Just say the word “fat” and your upper lip tends to curl, and the expressive-wrinkle space between your eyebrows will crease just a bit. The very utterance of the word makes most of us frown with distaste…Well here it is, the good, the bad, and the ugly of fats.
Let’s face it. In today’s culture, too many of us are overweight (or more correctly, over fat), and too few of us really understand why. This unfortunate scenario has resulted in the vilification of this peculiar – and not necessarily malevolent – nutrient.
Often perceived to be the other metabolic bad guy, fats are found in nearly every food we eat. Fat molecules are made up of smaller parts, called fatty acids. They are one of the three basic nutrient components of food – the other two being proteins and carbohydrates. Fats contain more than twice the calories per gram when compared to proteins and carbohydrates. Each gram of fat contains 9 calories of energy, whereas proteins and carbohydrates each contain approximately 4 calories. For this reason, it’s most likely that fats have earned their bad reputation (Not to mention the simple truth that fats are called, well, “fat”). There are however, some redeeming characteristics of this often misunderstood nutrient, and some very important, even critical, functions of fats.
When choosing fats, look for foods, including salad oils, cooking oils, and “meat” proteins (such as, turkey and chicken) that are high in mono or poly “unsaturated” fats, and avoid, as much as practical, foods that are high in saturated fats (such as, red beef). Consuming saturated fats can contribute to elevated cholesterol levels and heart disease. Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels, do not store as easily as body fat, and are found in a liquid state at room temperature. Saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature. Generally speaking, fats found in animal products are higher in saturated fats. Fats from plants and fish are primarily unsaturated.
Trans fats are simply unsaturated fats from vegetable oils that have been made “saturated” in the laboratory. This process enhances shelf-life and allows for better “processing” for use in fast foods or pre-packaged, prepared foods. Trans fats have been shown to contribute to heart disease, to negatively impact cholesterol levels, and may contribute to obesity more than other fats. It’s best to avoid foods high in trans fats all together.
Fats contribute to a number of biologically valuable processes within the body. In addition to being a concentrated source of energy, fats contribute to the formation of hormones and aid in the absorption of some specific vitamins.
Fats contribute to the structural and functional integrity of all the cell membranes in our bodies and also make up a valuable part of our bodies’ nerve tissue. Fats help with the growth of hair and skin and contribute to healthy tissue formation in the body. As an alternative energy source to carbohydrates, fats help stabilize blood-sugar levels, and help to regulate insulin response, thereby contributing to the utilization of stored body fat for energy, which is critical for fat-loss. Possibly most importantly, fats make food taste good!
Essential fatty acids (EFA’s) are specific components of fat molecules that are not manufactured in the body and must be obtained from the foods we eat (thus, they are called “essential”). These specialized, very important fatty acids, the Essential Fatty Acids, are classified as Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.
The EFA’s specifically are responsible for the majority of the important biological fat-functions in the body. EFA’s play a role in brain and heart health, hormone formation, and also contribute to the health of the reproductive, nervous and immune systems. Foods high in essential fatty acids include flax, hemp, salmon, mackerel, avocadoes, unrefined olive or canola oils, walnuts, and Brazil nuts, as well as many “green” or plant-based supplements.
Because fats make up a significant portion of the functional “grey matter” in our heads, fats are actually critical to normal, healthy brain function. In fact, fatty acids are the key building blocks to brain tissue. The protective fatty layer that surrounds all of the nerves of our body and comprises the majority of the actual brain matter, myelin, is made primarily from Omega-3 fatty acids. It’s been shown that increasing your intake of Omega-3 fatty acids can significantly contribute to brain health.
A lack of Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet can lead to slower brain communication, has been linked to certain health issues related to brain health and function, and has been possibly linked to certain neurodegenerative disorders that affect a large number of people.
So, as you can see, fats are not all the “bad” they are cracked up to be. Science has shown that eating moderate amounts of the right kind of fats can actually do wonderful things for your body, inside and out. Choosing the right foods, in the proper amounts, has been shown again and again to stave off disease and improve the quality (and quantity) of your everyday life. With a healthy heart and a healthy brain in the balance, knowing the essentials of fats and fat intake is just good sense.
Did you know that Superfood Protein Smoothie is a great source of vitamins and minerals, with NO trans fats. What’s more, the minimal fat in Superfood Protein Smoothie comes from Coconut Oil (4g) – in the form of Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT’s), which research indicates are metabolized differently and can have therapeutic effects on many bodily processes.
Youdim, K.A., Martin, A., Joseph, J. Essential fatty acids and the brain: possible health implications. International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience 18: 4-5; 383-99. July 2000
Calon, F.,Cole, G. Neuroprotective action of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids against neurodegenerative diseases: Evidence from animal studies. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids 77: 5-6; 287-93. Nov-Dec 2007