2 Being Well
Digestion, Health and Nutrition

Fats and Oils

Many people have come to believe fat is bad but you should recognize that fats are an essential nutrient and play a vital role in good health. Fats and oils contribute to healthy skin and hair, regulate hormone balance, insulate internal organs, repair damaged tissue, strengthen immune function, reduce joint inflammation and promote optimal mental function. A gram of fat provides TWICE as much caloric energy as a gram of protein or carbohydrate. In fact, eating foods that assist your body in burning stored body fat will provide you with sustained energy throughout the day and decrease cravings for sweets and the simple carbohydrates found in bread and potatoes.

So how did fat get its bad reputation?

A serious misunderstanding of the role of fat in the diet caused the health care community to incorrectly link all dietary fat to serious health disorders. Because we were led to think all fats were bad, those that had important health benefits, the essential fatty acids, were excluded from the diet as well.

Saturated fats, generally found in animal and dairy products, are solid at room temperature (butter, lards, bacon grease etc.) and should be eaten sparingly.

Unsaturated fats come from plants or fish and are normally liquid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats are thought to be health enhancing and are found in oils like olive, grape seed, expeller pressed canola, walnuts, Brazil nuts and seeds from flax, pumpkins, perilla and chia. Because fats, especially unsaturated fats, can easily become rancid all fats, even oils, should be stored in the refrigerator, including nuts and seeds.

Suggested amount of dietary fats: I recommend that twenty percent of your daily calories come from desirable fat sources.

Essential fatty acids or EFAs are essential because your body cannot produce them. There are two main EFAs, linoleic acid (LA) and alpha linolenic acid (ALA). You may know EFAs as Omega-3 (alpha linolenic acid) or Omega-6 (linoleic acid) acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are more common in the American diet and found in safflower, corn, sunflower, and soybean oils as well as almonds and sesame seeds. The omega-3 fatty acids are found in flax, borage, canola and evening primrose oils, walnuts, dark leafy green vegetables and cold water fish.

EFAs produce beneficial hormone-like compounds called prostaglandins that affect the function of virtually every system in the body. A balance of Omega3/Omega6 oils promote healthy prostaglandin levels, the look good – feel good hormone-like substances responsible for cell membrane integrity and cellular communication in the brain which supports mental health. Prostaglandins regulate pain and swelling, maintain normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels and promote fluidity in nerve transmission. And they definitely play a role in many important women’s health issues.

Early sign of EFA / Essential Fatty Acids Deficiency: fatigue, poor memory, chronic skin disorders, hair loss, mood swings/depression, cardiovascular problems, immune weakness and weight gain.

Where are essential fatty acids (EFA) found?

Because the amount of EFAs needed by most people is significant, supplementation with EFA capsules is usually necessary. The richest and most beneficial EFAs come from cold water fish. The EFAs are called EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are also considered part of the Omega 3 family of oils as is the oil that is obtained from crushed flax seed (flax seed oil). Other plants such as borage and evening primrose provide a rich source of GLA gamma linoleic acid, and an Omega 6 oil. Fats should be included in each meal. Beneficial fats can be found in nuts and seeds, avocados and a modest amount of dairy. While media and science once believed that fats are making us a country of obese citizens, more current studies point to the consumption of sugar as the true villain in obesity. The new mantra is“eating fat won’t make me fat, eating sugar will.” I encourage my patients to eat about five to six hundred calories per meal with about 150-200 calories of that dedicated to food containing good fats.