Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Weekly Thoughts

The Skinny on Fat, pt. 1

Some people like it, some people hate it, and almost everyone has feared it. This week I’d like to rant a little about my views on fat in the diet, fat-free foods, and why I think you’ve been taught to think ass backwards about this important macronutrient.

The basics

I’m not a nutritionist, nutrition coach, nutrition major or anything in between; nor do I pretend to be. However, I do feel like I’ve done my homework and at least understand the basics of how fat works and the important role it plays in our body’s sustainability. So this is what I think I know, let’s start with the down and dirty:

Most commonly referred to as fat, oil, lipids, saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, or polyunsaturated fat. These terms are all synonyms for what we think of as dietary fat. Only the chemical structure distinguishes what term is exactly used. Fat has many responsibilities within the body, it provides our main source of energy, while in a resting state, or during extended bouts of aerobic exercise. It aides in the utilization of certain vitamins, it adds integrity to our cell walls, maintains healthy skin and hair, it helps with hormone production, it offers cushion to our internal organs, helps regulate our body temperature and it can also be stored for later energy consumption. (to me this seems like some awfully important jobs to want this to be low in our diet?)

Common Healthy Fat Sources:

Extra-virgin olive oil
Almond Oil
Macadamian Nut Oil
Flax Seed
Fish Oil
Cold water fish

These are items that have become staples in my diet. I use most of them every day, and all of them weekly. They are seen as healthy fat because they are mainly made up of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated molecules. This simply implies that one or more of the chemical bonding sites are free of a hydrogen molecule, making it easier for our body to process and put to use. These foods are also great sources of essential fatty acids known as omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 molecules. These are chemicals that our bodies need to get from an outside source and studies have repeatedly shown they are key players in maintaining a healthy cardiovascular and circulatory system. There are many other sources of these healthy fats. I suggest checking out Jonny Bowden’s book, 150 Healthiest foods, for more information.

Common “Unhealthy” Fat Sources:

Red Meat
Pork, or Cured Meats
Dairy products

Now before you freak out on me and punch the computer screen, hear me out. I DO NOT THINK THESE ARE UNHEALTHY FATS! I feel this is a common misconception, because these products contain a majority of their fat in the saturated form. We have been taught that high levels of saturated fat increases your risk for heart attacks, obesity and a number of other health concerns. In a recent book I’ve read, Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes provides vivid research into why the US government has built it paradigm of healthful eating around misinterpreted data. I highly recommend anyone who is serious about nutrition to check this book out! Taubes magnificently explains why and how refined carbohydrates are responsible for recent epidemics such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. All of which are commonly associated with too much fat in the diet. Albeit, I think that we need to monitor our daily intake of saturated fat, to control caloric intake, I do not think it is the root of all evil, or do I think it’s responsible for that muffin top! In moderation, products included in the above list are part of a healthy and balanced daily/weekly diet for myself.

Truly Unhealthy Fat Sources

Trans Fat
Hydrogenated Oil
Partially-hydrogenated Oil

These products are an absolute no-no. Get rid of anything that includes any of these listed on the food label. These fats have been altered in a lab, previously unsaturated molecules are taken and pumped full of hydrogen ions (hence the term, hydrogenated) Our bodies are confused on how to break down the molecules and convert them to energy and often view them as toxins. We then stick deep within our fat stores and do not release them easily. Now, these fats are so widely used in our food supply that it is hard to find packaged products that don’t contain them. That is why I feel it is important to prepare meals from raw ingredients, and shop organic. But don’t be fooled just because it says, “natural, or organic, or other gimmicky health slogan” doesn’t mean it is free of this crap. Learn to read your label. In the end, it's probably damn near impossible to get rid of these 100%, but just limit them as much as you can, and you'll be on your way to better overall health.

To be continued…

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