Guest post from Vital Food Therapeutics Nutrition Intern Marne Bishop.
Far from what we’ve spent many years being told about dietary fat, fat actually plays an essential role in any diet and is a key component to the regulation of our bodily functions. Fat cells, stored in adipose tissue, provide a protective layer for our internal organs, support brain health, and insulate the body to help sustain a normal body temperature. Fat is also 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 needed in the diet.
So, why should we include healthy fat in our diet? Here are eight reasons:
- Anti-Inflammatory: 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.
- Healthy 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 increased athletic performance, slowing the signs of aging, suppressing appetite, and even aiding in weight loss.
- 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.
- Detoxification: 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 in eliminating toxins from the body and supports digestion.
- 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 help protect brain tissue and may reduce the risk of a stroke.
- 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 get adequate fat in order for your body to properly metabolize and use these important vitamins.
- Digestion & Overall Health: Eating healthy fats that are in foods like fatty fish, grass fed beef, eggs, nuts, seeds, and nut and seed oils also provide many other nutrients that are crucial for overall health. These include 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.
How can you make sure you’re getting adequate fat in your diet? To start, here are some examples of healthy fats to eat on a regular basis.
Healthy polyunsaturated fats include:
- fatty fish and fish oil
- chia seeds
- hemp seeds
Healthy monounsaturated fats include:
- Olives and olive oil
- Avocados and avocado oil
- Other nuts and seeds
Healthy saturated fats include:
Great ways to add fat to your diet:
- Eat at least 1 to 2 servings of fatty fish like salmon, trout, or tuna per week
- Cook with healthy oils that do not oxidize at high temperatures like coconut oil, avocado oil, and ghee
- Eat nut butters or a handful of nuts and seeds daily
- Add avocado (⅛ avocado is low FODMAP) as a topping to your meals
- Try butter coffee (or tea!) in the morning