In today's society, many are vary fat conscious, even fat phobic! However, this is a big problem that leads to many of the overweight and health problems we are seeing rise in mainstream America. While it is true that there are some unhealthy fats that should be avoided—primarily the hydrogenated trans fats—healthy fats are our friends and can actually help you feel better and maintain a healthy weight! Getting a good balance of the healthy fats is essential to good health, and it is becoming more and more apparent that most Americans are very deficient in these essential fatty acids.
While (raw) nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, and other such foods are great sources of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, there are other important types of fats that these common foods do not contain as much of, if at all. One of them is saturated fat. It is commonly thought that saturated fat should be minimized or avoided to lower cholesterol and maintain health. This, however, is not the case. Every cell in our body is made with saturated fats, not mono or polyunsaturated fats. This means that if saturated fat is very low in our diets, our body has to go through the extra work of trying to convert the fat into saturated fat to build and maintain healthy cells. As the body isn't able to keep up with the stress and demand, our cellular integrity and functioning becomes compromised. Consuming enough of the healthy saturated fat is essential to healthily functioning cells.
But what about cholesterol? Saturated fat consumption, in fact, is not the big culprit to raising cholesterol levels, the actual culprit is too much sugar and processed carbohydrates combined with, go figure, a deficiency of essential fatty acids. To read more about how sugar is the main culprit behind high cholesterol, you can read this great article by the U.S. Surgeon General:
Furthermore, fat is not the big culprit in making our waistlines larger either. Sugar and processed carbs, coupled with inactivity, is again the major culprit. As blood sugar rises from eating sugar and processed or excess carbs, insulin is released to balance the blood sugar levels. When too much insulin is needed because there is too much sugar, the body quickly stores the excess sugar as body fat, particularly in the stomach region. The other problem here is that sugar and carb consumption has an addictive nature. When the wave on insulin comes in and sweeps the sugar out of the blood and stores it as fat, the blood sugar level then drops and soon we experience 'lows', energy drops, cravings, a false sense of hunger, etc. So, eating less sugar and processed carbs and eating more fiber and essential fats will help to stop this vicious cycle.
Consuming fat also increases satiety and overall satisfaction from food, so you tend to eat less food and have fewer cravings and hunger. When fat is eaten, a hormone known as cholecystokinin (CCK) is released. This hormone helps to regulate appetite and hunger and increase satiety, which means that you don't want to eat as much or as often. It is a natural appetite suppressant.
As always, getting healthy fat from healthy whole foods and not from processed foods or supplements is always best. An excellent source of healthy saturated fat is unrefined coconut oil. And though these don’t have as much saturated as they do other fats, some of the best sources of saturated fat are still:
- hemp seed
- flax seed
- chia seed
Adding more of these quality and healthy fats can help you increase your intake of essential fatty acids, balance your hunger and satiety, aid in weight loss, balance hormones, and increase the health, integrity, and functioning of every one of our cells.
In Part 2 we will take a look at further benefits of getting enough essential fatty acids in your diet!