WHAT DO FATS DO IN YOUR BODY?
Fat plays a multitude of critical roles in the body. It is incredibly important for our day to day function and preventative for many inflammatory and degenerative diseases. While anything in excess can cause problems, the conception that “fat makes you fat” is wildly misleading. Good fats are actually anti-inflammatory, good for brain function, good for hormone production/ reproductive cells and help INCREASE the speed of your metabolism if you can believe it.
Here’s why we should all just get along:
FUEL AND STORAGE
In PART ONE of this fat series, I went into detail about the structure of fats to help us understand WHY certain fats are used as energy versus others stored– check it out here if you wanna get all ~science~ on it. Fats provide us with a ton of our immediate energy – both for our brains and on a cellular level. Fats also provide us with a backup energy supply which can help us stay energized and help our blood sugar from dropping too drastically in the event that we must to go without food for any extended period of time.
The types of fats we eat play a huge role in how we FEEL on a day to day basis. Eating lots of deep fried foods or trans fats will eventually take its toll on how your cells operate in your body. When your cells are not functioning properly, we are left feeling sluggish and fatigued. Good fats such as flax oil, fish oil, hemp oil, avocado oil or olive oil help our cells to burn energy and eliminate waste properly. These fats are polyunsaturated or monounsaturated. Supplementing more of these in our diet will mean we feel more awake, alert and have more energy during the day.
This is not to say to eliminate all saturated fats from our diet, we need a balance of the two – however, the Standard North American diet is definitely imbalanced…and the scale is tipped in favour of the wrong fats.
Fats also provide us with a long term fuel storage – specifically long chain fatty acids. These help blood sugar stay balanced because they are slow-burning energy. They also provide us with a backup fuel supply for emergency situations. The problem is that our diet is very high in those slow-burning fats, yet we have an abundance of food…so there seems to be a lack of “emergency situations” for us to use these backup fuel supplies.
Choosing good fats will not result in weight gain. Over-doing it on fats that supply long term storage will. Further, most pesticides/environmental toxins are fat-soluble (meaning they dissolve into fat). If we are eating lots of long-chain-saturated fatty acids and trans fats, our bodies store these fats and then any pesticides we consume are stored within that fat. Holding onto these toxins in your body will also affect your energy levels as well as increase sensitivity to your surroundings, decrease immunity and potentially effect fertility.
This means that the TYPES of fats we eat are far more important than limiting our fat intake altogether.
REDUCE INFLAMMATION AND BLOATING
Omega 3 fats are classified as anti-inflammatory. Unfortunately, the standard North American Diet is extremely high in saturated fats and also very high in omega 6 (which is in things like vegetable oils). Omega 6 generally is a good thing for our bodies. However, when consumed in excess, can be converted in our bodies to arachidonic acid which is a pro-inflammatory substance. Omega 3 on the other hand is converted into EPA and DHA which are anti-inflammatory in all of our organs – even our brains! Therefore, foods high in Omega 3 are extremely powerful anti-inflammatory substances.
Of course, we need a balance. An ideal ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 in our diets looks something like 3:1 – Currently, our ratio in the Standard North American diet looks like anywhere from 20:1 to 50:1. To further this problem, we are eating tons of inflammation triggering substances: Meat and Dairy which contain Arachidonic Acid, processed and refined wheat, lots of dairy, vegetable oils and sugars.
Things like Hemp and Chia seeds have a good balance of Omega 6 and Omega 3 within them – much closer to that “ideal ratio” we want to achieve. It is important to try to rebalance the types of fats we are eating and get a good spread of saturated, unsaturated, Omega 6 and Omega 3. You don’t need to replace the meat on your plate with a pile of chia seeds, but watch the ratios of what you’re eating and try to favor/add more of those anti-inflammatory fats into your diet.
The saying “you are what you eat” has never been more accurate. The types of fats we eat actually dictate how our cells function – most importantly, our cell membranes. If you are only eating saturated and long chain saturated fatty acids, those are all your body has to work with to build cell membranes. The protective structures which help our cells absorb water, eliminate waste, absorb cholesterol from the blood and protect what’s inside. When our cells are absorbing/eliminating properly, our energy is higher. We are burning fats as energy properly and eliminating what we don’t need. This results in high energy levels, proper brain function and a smoothly operating nervous system. If we are eating high amounts of saturated fats, our cell membranes too become saturated and a little blocked or impermeable. They are not able to absorb water or cholesterol from the blood (often resulting in high blood-cholesterol) and are not able to eliminate waste (resulting in inflammation, sluggishness and fatigue). This is why good fats make our bodies function better and fuel us with energy on a cellular level. A good spread of healthy fats results in higher energy and brain function.
HELP BRAIN FUNCTION
Good fats help protect our brain and nervous system as well as helping them function. The “Myelin Sheath” is a protective insulation layer that surrounds our entire nervous system and is both made up of fat components as well as improved by them. Fats help with body signaling and proper nervous system function. Further, deficiencies in Omega 3 present themselves primarily as brain malfunctions such as weakness, decreased learning ability, motor incoordination, behavioral changes (especially in kids), tingling sensations in arms and legs (which has to do with poor circulation), and the list goes on. Therefore, it stands to reason that healthy fats both protect and improve our brain and nervous system function – fats like fish oil are often deemed “brain healthy” for this reason. They are high in Omega 3 which significantly improves brain function and helps to ensure our nervous system is in tip top shape.
WHAT TYPES OF FATS SHOULD I EAT?
Like we’ve talked about before, since fats have so many different functions in our bodies, it is important to get a good spread of them. Our goal should be to rebalance the types of fats we’re getting and favor those that help our bodies’ performance rather than impede them.
We can get good fats from animal sources occasionally such as lean meats, fish, eggs and good quality dairy products (goats milk products are a great source and are often easier to digest) and we can get fats from plant sources like nuts, seeds and vegetables. Good fats to use in our diets include a spread of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and some saturated fats. Fats to focus on are things like olive oil, avocado oil, flax oil, hemp oil, fish oils*, cold water fish, nut and seed oils (like walnut or pumpkin seeds), coconut oil and butter.
Restoring a balance of healthy fats in our diets will reverse a lot of the damage that the Standard North American Diet has done to our perception of fats and the types we surround ourselves with. You know what? Scratch that – not “surround ourselves with” but rather, “make up ourselves with” – I think it’s safe to say we should care about what makes up our bodies, no?
Check back for part three where I shed some light on the dark and scary food pyramid!
- I wanted to make one final note on fish oils – since our waters are unfortunately very polluted, bigger fish have more time and space to accumulate biochemical waste and mercury. The best types of fish oils come from smaller oily fish like sardines, anchovies, mackerel etc. This being said, most fish oil supplements are heavily processed to remove all waste and heavy metals and the standards are very high. For dietary consumption however, try to eat smaller organic fish.