminder, the key is moderation.

With these things mind, here are 5 of the best fats for your body and brain

1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

This is an amazing source of omega-3s. Not all olive oil is created equal, however, and just because it has the words ‘olive oil’ on it, doesn’t mean it’s actually good for you. One reason is that when olive oil is heated, some of the good stuff gets destroyed. The good stuff includes vitamins, essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and other nutrients like phoyphenols. The key here is to buy high quality, cold-pressed, extra virgin, and organic, if possible, olive oil.

2. Avocados

Here is another example of how fat has given a great food a bad name. Avocados are high in fat. That’s true. However, they are high in monounsaturated omega-9 fats. These fats are the ones found in olive oil and macadamia nut oil. These sorts of fats have been linked to a reduced risk of cancer and diabetes. Further, avocados are a great source of fiber, potassium, folate, vitamin A, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin.

3. Nuts, nut butters, seeds and seed butters

Quality and variety are key here. Not all butters are the same. While this is a broad category that includes all sorts of amazing foods like sunflower and pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and pecans, remember that most nuts and seeds have amazing properties, including helping with prevention of heart disease and relaxing constricted blood vessels. In addition, nuts like walnuts contribute omega-3s to a diet, and nuts like almonds can contribute to weight loss.

4. Coconut oil

Coconuts have a bad rap. Here’s the deal. Coconut oil is high in saturated fat, in fact it is almost 100% saturated. However, these fats are of a kind called medium-chain triglycerides. These kinds of triglycerides are known for their antimicrobial, antibacterial, and antiviral functions. Also, coconut has a high smoke point which makes it great for sauteing. This is also helpful because at high heat coconut won’t loose it’s nutrients like other oils, such as canola.

5. Eggs

Eggs have been a huge victim of the anti-fat craze. Because egg yolks are known to be a fat source, products all over the grocery store now carry the claim to be just egg whites. But if you only eat egg whites you will also miss out on all the good stuff in the eggs. First, eggs are one of the best sources of protein on the planet (better then milk, beef, whey, and soy). Second, eggs are a great source of choline, which helps to prevent the build up of cholesterol. And here’s the kicker: it’s found in the yolk. And lastly it has been proven to protect against breast cancer and help with eye health. The key is to make sure the eggs you eat are organic and free-range.

So, how do you go forward? The first thing you do is include more of the above fats and oils in your diet. Second, cut out those processed and prepackaged foods. They create a toxic environment in your body that will negatively affect your physical and mental health. And lastly, enjoy what you eat! After all, you are, and feel, what you eat.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 7, 2011 3:51 pm

    Great post on fats. When using coconut oil, look for virgin coconut oil that isn’t partially hydrogenated. The New York Times did a good story on the topic this past week:

    • The Therapist in the Kitchen permalink*
      March 7, 2011 4:55 pm

      Hi, thanks for the comment. Please continue to read and make suggestions if you have any. – The therapist in the kitchen

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