Name one of the most misunderstood nutrients in the American diet. Here’s a hint — it’s in the title of this post.
Fat has a reputation for being one of the worst things you could possibly eat. It’s been accused of causing obesity, elevated cholesterol and heart disease. However, we now know that fat can be good for you and is an important nutrient that should be part of your daily diet to maintain a healthy weight or manage chronic illness.
Fat is just as important as protein, vitamins and minerals. For millennia, humans have consumed healthy fats in the form of natural plant oils from coconut, avocados, and olives and as natural components of wild game, wild-caught fish and grass-fed cows. Early people eating such traditional, natural diets typically had far fewer chronic health conditions and live longer when compared to peers eating processed foods, farmed fish, or feed-lot beef.
With the rise of mass manufacturing and the ability to process foods for longer shelf lives and mass distribution, the US food industry which was responsible for production of new and exciting processed foods put profits over health and began to promote “low fat” diets in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. The low-fat message is still promoted today. Why low-fat? The industry discovered a need to create shelf-stable foodstuffs, stripping out healthy fats through processing and replacing them with artificial, lower quality, or hydrogenated fats, and adding preservatives and chemicals.
The result? Substandard, processed foods with questionable and low nutritional value displaced whole, natural foods across the country. Shoppers suddenly saw more options on the grocery store shelves but weren’t always aware of the nutritionally bankrupt products they were buying.
Your brain is 60% fat and your body requires fat from your diet in order to promote muscle growth, cellular repair, and brain function. Fat is required for your body to break down and absorb several vitamins and nutrients found in the foods you eat. Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K (potassium). Without adequate healthy fat in your diet, consumption of foods high in these nutrients, while not irrelevant, becomes far less efficient. Your body needs these nutrients to build strength and health. And these nutrients need fat!
Fats run the spectrum in terms of their impact on your health. In general, good fats aid in cellular repair, muscle building and brain function. Bad fats inhibit these processes, promote LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood stream while blocking HDL (good) cholesterol. Bad fats also add to chronic disease, obesity, cardiovascular disease, risk of strokes and far more.
Good fats — Good fats are minimally processed and are naturally found in proteins such as wild-caught fish and grass-fed beef and in plant sources such as coconut and coconut oil, avocado and avocado oil, and olives and olive oil. These fats promote better health overall, inside and out.
Bad fats — Bad fats include any type of hydrogenated oil, fat from feed-lot cattle and farmed fish, and from genetically modified crops such as soybeans. They are often paired with simple carbohydrates which provide virtually no nutritive value and often increase hunger. These fats are most commonly found in processed, prepackaged foods. They contribute to all manner of chronic illnesses and lower the efficiency of the body’s natural defenses.
While it may be exciting and tempting to buy all new, healthy fats right away, changing your diet overnight may not support your particular dietary and health needs.
With as many as half of all Americans having genetic variants such as MTHFR (please see our introductory post on methylation) or other variations, it is essential to understand your genetic makeup and how different foods may impact the expression of different variants, many of which lead to chronic illness. Patients with SIBO, food allergies or intolerances, and histamine sensitivity should be particularly careful and have a genetic screening and analysis before making significant dietary changes.
At Teach Them Well, we suggest starting with genetic testing from 23andMe. 23andMe provides simple, at-home kits that use your saliva for DNA testing. Please note, we recommend 23andMe independently. We receive no compensation from doing so and have no financial or other relationship with the organization. We simply believe this is the most efficient, easiest, and most affordable method of genetic testing for patients.