As someone who has spent countless years professing, both personally and professionally, that low-fat is the best way, man, I am doing some back tracking now… And, I could not feel better! When I was in high school and college, low-fat was perceived as the only way to keep off the pounds. As a dancer, my teacher honestly and whole hearted told me to eat a raw vegetable salad with NO dressing for lunch and a poached chicken breast for dinner. Seriously… When I started studying nutrition, the low-fat ways were drilled into us. The irony was that we were also learning the biological function of fat and why the body needed the various fatty acids. It was so non-logical: The body needs fat for certain functions but nope do not eat fat. Again, Seriously?
Luckily, the nutritional community has come to our senses and now understand that fat is a valuable resource to the human body. We need it daily to balance out hormones and other nutrients; to digest vitamins D, K, A, and E; and to produce certain type of steroids. (Which is not really a bad thing. Did you know that testosterone and estrogen are forms of a steroid molecule?) So for fun, let’s list out the various functions of fat in the body and how the body would function without it. Try to not come over to my fat side!
- Energy: Fats are a great source of energy for most of our conscious and subconscious bodily functions. On a low-fat diet, our energy and mood levels are severely hampered. Mood swings anyone?
- Essential Cellular Functions and Growth: Certain fatty acids are key for growth and development of cells, especially in the brain. These fatty acids must be consumed, as they are not made in the body. With only small amounts of fat in the diet, the body will become deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, which impede cellular function and promote inflammation.
- Nerve and Brain Function: Our nerves and brain are highly saturated with fatty acids. The fatty acids help protect these sensitive areas and provide a barrier against the environment. On low-fat foods, a person will become very cold natured. If fat deficient, the body will grow a fine layer of hair… sexy, right?!
- Skin and Tissue Health: The skin has a fat barrier surrounding each cell to help regulate what goes out and what comes in. With a low-fat diet, the skin will appear thinner and present as dull.
- Digesting and Transporting Vitamins A, D, E, and K: These fat-soluble fats are major contributors to bone and muscular strength, to gut health, and immunity power. On low fat diets, infections will come much more often and bones will become brittle.
- Forming steroid hormones: Our sex hormones are actually the same chemical composition of a steroid molecule. The same goes for cholesterol. The body needs fatty acids to make the chemical structure for steroids. On a lower fat intake, the body has a difficult road to produce sex hormones, which in turn may affect fertility and libido.
- Insulin Balance: Insulin is the key regulator for fat storage. When insulin is high, it signals for fatty acid molecules to make it’s way into the fat cells. Once the fatty acid molecules are in the fat cells (adipose cells), three fatty acids join to form a triglyceride and then continue to grow in size (aka what appears as “fatness”). On a low fat diet, the carbohydrate percentage in one’s diet is fairly high; thus, insulin is chronically elevated and consistently sending fat to be stored inside the cells.
- Manage Weight: When you are consuming the right kind of fat and the right kind/right amount of carbohydrates, the body will not be able to send the fat into storage, however, burn the fat for energy.
As you can see, fat is INTEGRAL to our health, happiness, and vitality. It is INTEGRAL to our sexual and reproduction possibilities. It is INTEGRAL for our body image and confidence. Have I convinced you yet?
What is not integral to all of these things are PROCESSED, oxidized, or damaged fats. Here is a list of the go-to’s. Remember, 1-3 servings of HEALTHY fat per meal.
Coconut Oil: cold-pressed
Eggs (yep, the yolks do not disappear!): free-range, organic when possible
Meat: grass-fed, free-range, or organic versions
Fatty Fish: Wild-caught salmon, sardines, mackerel. (Wild canned salmon is a great, economical option.)
Butter (and cream): grass-fed
Olive oil: cold-pressed, extra virgin
Nuts and Nut Butters: cashews, almonds, walnuts, almond butter, cashew butter
Seeds: chia, flax, hemp