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Understanding dietary fats

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‘Fat makes you fat’ is way too simple a rule of thumb. In fact, your body needs certain dietary fats to function properly—and even to burn fat!

SUMMER brings sunshine and a renewed obsession with getting skinny. It seems that help is everywhere you look, especially in the supermarket. The solution, we are told, is as simple as taking the fat out of our diets and replacing it with grains and fruit.

But for a society obsessed with being skinny, many of us are fat. In fact, our low-fat, no-fat, on-the-side, hold-the-fat-at-all-costs society is obese! It’s time to get real, get healthy and get back to fat!

The whole “fat makes you fat” idea came from Ancel Keys, a brilliant scientific mind who fudged his own data. Keys went to 22 countries with the help of millions of government dollars to prove his theory that eating fat must make you fat. And sure enough, he did find a correlation between a diet high in fat and being overweight—but only in seven countries.

What about the other 15 countries? Well, the data showed no correlation between a diet high in fat and being overweight. In fact, the data showed that countries such as France, which had high fat diets, actually had low rates of obesity.

But the money had already been spent and industry had already begun removing the fat and manufacturing low-fat, no-fat products. That was in the 1980s. Since then, obesity rates have skyrocketed. So if you want to get slim and healthy this summer, it’s time to get back to butter!

First, eating fat helps you burn fat. When you restrict fat intake, your body thinks it’s starving. So it goes into survival mode and stores the fat you do eat—and everything else too. Your body has a sixth sense for famine so when you start eating “lean” it thinks that food is scarce. So it holds onto everything you put in your mouth to build a reserve. Fat also contains an enzyme called lipase that helps you break down the fat in your food. But lipase also works on body fat, so the fat in your food gets broken down and burned for energy—and so does the fat around your belly.

Second, people evolved on a high-fat diet. Fossils show that our ancestors had diets that were made up of as much as 60% fat, most of it saturated! This makes sense. If you had to hunt and kill an entire animal, would you only eat the parts without fat? In fact, they ate the fattiest parts—the liver, heart, brain and adrenal glands—first because they contained the most nutrients

When you restrict fat intake, your body thinks it’s starving. So it goes into survival mode and stores the fat you do eat— and everything else too. Your body has a sixth sense for famine so when you start eating “lean” it thinks that food is scarce. So it holds onto everything you put in your mouth to build a reserve.

Third, the body needs fat to survive. Vitamins such as A, D, E, K are fat soluble. This means they must be eaten with fat in order for your body to absorb them. So if you cover your greens with fat-free dressing or spread margarine on your sandwich, you deprive yourself of those vitamins. Not to mention that if you don’t know what’s on the label of one of those, your body doesn’t either. Fats also fight inflammation and improve brain function.

Finally, you need saturated fat! It protects your joints, organs and nervous system. It provides a cushion from physical impact such as exercise or stress. Is has anti-microbial properties to fend off viruses that could attack your vital organs. And it insulates the neurons that carry messages from your brain to the rest of your body.

If you need another reason to put the fat back in your diet, think of how good it tastes. Fat provides taste and texture that allow you to experience your food. And fat fills you up. So you only need a little bit to feel full and you will eat less. Have you ever read the ingredients on one of those slimmed-down products? If you don’t know what they are, think of how confused your body is.

Quick guide to fats

The brain is mostly fats—saturated fat! So why are you scared of it? Saturated fats protect the wiring inside your brain and allow signals to travel faster. Saturated fats also provide the structure for every cell in your body. Fat stabilizes blood sugar. Fat provides the raw materials for your hormones (so guys, if you want to increase your sex drive or the size of your biceps, eat saturated fat!). Saturated fat increases your testosterone production. Fat adds taste, texture and aroma—it is fundamental to creating the experience of eating.

These are referred to as “heart healthy” because they lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. They are appropriate for light cooking or using raw. Examples: Olive, avo- cado, sesame, duck fat.

These are more susceptible to rancidity than monounsaturated fats. Examples: Walnut, fish, grapeseed, corn. They need to be stored in the fridge in a dark bottle. Never cook with them or leave the bottle open because the oxygen is enough to cause rancidity.

Omega-3 fatty acids: 
These are necessary for human health, but you have to get them through food such as fatty fish, seal oil and some plants and nut oils. They play
a crucial role in brain function and reduce inflammation; they may lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and arthritis.

These are very stable and able to withstand high heat. Examples: Animal fat and tropical oil.

These are chemically altered to the point that they bear no resemblance to anything found in nature! Examples: Partially hydrogenated oils like shortening. Vegetable fats are injected with hydrogen under high heat and high pressure. This chemical saturation is so potent that it is impossible to break apart so it stays in your body. Trans fats are also harmful because they lower HDL (good cholesterol) and raise LDL (bad) cholesterol. In 2002, the Institute of Medicine concluded that trans fats are unsafe in any amount. The best way to avoid them is to only eat things that Mother Nature made.

Animal fat: 
Many contain monounsaturated fats. Organic, grass-fed animals are the healthiest of the herd. Grass-fed animals contain CLA, a fatty-acid that helps you burn fat and K2 (a “super-vitamin” that builds bones and teeth, protects skin cells, works as an antioxidant and boosts the immune system).

More Inspiration: Check out this insightful article on why seeds are so good for you!

Author: Jennifer Graham is a HUM@Nmedia writer. She enjoys exploring the relationship between people and the body. She is a regular contributor to both our print and digital issues.

Goodlife Fitness
Goodlife Fitness
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