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Healthy Fats and Our Bodies

There’s only one thing that keeps me off my diet—food!

“I’m not fat. I’m just 9 inches too short for my weight.”

healthy_fats_and_our_bodies_picFat jokes can be funny at times, but they can also be rude. We all know too much fat is bad, right? But what about dietary fats? Are they all bad? Are there different types? Are there good fats? Thanks to the epidemic of obesity in America, this is a very controversial subject. Just like with the fat jokes, you need to tread carefully when it comes to fat itself.

The Standard American Diet gets about 40% of its calories from fat. These also come from the wrong kind of fat, mainly omega 6 fatty acids. We have developed a taste for the grease and salt flavors that are bundled together in saturated and trans fat rich foods. We find this in high fat animal meats, dairy products like butter and cheese, deep fried foods like chips and fries, and hydrogenated oils in processed foods like cookies, crackers, cakes, and margarine.

I think you can see that most of these come in the form of processed and pre-packaged foods. They clog your arteries, burden your heart, slow down your brain, and expand your waistline, to say nothing of increasing the risk of disease and cancer. If you doubt how much it has become part of our culture, just count the number of burger, taco, and pizza shops in your town.

However, the reality is we cannot live without fats, but it has to be the right kind of this essential nutrient. Research indicates that eating good fats can make you healthier, happier, and even smarter. The good fats are those that occur naturally and are untampered with. The body can’t make them, so they have to be part of a healthy diet. Take care though. Even the good fats have two times the calories per unit as proteins and carbohydrates, which must be taken into account. Good fats fall into two main categories:

  1. Monounsaturated fats – These decrease total cholesterol, especially the bad LDL cholesterol that clogs the arteries. It actually increases the good HDL cholesterol that clears the arteries. The best sources for this are foods like avocados, virgin olive oil, and peanuts.
  2. Polyunsaturated or Omega 3 fatty acids – These fats help fight cardiovascular disease and arthritis. They improve brain function, increase immune response, decrease inflammation, and even diminish depression. Good sources for Omega 3s are cold-water fish and nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, pistachios, macadamia, pumpkin, sunflower, and flax.

Let me mention two related topics. First, fats can aid in weight loss. There’s a recent study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital that divided participants into three groups that each consumed the exact same number of calories.

Group 1 – Was the control that made no changes to their normal diet. Group 2 – Ate a diet with healthy fats making up 35% of their total calories. Group 3 – Consumed a low fat diet with fat making up less than 20% of the total.

In the results, of course the control group experienced no change. The low fat diet group gained an average of 6 lbs. The moderate fat group lost an average of 6 lbs. From this and other studies they determined that as a general guideline healthy fats should account for 20–35% of total calories.

coconut_oil_could_help_fight_tooth_decay_picNext, let me discuss coconut oil. It’s a saturated fat, but a naturally occurring one. These saturated fats are broken up into medium chain triglycerides, or MCTs. These shorter fat chains make coconut oil easy to digest; it bypasses the pancreas so there’s no insulin spike; and it’s burned by the liver for energy instead of stored. Studies commencing in the 1930s found that certain Pacific Island populations who got up to 60% of their total calorie intake from coconut oil, demonstrated nearly non-existent occurrence of cardiovascular disease and they were healthy and trim. Among the many health advantages studies have shown from coconut oil are benefits such as:

  1. Improved immune system
  2. Body leanness
  3. Improved metabolism
  4. Improved heart and thyroid health
  5. Anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-protozoa properties
  6. Improved athletic performance
  7. Improved skin health with topical application
  8. Overall best oil for cooking

So the message here is to go nuts: eat coconuts, nuts, seeds, and dip into the guacamole.

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