Healthy Fats for Optimal Health
by Nina Lane
Healthy dietary fat is now being recognized as an essential part of a healthy diet. That wasn’t always the case. Up until recent years, dietary fat, particularly saturated fat, has been blamed for the increasing numbers of heart disease. Thankfully, after nearly 100 years, the diet-heart hypothesis, along with its low fat–high carbohydrate diet, is losing steam. Healthy fats are now being praised for their benefits and contribution to good health. In fact, they may even be the answer to our culture’s current health crisis of rising obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Have you ever wondered how we got here?
The idea that fat is bad started out as an idea proposed by a group of researchers in response to an increasing number of heart disease cases. The diet-heart hypothesis hypothesized that dietary fat, especially of the saturated kind (due to its effect on cholesterol), was to blame. Championed by industry as well as many academics and medical professionals, this hypothesis was accepted as truth with very little questioning. It became ingrained into our cultural conversation and taken for scientific fact. It then spurred the low fat-high carbohydrate movement as we began replacing the fat in foods with sugar.
In the 1980s, we were urged to eat less fat and more grains. These changes to our eating habits were supposed to make us healthier, to lower heart disease, and so much more. We dutifully switched to putting low fat foods and healthy whole grains on our plates, including cereal, pasta, and bread. Thirty-five years later, our population has become fatter than ever. One might wonder how we have become so fat when we are not eating fat…
The truth is, when fat is removed from food, the food tastes terrible. It must be replaced with something. The answer? Sugar! The grocery stores are filled with these so-called “healthy” non-fat products, but if you check the label, it is filled with sugar or other sweeteners. In addition to the sugar we are consuming, the many servings of grains we have been urged to eat are just a few steps away from sugar. These large and frequent amounts of sugar and carbohydrates have led us down a path littered with disease.
The good news in all this is that we don’t need all this sugar to make food taste good. We can add back in the most wrongly maligned macronutrient of all time: fat. In fact, healthy dietary fats are extremely important for a healthy and satisfying life. Healthy dietary fats have many roles in the body, such as:
- Fats provide a stable, dense source of energy.
- Fats are required to make healthy cell membranes.
- Fats are essential for proper liver function, including the creation of cholesterol (essential for numerous bodily functions) and bile (essential for the digestion of fats and elimination of toxins).
- Fats are required for the formation of steroid hormones including sex hormones.
- Fats must be present in food for us to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
- Fats form a protective lining around bodily organs.
- Fats slow the absorption of food, helping to regulate appetite and energy needs.
- Fats are required for the body to inflame and anti-inflame (the body needs both to heal).
- Fats make foods taste better, providing both physiological and psychological satiation.
And it is important to note that “healthy fats” do not just include olive oil, avocados, and fish as most people have been led to believe, but also saturated fats like coconut, palm oil, lard, tallow, and fatty cuts of meat from properly sourced animals. Saturated fat is not the bad guy we’ve been led to believe and is in fact an essential form of fat required for optimal health and function.
For optimal health we should include a variety of healthy fats in our daily diets, including:
- Omega-3s (Polyunsaturated): Mackerel, salmon oil, cod liver oil, walnuts, chia seeds, herring, salmon (wild-caught), flax seeds, tuna, white fish, sardines, anchovies, natto, and pasture-raised egg yolks.
- Omega-6s (Polyunsaturated): Blackcurrant seed oil, evening primrose oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, flaxseed oil, pistachio nuts, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds.
- Omega-9s (Monounsaturated): Olives and olive oil, avocados and avocado oil, almonds and almond oil, hazelnuts and hazelnut oil, macadamia nuts and macadamia oil.
- Saturated: Fats from pasture-raised animals, organic virgin coconut oil, and organic palm oil.
We must remember that the quality of the fat does impact its benefit to our body. We should always avoid highly processed, hydrogenated or modified fats, which can promote inflammation and disease. Instead, choose polyunsaturated (PUFA) or monounsaturated fats (MUFA) for light sautéing, roasting, or salad dressing. Always use cold expeller-pressed oils, found in dark or opaque bottles as they are sensitive to light and temperature. The more unsaturated a fat is, the more fragile it is. Consequently, some of these PUFAs such as flax, hemp, pumpkin, and sunflower are extremely sensitive to heat and should never be used to cook. The great news is that the more saturated a fat is, the more stable it is, so get back to using quality butter or coconut oil for cooking.
With quality dietary fats, we can impart flavour to our food while boosting our health. It’s time to ditch those decades old low-fat high-carbohydrate diets and take steps to turn our culture’s health crisis around. Scientific evidence is growing and is undeniable. Fat is indeed an essential component of a healthy, nutrient-dense diet and is essential for optimal health.
Fotheringham, John. Big Fat Lies, The Nutritional Therapy Association.
Teicholz, Nina. The Big Fat Surprise: Why butter, meat and cheese belong in a healthy diet. Simon and Schuster, 2014.
Link, Rachel. 11 Best healthy fats for your body. www.DrAxe.com, October 18, 2018, https://draxe.com/healthy-fats/
Macronutrient guidelines, The Nutritional Therapy Association
After spending time in academics and the pharmaceutical industry, Nina Lane decided to follow her passion to truly help people live their healthiest lives. Now as a practitioner utilizing Nutritional Therapy and the latest science-based evidence, she is helping her clients find their individual paths to better health. Her goal is to educate and empower individuals to take control of their health through sustainable, real life change. You can find out more at email@example.com or by calling her at (306) 380-6174. Also see the Directory of Services ad on page 20 of the 24.6 March/April issue of the WHOLifE Journal.