The Skinny on Fat

Finally getting around to writing about the last of the micronutrients. (If you missed the others, you can still read my thoughts about protein, tips on eating enough protein and how to find good carb sources from earlier in the year.)

What better time to talk about fat than the lead-in to the holidays and the prospect of all the deliciously rich food on offer.

Let’s first clear the air by saying that fat isn’t bad for you. It’s absolutely necessary to your health. Eating fat doesn’t cause you to put on fat…unless you eat it in poor qualities and excess quantities.

Why You Need Fat

Your brain is made of 60% fat, and your nerves are coated in the stuff. Without that insulation, all those electrical signals flying around at light speed would go haywire.

Your cells are surrounded in fat, keeping their functional molecules contained away from the watery medium of your body.

Your sex hormones are made from fat (cholesterol, to be precise), and your body fat is necessary to certain stages of their production & metabolism. I’m talking estrogen, progesterone, testosterone: your ability to reproduce. Not to mention all the fun & games to get you there!

Cholesterol is also the base for vitamin D (for your bones and immune system), and for bile, so that you can digest, you got it…fats.

You know all the hype about getting enough essential fatty acids, vitamins A and E? Unless you eat a variety of fat, you’re not getting these goodies.

The fat under your skin insulates you from temperature changes. Boring? That fat also keeps your skin soft & silky.

I know you’d like some of that padding to go away, but it’s actually a protective layer for your vital organs.

Fat, when heated, carries the aroma of a meal. It’s why your food smells so delicious: Nature’s way of stimulating your appetite.

When you eat a bit of fat in a meal, it actually slows the digestive process, so you’re satisfied sooner and feel full longer. (Yes, fat, just like fibre, helps you eat less!)

Now tell me, how is any of that bad for you?

“But it’s so high in calories!”

True. A gram of fat has 9 calories, where protein and carbohydrates have 4. There’s a reason for that.

Fat is a storage molecule.

(Technically, we refer to these molecules as lipids: oils in plant, fat in animal/human.)

The sun’s heat gets trapped when a plant makes sugar (carbs) – we release that energy when we eat the plant (or eat an animal who’s eaten the plant). The plant concentrates that heat into the seed as oil, ensuring it has what’s needed to endure the winter and sprout again come spring.

Animal or human, the fat stores on the body ensure we’ve got the energy to make it until the next meal. (Don’t forget, we’ve evolved through eras of feast or famine.) Like the plant, or the squirrel in your backyard, you have the capacity to store up for a long cold winter.

As a keeper of calories, lipids hold your heat.

Let’s look at what that means at a deeper level.

During the height of summer, a plant’s oils evaporate & disperse into the atmosphere as its perfume. Its essence. It’s how the flower expresses itself, declares its presence to the world, attracts the bees & butterflies that ensure its reproduction. It’s part of what we love about flowers.

Could we say that our essence also manifests through our lipids?

The thoughts, memories, emotions sparking around your brain; the decisions you make and your ability to carry them out, via nerves, to your motor activities. They’re all facilitated and made efficient because of fat.

Your femininity – your curves, your ability to nurture, be receptive and creative, your ability to attract a mate and have a baby – all of it flourishes because of your fat.

Every cell in your body, the houses of your DNA, the machinery that builds and rebuilds the physical aspects of your being, would fall into chaotic disarray without the fatty membrane that keeps it whole.

You solidify the boundary of who you are and you glow with inner light because of the fat in your skin (like an oil lamp).

Just as the flower attracts others with its scent, your own essence – the heat you give off to the world by being fully present in your life – sparks connection with others. In love, in friendship, in work, in community.

To ensure that you’re glowing to your fullest potential, there are, of course, a few guidelines. I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of this already, but it bears repeating.

The Quality

You need to eat a balance of 3 types of lipids for your body to work at its best.

Saturated:

These fats are easily recognized because they’re more solid at room temperature. Mainly from animal sources (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, butter & cream), they’re also found it coconut and palm oils.

The plant form of saturated fat are very easy to digest and actually help burn other types of fat because they’re made of short chains. That is, they provide easily accessible energy.

Egg yolk also contains a fatty compound known as lecithin, which eases your body’s ability to get the fat where it needs to go without damaging any arteries along the way.

Monounsaturated:

Found in poultry fat, which is why it’s more viscous than lard from beef or pork.

The best (and yummiest!) sources are avocado, olives and olive oil.

Polyunsaturated:

We know these as the essential fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6.

Omega-6 are in animal meats, poultry, nuts & seeds and plant oils (corn, safflower, sunflower, etc.), i.e. in fried foods.

Omega-3, the mood-calming, anti-inflammatory fat, comes in fish, grass-fed animal food, seeds such as flax, chia, hemp; nuts like walnut.

Fats and oils are “bad” when they’re out of proportion or no longer in their natural state.

Overheated, these lipids are damaged and lose their nourishing effect beyond the calories they add. (Different oils can withstand different temperatures.)

Processed – hydrogenated, heat extracted, bleached, deodorized – they are stripped of their natural properties, stripped of their essence, their subtle energy.

Which means that your body won’t necessarily recognize them as usable material.

These altered molecules, when not assimilated effectively into your body, create more work for your liver. Plus, they hang around as free radicals – the scavenger molecules that wreak havoc, leading to cardiovascular disease and cancer (among others).

The Quantity

You need 20-30% of your calories from fat. If you’re that average person who eats 2000 calories a day, that translates into 44-55 g of fat each day.

To give you an idea, you need 3-5 servings a day…not a lot:
2 tsp of butter, oil, nut butter = 10 g
2 egg yolks = 9 g
½ avocado = 15 g

You need 1/3 of each type; saturated, mono & polyunsaturated (in equal proportions of omega-6 and omega-3).

As you indulge this holiday season, you’re storing up some extra heat for the winter.

Remember that, as you curl in with more quiet, indoor activity through the cold months, you give your soul a chance to feed its essence for your re-emergence next spring.

No matter what you do eat (or skip) this holiday season, make sure you’re doing so from a place of joy and celebration. (If you missed it, you can still listen to last year’s webinar to help with this.)

In the comments, I’d like to hear jow you struggle with the idea of fat or the enjoyment of fatty-rich food. When you share your thoughts, you open the possibilities for others.

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8 thoughts on “The Skinny on Fat

  1. Pingback: What is Whole Food? | Whole Health

  2. so glad that you are speaking out about FAT! in my work with women who have struggled with anorexia and bulimia, fat is so often the enemy. even sharing facts about fat’s healthy benefits can be frightening for them. it’s definitely time to re-educate the public and turn this misinformation around.

  3. I used to be afraid of fat when I was younger.

    Not anymore! I’m your poster child for your recommendations above.

    And guess what… I’m the same weight that I’ve always been. I’ve never fluctuated since college. 🙂

    Hmmm.. Now I’m craving olive oil. Luckily, it’s dinner time! Hurrah!

  4. Oh, I love this. Yes, eat fat:) I am so often telling older girls (pre-teens and teens) how important it is to consume good fats. It’s good for the brain, it’s good for happiness. There are an increasing number of studies being done on the positive effects of fats on our health and keeping our brains healthy as we age. Oh…I’m a butter lover too:)

  5. Cathy, such great information. I have heard many times that ‘fat doesn’t make you fat’ but it’s still a trigger for me. Unless I have made my meal I always imagine extra fat & salt is ‘hiding’ in there. Thank you for teaching us the facts!!

  6. Thank you, Cathy. I’m so glad there appears to be an increasing awareness of the benefits of healthy fats in our diet. I am often surprised when I see “fat free” items on a menu or “skinny” lattes at Starbucks. Unfortunately, restaurants and the “health” food industry still perpetuate the myth that fat in your food means fat on your body. I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a connection between the rising incidence of Alzheimer’s and the faulty nutritional belief system that had women reducing or eliminating fat from their diets for so many years. At least in this country. I was so delighted, on my recent sojourn in France, to see that “skim” milk didn’t even exist. Bring on the butter!

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