How Eating Fat Can Be Healthy

5/21/2016



"For decades, it has been the most vilified nutrient in the American diet. But new science reveals fat isn’t what’s hurting our health."
- Bryan Walsh, Ending The War On Fat, Time Magazine June 2014 [1]

Isn't fat bad?

When fat was declared public enemy number one a few decades ago-- based mainly on a single flawed study [2]-- food manufacturers responded with an array of low-fat products designed to provide maximum flavor with minimum fat content. These products tended to be low in fat, yet high in starch or sugar. The obsessive focus on fat as the main culprit led people to eat less fat, but more sugar. The ubiquity of the sugar-heavy diet is a significant factor in the rising rates of heart disease and diabetes today. What we're learning from this is that it's dangerous to be fixated on just one type of nutrient. Our bodies require the complete nutrient synergy of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and other building blocks provided by food. We can appreciate the risks and benefits of each individual nutrient while understanding that nutrients work best in harmony with each other and within the context of an overall healthy diet, lifestyle, and environment. We can enjoy sweet, salty, and yes, fatty foods, within the context of this holistic health pattern.

"Rather than thinking about whether certain nutrients are good for us or bad for us, we should seek to understand how they all work together in proper balance to promote radiant and vibrant health."
- Chris Masterjohn on nutrient synergy

What is considered a healthy fat?

Animal fat is healthy when it comes from a healthy animal raised in a clean environment. Fat serves as the storage area for both nutrients and toxins, so a healthy animal will have nutritious fat. An unhealthy animal in a crowded and dirty environment-- as is usually the case in industrial farms-- will have less nutritious fat. In particular, grass-fed or pastured animal products tend to contain more omega 3, which reduces inflammation. [3] Plant fats are best when minimally processed, "virgin", or cold-pressed, such as raw avocado fruit, virgin coconut oil, or virgin olive oil. Most refined commercial vegetable oils, such as canola, corn, sunflower, margarine, and soybean, contain too much omega 6, which promotes inflammation. They are also linked with heart disease and other metabolic disorders. [4] These vegetable oils are very common ingredients in junk food, but they are also sometimes mistakenly perceived as "healthy", as is the case with margarine and canola.

How much fat should I eat?

Everything in moderation, as the old adage goes. It's just that the low-fat myth is so deeply embedded in today's society, it's possible that we are actually eating less fat than we need, or not enough of the right kind. With the prevalence of cheap junk foods, it's easy to consume too much refined vegetable oil, and too little grass-fed butter. What is a moderate amount of dietary fat for one individual may be too much or too little for another, depending on individual genetics, lifestyle, and medical history. As with everything else, it's possible to overdose on healthy fats. However, this is unlikely because healthy fats come from whole fresh foods which are naturally highly satiating. You can only eat so many eggs before feeling full enough to stop, but you could probably finish a whole bag of potato chips and still crave for more. Junk foods-- which are nutrient-poor and calorie-rich-- are purposely engineered to be addicting. Portion control is much more important (and challenging) with junk foods, because they have been designed to circumvent the body's natural system for appetite moderation. Choosing whole fresh foods over junk foods makes it much easier to achieve a balanced diet without worrying about calorie count. Within the context of an overall healthy lifestyle, and without any medical condition requiring special dietary restrictions, it's safe to just stop when you feel full.

What are the benefits of healthy fat?

Fat provides cellular building blocks such as vitamin E and omega 3 to help keep skin soft and smooth. But its benefits go beyond skin-deep. Our bodies require fat for many functions, most notably the processing of fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, and K2. Fatty foods such as grass-fed butter often contain these fat-soluble nutrients. Vitamins A, D, and K2 make sure that calcium goes to the bones, where it needs to be, and not to soft tissues, where it can cause damage such as heart disease. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that is great for fighting free radicals. Vitamin D assists with hormonal balance and immune system function, helping us stay happy and healthy. Vitamin K2 is a relatively uncommon and underrated nutrient that aids important functions such as brain health and reproductive health. Omega 3's anti-inflammatory function helps ward off disease and speed up healing. [5]

What are the best food sources of healthy fat?

1. Bone broth (bulalo, nilaga, tinola)
Slow-cooked soup with whole animal parts (not just muscle meat but also skin, fat, bones, marrow, organs) and vegetables yields a wide variety of complementary nutrients. The rich broth contains highly bioavailable dissolved collagen, calcium, glycine, arginine, proline, and other important nutrients. These promote healthy digestion, prevent infection, reduce inflammation, build bone strength, and maintain healthy hair and skin. This comfort food is a practical and efficient way to use the whole animal-- especially the cheaper cuts. Because it's usually made to share, it's great for bonding with loved ones. The invention of clay pottery marked an important point in human evolutionary history, because the broths that could be cooked in them allowed for "a longer life span, since both the very young and the very old could now be fed soft foods and nutritious soups out of the pot, no teeth required," according to Michael Pollan in his book Cooked.

2. Grass-fed or pastured meat, poultry, and dairy
Grass-fed or pastured animal products such as egg, butter, and lard tend to be richer in vitamins A, D, E, K2, and omega 3, compared to industrially farmed animal products. Pastured egg yolks contain sulfur and biotin, which nourish the hair and skin. Grass-fed butter has butyrate, an anti-inflammatory fatty acid that promotes digestion and heart health. For high heat cooking and deep frying, grass-fed lard is a safe and stable cooking medium that resists oxidation and provides CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) which promotes healthy weight loss.

3. Wild-caught oily seafood
Oily fish such as sardines and salmon are rich in omega 3, which is especially important because modern urban diets usually contain too much omega 6. Omega 6 tends to promote inflammation, while omega 3 reduces inflammation. Smaller fish such as sardines are lower on the food chain and are therefore less prone to heavy metal contaminants such as mercury. They are also easier to eat whole, so as to obtain the full range of nutrients from the skin, bones, meat, fat, and organs.

4. Fatty fruits
Raw fresh fatty fruits such as coconuts and avocados provide hair and skin nourishing nutrients such as vitamin E, vitamin C, magnesium, and potassium. They also supply dietary fiber, which aids digestion.

Where to buy:

Holy Carabao, a family-owned biodynamic farm, sells pastured poultry, including jumbo chicken eggs. They also supply fresh produce. You can visit their farm at Sta. Elena in Laguna, or order online from their website http://holycarabao.com.

Down To Earth, a family-owned biodynamic farm, sells grass-fed and pastured meat, poultry, dairy, and sardines (preserved in glass jars with extra virgin olive oil and spices). They also supply 72-hour beef broth and chicken broth, as well as a variety of fresh produce. You can visit their stall at the Salcedo Saturday Market or Legazpi Sunday Market, or their office in Makati, or order online from their website http://downtoearth.ph.

Coconuts and avocados can be found in supermarkets and wet markets, although the latter are seasonal.

Eating healthy should also be pleasurable-- otherwise, it won't be sustainable. In the case of healthy fatty foods, nutrition and flavor go hand-in-hand. Rather than punish ourselves with restrictive, unsatisfying diets, let's nourish our bodies with wholesome delicious foods that help us stay in tip-top shape.

Thank you for reading!
~ Feanne / IG @feanne

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This article was previously published in MEGA magazine.

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Footnotes:

[1] TIME cover story June 2014 "Eat butter. Scientists labeled fat the enemy. Why they were wrong" by Bryan Walsh

[2] Ancel Keys' study

[3] Grass-fed meat and omega 3

[4] Vegetable oils' health risks

[5] Fat, nutrition, and beauty

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