Boy oh boy, I just loooove that title. Fad diets have taken us on a roller coaster of confusion over the years. Low carb or high carb? Paleo or vegetarian? Perhaps the most confusion of all surrounds fat, and whether or not we should be eating it. I don’t know about you, but as a younger lady it was engrained in me to order the nonfat latte, and buy the low fat yogurt (and yet nobody ever stopped to ask why, right?). I’ve read and researched a lot about fat since those days, and my opinion has shifted, but I believe it’s still a widely misunderstood concept. Enter: my friend and fellow nutrition nerd (I hope she doesn’t mind me referring to her as a nerd), Megan.
Megan Fahey is the author of Nourish and Treasure, a blog dedicated to using whole foods to heal the body from the inside, out. She received her Master’s in Nutrition from a holistic program at Bastyr University and is currently working through a dietetic internship to become a Registered Dietitian. Megan embraces the practice of mindful eating and shares information on how health can be achieved at any size. Her goal is to help you let go of the stress of dieting and simply choose foods that help your body feel good! I’m going to let her take it from here.
Let’s talk about saturated fat. I know you’re cringing at mention of this topic, but despite popular opinion, saturated fat is not the enemy! It is necessary for energy and hormone production, composes cell membranes, and protects your organs.
Saturated fat gets its name because each carbon atom in the molecule is “saturated” with hydrogen, making it a solid at room temperature. Think coconut, beef, chicken with the skin, egg yolks, butter, and cream. When I tout the benefits of saturated fat, I am referring to consuming it through these whole food sources.
Note: beef has gotten a bad wrap in the media. I want to clarify that the nutritional quality of beef and milk largely depend on how the cow was raised. Grass-fed beef has a drastically different nutritional profile than its grain-fed counterparts (e.g. much higher levels of essential fatty acids) and it is actually beneficial to your body.
Despite all that we know about the powerful role fat plays in the body, virtually all types of foods are now manufactured in low-fat alternatives. During the same time period that low-fat has become all the rage, there has also been a rise in type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. What’s the correlation? Health experts attribute it to replacing whole foods rich in nutrients with processed counterparts higher in sugar, refined carbohydrates and commercial oils. The increase in consumption of refined carbohydrates and resulting high insulin levels is now being linked to increasing rates of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. (Fat was never really the culprit!)
So why should you re-think fat in your diet?
1. Fat is necessary for satiety.
Fat is the nutrient that triggers the brain to recognize satiety, preventing overeating. When you eliminate fat from your meals, the stomach signals the brain that it is NOT getting what it needs and you continue to feel hungry. Because those low-fat yogurts are not providing your body with any of the nutrients it actually needs, you still feel ravenous after eating one!
2. Fat plays a role in vitamin and mineral absorption.
Four of the vitamins necessary for bodily functions are only absorbed in the presence of fat: vitamins A, D, E, and K. When you drink fat-free milk containing these fat-soluble vitamins, you don’t absorb them. Without any fat, these vitamins pass out of the small intestine undigested. You may be wondering, why bother fortifying skim or 1% milk with vitamins A and D? Great question, it doesn’t make any sense.
Saturated fat is also necessary for calcium absorption. Leading nutrition researcher Mary Enig, Ph.D., author of Know Your Fats, advocated that as much as 50 percent of our fat intake come from saturated fat to ensure bone health. The long-term effect: saturated fat will help you maintain healthy bones post-menopause!
3. Feeling under the weather this winter? Fat supports immune health.
Sally Fallon, co-author of Eat Fat, Lose Fat and president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, is quoted saying, “Butterfat is an amazing fat – it has properties that support gut flora; it has properties that support your immune system; it has properties that fight cancer.” Her statement is supported by studies showing that properties of milk fat help the body fight infection. In addition, loss of saturated fatty acids in white blood cells decreases their ability to recognize and destroy foreign invaders (i.e. viruses, bacteria, and fungi). Dietary replenishment of saturated fat will help keep the immune system strong, which is especially important during this flu season.
4. Fat keeps your brain functioning and nerves firing.
Your brain is pretty much a blob of fat and cholesterol. It has become highly publicized that the unsaturated, essential fatty acids EPA and DHA (found in cold-water fish) are needed for brain and nerve function. Yet nobody seems to be talking about the fact that the majority of fatty acids in the brain are saturated! Dietary saturated fat is important to provide your brain the building blocks it needs to function. Fat also coats, protects, and insulates nerves, enabling them to send signals between the brain and the body.
5. Fat and cholesterol fuel your sex drive.
Saturated fat and cholesterol are necessary to synthesize sex hormones: estrogen, progesterone, testosterone. Hormonal fluctuation is linked to fatigue, skin issues, trouble sleeping, weight gain, PMS, and infertility. Dietary saturated fat helps the body maintain hormonal balance, which has a huge impact on overall wellbeing.
So, let’s all eat some fat!
The next time you visit the grocery store, don’t be afraid to pick up full-fat yogurt, grass-fed beef, or coconut oil. Introducing high-quality fats to your meals will help satisfy your body after eating and lead to incredible outcomes for your health.