Many people think fat should be avoided at all costs, gobbling up every fat-free or low-fat product in sight, but, is fat really the villain it is made out to be?
Let’s first consider the role of fat in the human body. Fat serves as energy storage in the body, it serves as a source of fuel allowing one to stretch out the time period between meals. Each cell in the body needs fat to make the waterproof outer membrane that separates the inside of the cell from the outer fluid surrounding it. Finally, fats are also essential in synthesizing the lesser known prostanoid hormones that are involved in short-distance message carrying between cells. For cells to function optimally they must be able to communicate, and prostanoid hormones are essential for that communication.
The fat one consumes actually is assimilated in the body, dietary fats enter the fat stores and cell membranes without alteration. Unlike proteins and carbohydrates, dietary fatty acids are not disassembled and then reassembled, rather they enter the body by a direct path and remain relatively unchanged. Carbohydrates are broken down by the body into sugars and proteins are broken down into amino acids whereas the dietary fatty acids pass directly from the digestive tract into the bloodstream. Digestion of fats is only necessary to convert the fats into small droplets that can float in the blood. While the body does have the capacity to make many essential fatty acids on its own, it generally gets the fat from food consumption. Two fatty acids cannot be synthesized by the body, linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid, these fatty acids must come from the food one eats.
Dr. Sidney MacDonald Baker, author of Detoxification and Healing: The Key to Optimal Health, explains that fat deficiency, namely deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids, can manifest in a variety of symptoms. Zach, a patient of Dr. Baker, was a teenage boy and a highly functioning autistic who began to have frequent and unusual outbursts coupled with extremely dry skin on his hands, “tantrums can come from many causes,” noted Baker, “but tantrums and dry skin usually come from a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids.” Once Zach had an adequate supply of omega-3s, the tantrums disappeared and did not return.
Signs of omega-3 deficiency can may vary from person to person but deficiency can often be observed on the skin with a myriad of different manifestations. Cracking fingertips that are worse in winter may accompany soft or brittle fingernails that fray horizontally. Combination skin or skin that has dull, dry patches is also indicative of omega-3 deficiency. Other signs of deficiency may include “chicken skin” on the back of the arms, severe dandruff, and “alligator skin”, which is usually found on the lower legs where the skin takes on a quilted appearance and also has dry patches. Symptoms of deficiency can be alleviated with supplementation of good quality omega-3 oils.
“Low intakes of omega-3 fats have been linked to a long, nasty list of diseases including heart attacks, depression, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, macular degeneration, autoimmune diseases, ADD, allergies, and asthma,” says Ann Kulze, MD, a nutrition and wellness expert and author of the Eat Right for Life book series. “Conversely, higher intakes of omega-3 fats have been associated with protection from many of these same diseases.”
Avoid toxic oils like vegetable oil and margarine. When these oils are processed, the heat used causes damage to the molecules of the oil causing “trans fats” and a finished product which does not supply the necessary fatty-acids for making prostanoid hormones. Look for oils that are cold-pressed which generally have less trans-fatty acids and contain suitable building blocks for making the prostanoid hormones. Flaxseed oil is comprised of 40% alpha-linolenic oil (ALA), the highest concentrated plant source of the essential fatty-acid. Other food sources of ALA include walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, rapeseed and some green vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, and salad greens. Fish is also a great source of essential fatty acids, however with radiation from the Fukushima disaster site still leaking into the Pacific, consider the source of all fish products including fish oil supplements. For those avoiding genetically engineered products, look for organic flaxseed.
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