Why Eating Fat Is Good for Your Health
By Jennifer Heibein
Eating fat is good for you. Yep. You read that correctly. Eating fat is good for you. It is a general misnomer that all fat is bad and that all fat leads to heart attacks and obesity. I’m not suggesting that you go out and eat a bunch of processed fats, such as ice cream and cake, but instead fill your diet with Essential Fatty Acids, or EFA’s. These fats are commonly found in foods such as fish, nuts and seeds.
As the name implies, Essential Fatty Acids are essential to good health and proper functioning of the body. The body cannot manufacture EFA’s, so they must be introduced through food and/or supplements. You may be asking why would we need to eat fat and how can it possibly be good for us?
There are 2 main categories of essential fatty acids – omega-3’s and omega-6’s. Like most families of supplements, these should be taken in a specific ratio in order for the body to process and use them properly. In the case of Omega -6 to Omega-3 we want a ratio of 4:1. However, the North American diet most often tends to be closer to a ratio of 20:1, since Omega-6 fats are used in most processed foods to maintain shelf life. Because of this, people are often deficient in Omega-3’s.
What does a deficiency look like? You will know if you are deficient if you have any of the following symptoms: dry skin, nails and hair, PMS, excessive thirst, cravings for fatty foods and the inability to lose weight.
EFA’s and Weight Loss
It may sound like an oxymoron but eating fat, or EFA’s specifically, can help you to lose weight. You may be asking how this is possible. Think of the cells in your body as an orange; the fruit on the inside is comparable to all the working parts of a cell where the metabolic processes take place. The peel of the orange is similar to the cell membrane. We know that if you leave an orange out for a while in a dry environment it shrivels up – the peel gets hard and the fruit shrinks.
Your cell’s membranes work the same way. They are made up of lipids, or fats. If the cell membrane does not get the fat it needs to stay moist and supple then it will shrivel and become hard. The result is that our cells do not function properly which means less nutrient absorption, less toxins being discarded and improper metabolic functioning of the cell in general. When our metabolism is not working then we are not burning fuel. When we aren’t burning fuel we either can’t lose weight or even worse, we may gain weight. Making sure to get the right amount of EFA’s in your diet will help to maintain healthy and moist cells which will keep the metabolic furnace burning.
EFA’s and Inflammation
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to ward off infection and aid in recovering from injury. Acute inflammation, or short-term inflammation, is a beneficial response to either of these issues and will help the body to naturally heal itself. Problems occur when inflammation becomes chronic and starts to cause deterioration to the body; increasing symptoms related to arthritis, cancer and cardiovascular disease.
EFA’s are used by the body to produce prostaglandins, hormone like substances used to regulate various functions such as inflammation, pain and swelling. This plays a very important role in the treatment of arthritic conditions by aiding in lubrication of the joints and tissues surrounding the joints. EFA’s also play a role in regulating blood pressure, which is definitely important to cardiovascular health.
EFA’s and Brain Health
At least half of our brain tissue and nervous system is composed of fats, which is the reason why medical professionals are finding that many diseases of the mind are caused by a deficiency in EFA’s. EFA’s are required for proper neurotransmission, or messaging in the brain. When the brain does not have enough fat these messages are slowed or even halted, causing disorders such as depression, ADHD and Schizophrenia.
Each neuron pathway in the brain is covered by a myelin sheath, an insulating layer of fat. If you think of these pathways as an electrical cord, the myelin sheath would be comparable to the rubber layer covering the wiring. We know that when an electrical cord gets cracked or the rubber becomes torn it does not effectively conduct electricity. In much the same, if there is an EFA deficiency in the brain, the myelin sheath will get “holes” in it and is unable to relay messages effectively for proper brain function.
Supplementing with EFA’s will help to patch these areas, allowing for increased messaging between the cells of the brain. This, in turn will result in increased concentration, better memory and an overall happier outlook.
As you can see, eating the proper types of fats is not only good for you, but essential for overall health. So make sure to incorporate cold water fish, nuts and seeds into your daily diet.
Born and raised in Ontario, Jenn earned her Bachelor of Science in Biology at the University of Guelph. A student of holistic nutrition, Jenn has been the Quality Assurance Supervisor for an international plant breeding company, a planner for a major international agricultural corporation, and today she is the Education Coordinator and part of the Research and Development team for Sangster’s Health Centres.