There’s a common misconception that all fats are bad for you and all fats contribute to high cholesterol and heart disease. The truth, however, is that our bodies need fat to function. Fats can help store and carry nutrients, provide protective insulation for our organs, contribute to better metabolism, form cell membrane integrity and permeability, and lessen fatigue.
The problem arises when we eat too much of the wrong fats combined with too little exercise and we don’t balance it out with the proper essential fats. The way it works is that the more fats in general we eat, the more essential fats we need to consume. If we optimize our intake of essential fats, we can indulge in saturated fats like butter, whip cream, and dark chocolate, in moderation without fear.
What are saturated fats?
Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature. Think fatty meats, cured meats, coconut oil, dark chocolate, and dairy products. These fats were traditionally viewed as inherently bad. And a diet of foods with too much saturated fat was seen to contribute to high cholesterol. I don’t mean to suggest that this is incorrect, but rather that the body’s interaction with saturated fats is a bit more complex.
Saturated fats are not necessarily bad fats. The fat you eat doesn’t automatically appear on your waist and thighs. And the simple act of consuming fat doesn’t directly raise blood lipids and cholesterol levels.
When sourced correctly and consumed in proportion to your body’s needs, saturated fats help by:
- Producing energy
- Providing building blocks for hormones
- Slowing down the absorption of our meals, hence, maintaining blood sugar levels
- Carrying fat soluble vitamins
- Converting carotene into Vitamin A
- Inhibiting the growth of yeast (candida)
- Boosting metabolism
- Boosting immunity
Perhaps most importantly, these fats are also needed for the proper utilization of essential fatty acids.
What are Essential fatty acids?
The human body has the ability to create nonessential fatty acids but it cannot create essential fatty acids. They must be provided from outside the body, directly from food sources. There’s a reason these fatty acids are considered ‘healing fats.’ They are important for a multitude of biological processes such as:
- Normal cell, tissue, gland, and organ function
- Brain cell function
- Adrenal gland function (sex glands)
- Hormone production
Essential fatty acids also help to keep cell membranes supple, which affects the rate at which we age.
Sources of essential fatty acids include fish like salmon, anchovies, sardines, and mackerel. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish also promote heart and brain health. Fatty acids can also be consumed from oysters, peanut butter, eggs, walnuts, seaweed, chia seeds, hemp seeds, tofu, canola oil, and mustard oil.
What are Bad Fats?
Is there such thing as a bad fat then? Unfortunately, yes. Bad fats are primarily trans fats which are artificially formed from hydrogenated oils. Because they are artificially manufactured, the body cannot easily digest them. These partially hydrogenated oils are artificially modified to stay solid at room temperature (imitating saturated fats). Consequently, trans fats are left stuck, making our blood hard and sticky. This is because trans fats increase triglyceride levels which in turn thicken arterial walls. They also increase inflammation and our toxic load, all leading to heart disease. They disrupt our hormone synthesis and metabolism. They may cause neural degeneration and compromise mental performance.
And worst of all, they are addictive. Trans fats tap into our brain’s reward system and alter the ability of neurons to communicate. As delicious as they are, try to avoid fried foods, fast foods, and commercially baked cakes and pastries.
Until recently, the mainstream dieting theory was that all fats are bad and should be avoided. But now there is a greater understanding of the body’s complex relationship with fats. There are definitely beneficial fats (such as the omega-3s present in fish) and there are definitely bad fats (such as the trans fats present in many processed food products). But you don’t need to fully eliminate all bad fats as long as they are consumed in moderation.