Our bodies need proper nutrition to survive, prevent disease and improve the quality of our lives. This nutrition is important on a cellular level. For far too long, the standard American diet has consisted of low-fat food because it was believed that eating fat made us fat. We were told that foods with cholesterol contributed to our high levels of cholesterol. Remember when eggs were demonized and we were told to avoid them like the plague? Furthermore, we’ve been told that the nutritional value of fats, carbohydrates and proteins are all the same. However, eating a low-fat diet is dangerous for the maintenance of our cellular health. Fats provide the building blocks for cell membranes and for the production of hormones. Fats satiate us, making us feel full longer which prevents us from overeating.
Research has shown that low-fat diets are unsustainable, in addition to being unhealthy. People eating low fat diets develop health problems including low energy, difficulty concentrating, depression and weight gain. There is also little evidence to support the old supposition that eating a diet low in cholesterol and saturated fat actually reduces deaths from heart disease. In fact, numerous studies have revealed that populations consuming animal fats in their diet have a lower incidence of coronary heart disease than those not eating the animal fats. The belief that eating saturated fats per se causes heart disease is wrong. The issue lies in the kinds of fat we consume because not all fats are created equally.
All fats and oils, regardless of whether they are animal or plant fats, are some combination of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Saturated fats are highly stable and they do not normally go rancid, even when heated for cooking purposes. They are solid or semisolid at room temperature and are found mostly in animal fats and tropical oils. Our bodies make saturated fats from cholesterol. Monounsaturated fats are made from saturated fats. They are relatively stable fats and tend to be liquid at room temperatures. They do not go rancid easily and can be used for cooking. The monounsaturated fatty acid most commonly found in our food is oleic acid which is the main component of olive oil, almonds, pecans, cashews, peanuts and avocados.
Polyunsaturated fats are unstable because of their hydrogen composition. This means that they go rancid easily and remain liquid even when in the refrigerator. The two polyunsaturated fatty acids found in foods are called omega-6’s and omega-3’s. Our bodies cannot produce these fatty acids so they are termed essential because we must obtain these fatty acids from the food we eat. These oils should never be heated or used when cooking. Americans have been provided misinformation. We’ve been told that polyunsaturated oils are good for us and that saturated fats cause cancer and heart disease. The reason that polyunsaturates are bad for us is because they oxidize or become rancid when they are heated. Rancid oils contain free radicals. These free radicals attack the body and trigger mutations in tissue, blood, vessels and skin. Research also suggests that exposure to free radicals causes premature aging, autoimmune diseases and cataracts. Moreover, too much omega-6 from commercial vegetable oils causes inflammation, high blood pressure, digestive issues, decreased immune function, cancer and weight gain.
On the other hand, saturated fats, having been demonized for so many years, actually provide our cells with the vital fuel we need to survive. For example, saturated fats constitute at least 50% of cell membranes. They play a role in our bone health because in order for calcium to be absorbed into the skeletal structure, saturated fat needs to be present. Fats enhance our immune system and protect our liver from alcohol and toxins like acetaminophen, Research has revealed that the fat found in clogged arteries is mostly unsaturated, of which more than half is polyunsaturated. Only about 26% is saturated.
Polyunsaturated oils are rendered dangerous when they are processed. For example, to extract oil from a fruit or nut it must be heated. The oil is squeezed and pressed out of the nut at temperatures up to 230 degrees Fahrenheit. This process exposes the oils to damaging light and oxygen. On top of this, chemicals are used to extract the final 10% of the oil from the crushed seeds. Thereafter, the solvent is boiled off, further exposing the oil to additional heating. The high temperatures cause the release of free radicals. Adding insult to injury is the addition of preservatives BHT and BHA, both of which are suspected of causing cancer and brain damage.
An alternative to the high heat extraction process is a technique which drills into the seeds and extracts the oils under low temperatures and with little exposure to light and oxygen. The expeller expressed, unrefined oils can be kept for long periods of time if they are stored in brown or dark bottles in the refrigerator. Another dangerous process that is used far too often is hydrogenation whereby polyunsaturates (which are normally liquid at room temperature) are turned into fats that are solid at room temperature. The oil (typically a cheap, low quality oil) is mixed with nickel oxide particles and then is subjected to hydrogen gas in a high pressure, high temperature reactor. From there, emulsifiers and starch are pumped into the vat to give it a better, more solid, consistency. Afterwards, the oil is steam cleaned to remove any unpleasant odors from the chemical reaction. Margarine’s natural color, for example, is gray. But that’s too unappetizing to eat so the gray color is removed with bleach. These partially hydrogenated oils, margarines and shortenings are bad for us because their chemical structure has been changed. With hydrogenation, one hydrogen atom of the pair is moved to the other side so that the molecule straightens. This is called trans formation, hence, the term trans fats. These trans fats are poisonous to our bodies but our bodies don’t recognize them as such so they en up being stored in our cell membranes. Our cells actually become partially hydrogenated! Once they end up in the cell membranes, these trans fatty acids mess with our metabolism because chemical reactions can take place only when electrons in the cell membranes are arranged in certain patterns. Hydrogenation disturbed those patterns. Hydrogenated fats block the utilization of fatty acids and contribute to sexual disfunction, increased blood cholesterol, depression of the immune system, cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, birth defects, decreased visual activity, sterility and more.
By now I hope you realize that fat is good for you and that poor fats can diminish the quality of your cellular structure which can have deleterious effects on your health. Eat the fat, but make sure it’s good fat like coconut oil, pasture-raised butter, avocado oil and flax seed oil. Go for it and enjoy. It’ll make you feel full and you’ll be nourishing your body!