Far from what we’ve spent many years being told about eating fat, dietary fats (or lipids, as I prefer to call them) actually play an essential role in any diet and are a key component to the regulation of our bodily functions. Fat cells, stored in our adipose tissue, provide a protective layer for our internal organs, support our brain health, and insulate our bodies to help sustain a normal body temperature. Fat can also be used as a source of energy! Although carbohydrates are the main source of fuel for the body, it turns to fat as a backup energy source when carbohydrates are not available. Some vitamins, called fat-soluble vitamins, even rely on dietary fat for absorption and storage in the body. These are vitamins A, D, E, and K, and are essential vitamins that we need to consume regularly in the diet. In order to properly absorb these vitamins, it’s best to eat them with a fat source.
So, why should we include more fat in our diet? Here are eight reasons:
1. Anti-Inflammatory Benefits:
Eating unsaturated fats from heart-healthy sources like olives and olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds may help lower your risk of heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and stroke because of their anti-inflammatory properties.
2. Quick Fuel:
Medium-chain fatty acids from sources like coconut oil and ghee are more rapidly absorbed by the body and more quickly metabolized, or burned as fuel. Because of this, they have been linked to an increase in athletic performance, slowing of the signs of aging, suppressing appetite, and even aiding in weight loss.
3. Blood Sugar Regulation:
Coconut oil and other sources of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) can also lower blood glucose levels, which may be useful for diabetics or pre-diabetics trying to keep their blood sugar down.
Short-chain fatty acids from sources like ghee, butter, and other natural animal fats help support a healthy digestive tract. They can increase gastric acid and convert fiber into butyric acid, which is important for detoxifying the system and eliminating toxins from the body, and also aids in proper digestion.
5. Healthy Cholesterol:
Saturated fats from healthy sources like coconut oil and ghee can raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels, which reduces the risk of heart disease and cardiovascular disease, while also lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
6. Brain Health:
Because fat is essential for brain health, eating more saturated and unsaturated fats may lower the risk of stroke. A stroke is caused by a disturbance in blood flow to the brain, and since fat is stored and utilized by the brain tissue, eating healthy fats can protect brain tissue and reduce the risk for this to occur.
7. Vitamin Absorption:
As mentioned above, fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K require the consumption of fat in order to be absorbed and utilized by the body. When eating foods high in these vitamins like dark, leafy greens, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, eggs, fish, and dairy, it’s important to also eat adequate fat in order for your body to properly metabolize and use these important vitamins.
8. Digestion & Overall Health:
Eating healthy sources of fats like fatty fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, and nut and seed oils also provide many other nutrients that are crucial for overall health. These include things like fat-soluble vitamins, vitamin B12 and other B vitamins, and a wide array of minerals like potassium, iron, magnesium, and zinc, which all play a role in increased health, digestion, and well-being.
Trans fats are one type of fat to watch out for; these dangerous fats are correlated with many negative health effects and have actually been banned by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. There are two forms of trans fats: naturally-occurring trans fats in meat and dairy products, and artificially-occurring trans fats. Naturally-Occurring trans fats are not necessarily what we need to be wary of. When eaten in moderation, they are not often associated with health risks unless someone already has a combination of risk factors. Artificially-made trans fats in the form of hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated cooking oils have known risks associated with them, including increased inflammation, increased risk of heart disease and stroke, increased cholesterol, increased risk of diabetes, and even increased risk of cancer.
So how can you make sure you’re getting enough of the right kinds of fat in your diet? To start, here are some examples of healthy fats to ensure you’re eating on a regular basis, and examples of trans fats to avoid:
Eating at least 1 to 2 servings of fatty fish like salmon, trout, mackerel, or tuna per week, cooking with healthy oils that do not oxidize at high temperatures like coconut oil, avocado oil, and ghee, eating a handful of nuts and seeds daily, adding avocado as a topping to your meals, and trying butter coffee (or tea!) in the morning are all great ways to get extra fat into your diet on a regular basis.
And here is a quick reference guide to the benefits of healthy fats, along with the risks associated with trans fats:
What are your favorite sources of fat? Answer in the comments below!
In good health,