For too many years fat has had a bad rap, and although its now common knowledge that we shouldn’t be choosing ‘low fat’ anything or margerine et al, there is, I believe still not enough emphasis put on the importance of good fats for our health and wellbeing. I asked Naturopath Enid Taylor from The Taymount Clinic for Digestive Health to write this for us.
Cell membrane health
Before we talk about fats in the diet, we need to talk about fats in the body and where they are found – not just around our middles or thighs and bottom…our brains are made up of 60% fatty substances; our nerves are sheathed in a white fatty insulating layer called myelin which is mostly made of fat; our hormones all cascade in a flowchart of biochemistry from the master substance which is cholesterol (!). No fats in the body – would mean no brains, no nerves, no hormones.
1 – Biochemical cascade flowchart – Cholesterol is where it all starts
Ref: Primal Rejuvenation
All our cells – from liver to skin to brain, are little leaky bags of fluid with little letterboxes posted around the cell skin, or membrane. These membranes are made up of lipids (fats) all lined up in rows like soldiers and bound with phosphates into a phospho-lipid layer. No need to remember that, just that the membrane depends on fat for its integrity and the health of its little letterbox portals through which it is fed and which it delivers its primary function materials. When the fats are damaged, insufficient or missing, the cell membranes start to fail and the letterboxes can become jammed closed or open. This is disease on a cellular level and can include things like ME, where the battery packs in the cell, the mitochondria, are not able to function properly.
So without the right fats, no cells in our bodies can be relied upon to work correctly. Our bodies need certain fats – called Essential fatty acids – as it cannot make these fats by itself. The word Essential is a bit of a clue here. So without the right fats, we cannot function.
Cholesterol has a particularly bad reputation and most of it is undeserved. For example, picture scenes in life where things go wrong: car crash (loads of police around); break-in and robbery (loads of police on the scene); bank raid (loads of police in attendance)…. It seems that the common denominator in every crisis is the police. They are found at every crisis, so if we eliminate the police we will stop the problems, right? Cholesterol is like the body’s police force. It shows up wherever there is damage and tries to smooth it over like a band aid. Instead of blaming the response for the problem, we need to look at the cause of the problem and this is nearly always some form of initial damage due to inflammation (some inflammation is your healing response but we are experiencing inflammation of a major and prolonged scale due to lifestyle choices and bad food choices)
Smoking, alcohol, stress, toxic environment all contribute to long term (chronic) unremitting inflammation and here are 6 foods that can cause inflammation:
● Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. Table sugar (sucrose) and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) are the two main types of added sugar in the Western diet. …
● Artificial trans fats. …
● Vegetable and seed oils. …
● Refined carbohydrates. …
● Excessive alcohol. …
● Processed meat.
SO WHY DID WE DECLARE WAR ON FAT?
In the mid 1970s, an American doctor called Ancel Keys, declared that dietary fat was a causative factor in heart disease – at that time, he failed to understand the full complexity of the role of fats in the human body and ignored the more salient pointers that sugar was to blame – and fats were vilified. And so, the war on fat began.
WAR IS DECLARED ON FAT…
Since American Doctor, Ancel Keys, declared that dietary fat was a causative factor in heart disease back in the seventies, there has been the common misconception that fats are the route of all evil.
Check out You Tube for a street scene in London in 1967 . Random filming of passers-by showed the population was skinny, breasts were tiny and there wasn’t an obese person on the street. Check out footage of Woodstock 1969 and Isle of Wight Festival in 1969 – two iconic gatherings of young people – and you will see long, skinny limbs; small breasts, flat stomachs, lean youths. These music festival films are particularly useful as most of them were shedding clothing with delightful abandon, so treating us to a great view of their slim bodies!
What have we done since 1970 that has changed the size and shape of our entire population? We declared war on fat. This is where the low-fat regime began. Why did nobody complain or counter the vilification of fat?
There is no Fat Marketing Board, Fatty Foods Council, Fat Packers Association… unlike the Meat Marketing Board, the Dairy Council, Flour Millers Association, there was no Professional Association or body to counter the criticism of dietary fats and the accusations that fat alone was responsible for growing numbers of heart disease cases.
The case against fats grew in momentum and reach; cholesterol was then identified as a key component in this mounting danger to public health. This is not the place to go into the cholesterol debate, but it is relevant to mention here that our brains are nearly 60% white cholesterol-type fat – hormones are made from cholesterol – nerves are insulated with white myelin sheaths, all made from fat.
Without fat, we cannot function.
There are elements of fats that the body needs and cannot make for itself – these are called Essential Fatty Acids – or EFAs. This is a very complex subject and to keep it simple, we need to eat good quality, specific fats, to keep our brains, nerves and hormones healthy. For more on the cholesterol argument, see an excellent book by Dr Malcom Kendrick
So since the mid 1970s, we have been coached and brainwashed to jump aboard the low-fat campaign. We have had 45 years of low-fat eating and low-fat products flooding the marketplace.
I Can’t Get No Satisfaction
But when you remove the fat, you remove the mouth-feel, the satiety (the fill-you-up factor) and the nutrient value of the food. Manufacturers have replaced this with non-nutritive gums and pastes and filled the flavour void with sugar, or worse, chemical sweeteners.
So we have a marketplace full of low-fat or zero-fat foods and everything naturally occurring in nature with abundant levels of natural fats have been condemned; think egg yolks, crackling, fatty meats, full fat yogurts, cheese, etc.
How is that working out for us all…?
Levels of obesity have sky-rocketed. We are now the fattest we have ever been in the history of keeping historical records. Obesity is a global problem. Overweight is the new normal.
Type II Diabetes has become so common we no longer call it “Maturity Onset” diabetes, it doesn’t wait for you to mature, it strikes younger and younger people.
We have lower levels of fertility than ever in the history of human reproduction;
Mental health issues are becoming distressingly common in all age groups…the list goes on.
It doesn’t take a huge leap of logic to associate the lowering of good quality fats (we are talking about butter, coconut oil, olive oil, oily fish with the increase in diseases in systems associated with the protective nature of EFAs.
The naming and shaming of saturated fats as being the real culprit, has led to us not wanting to use lard, butter and animal-based fats in our cooking. Certainly the intensely-farmed, antibiotic and hormone-tainted meats are to be avoided as the toxins will gather in the fat where the animal safely parks the toxins to keep itself alive. So fats from badly treated animals is indeed a bad product.
But if you seek out good quality, organic produce, the fats are safe and essential to our wellbeing.
FATS – THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY...
Animal fats are only ok if the animals are ok in the first place. Intensely-farmed, distressed and sick animals are never going to make good, healthy meat for human beings. Animals are given hormones to accelerate growth, antibiotics to ward off disease caused by being in unnatural living conditions. Buy artisan-farmed meat – a little goes a long way, so it may be expensive, but only have small portions, full of flavour and nutrients. Buy wild caught fish, not farmed fish. Get used to the idea that quality is more important that quantity and fill up on vegetables, meat is your garnish.
Butter (a whole discussion needed for butter) is formed from butyric acid (this is the fundamental material that helps to feed the cells that form your colon wall and help prevent colon cancer). Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which include butyrate, are produced by beneficial bacteria in your colon that feed on, or ferment prebiotics, which are plant products that contain adequate amounts of dietary fibre. These SCFAs benefit the colonocytes (cells of the colon) by increasing energy production and may protect against colon cancer by inhibiting cell proliferation.
I could give you an example of how full fat foods are naturally satisfying. I was once at a slimming club (yes, I fell down that rabbit hole) and fat-free flavoured and sweetened yogurts were ‘free food’, you could have as many as you wanted to. So after dinner, I would devour one and then another and even with my belly bulging with the physical volume of food, I was still insanely in need of something else, so ate another. I think 4 was my record. Conversely, imagine sitting down with a small pot of full fat, creamy, thick natural yogurt (German supermarkets are good for these, in glass jars!). The first spoonful is a little sharp-tasting but your palette soon gets used to it when it experiences the thick, creamy, smooth mouth feel of the natural fats. Eaten slowly and languorously, this is a taste and sensation indulgence. Usually, one is enough. The fats hit the digestive tract and trigger the release of a hormone called CCK (cholecystokinin) which tells the body you have had enough to eat, it switches off your hunger. The more fat you eat, the more this hormone switches off your appetite. It satisfies your hunger in other words.
We are eating low-fat foods and never getting satisfied, so we are snacking and nibbling and hunting and gathering more and more as we are never hitting that CCK spot. Nutritionists will all agree that we have a population who are over-fed but under-nourished and quite likely feeling hungry, or peckish most of the time.
We need essential fatty acids to use in our bodies and we need dietary fats to source these from. Coconut oil is a saturated fat but it is a good source of Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs): These are harder for the body to convert into stored fat and easier to burn off than long-chain triglycerides (LCTs). Supporters of coconut oil attribute many of its benefits to the high MCT content. It is stable at high temperatures and excellent for frying, even deep frying.
Extra virgin olive oil has tremendous benefits in the body and should be used where cold oils are needed like dressings. For further information, you need to read several sources as this is a controversial area and many nutritionists and dieticians are not updating heir approaches when research moves in a new direction .
Omega 3 and 6 Supplements
When choosing to supplement, a word or caution. Omega 3 vs Omega 6 – many column inches are written about Omega fats and in particular the 3 : 6 balance.
Many of us have read all this stuff and have determined that we are deficient in Omega 3 oils and turn to fish oils to supplement. The problem here is that over-supplementing can cause problems too. There is a need in the body for a delicate balance or ratio between 3 and 6 oils. If you are deficient and start to supplement, you will start to feel better but continuing to supplement will tip the balance the other way and the benefit will change to a detriment and you will lose the improvement and start to feel bad again.
The only way to be sure is to have a Lipid Profile blood test which will show your levels of Omega 3 against Omega 6 and you can see exactly what fats your body is hunting for and what it has enough or too much of. Anything else is guesswork which may lead to wasting money on supplements you don’t need, or worse still, you may end up with a see-saw of imbalance swinging wildly from one excess to the other, briefly passing through feeling good in the middle on the fly-past.
Test, Don’t Guess
So Test, don’t Guess is our advice. There are a number of good lipid-profile tests we can access online and once you have the results, you can see just where to make adjustments. For more information send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with subject: Lipid Profile Testing.
Conclusion – the ‘take-home message’
Source organic, grass fed meats and wild-caught fish; bring butter back into your life instead of margarine, veggie spreads or other yellow peril spreads – we can talk about what butter does for you in another blog (this one is going on a bit….)! Buy organic, free-range eggs from happy chickens (farmer’s markets and farm shops are best) – read “Eat the Yolks“ (a good book) and read up about what all this refined carbohydrate and low-fat is doing to us all (“Grain Brain” “Wheat Belly” – two more great books).
Buy the best food you can afford and you will find that quality is more nourishing and you need to eat less of it. A single, creamy, full-fat plain yogurt will delight and satisfy way beyond trays of yogurt with fudge-pieces, jammy corners, chocolate sprinkle low-fat pots (see how they have replaced the fat with sugars?).
Add organic, cold-pressed sunflower and olive oils to your diet and cook with coconut oil. If you want to know what you really need, get a test and find out what your body needs, not what the latest magazine article is trying to persuade you to buy.
We can talk about the sugar-insulin trigger and how you can “…eat gunpowder but mustn’t swallow a single match…..” in another blog.
Enid and Glenn Taylor run the Taymount Clinic for Digestive Health