Fats You Just Gotta Have
By Greg Post
Despite the way people actually eat, most of us have an idea of how we should eat. Marketers have ingeniously leveraged this concept. For example, a group of women might be talking about what they for dinner the night before. One ate carrot sticks; another had low-fat cottage cheese. But one had a four course meal including dessert. And she did all this without any of the guilt. How outrageous! Dessert without any guilt? Personally I never understood the guilt part. I thought guilt had to do with real moral issues, but that should be reserved for another essay.
What's the point? We think we should be eating the carrot sticks and not the dessert, but we eat the dessert. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Another example of this is we think we should be avoiding fat but we eat it anyway. What if we could eat all the fat we wanted? Now there is a commercial that would sell. Well here is some news: we can have all the fat we want. Now before you metaphorically wad up this electronic sheet of paper and toss it into the reserved part of your hard drive known as the recycle bin hear me out. We truly can have all the fat we want because not all fats are the same. Early nutritional concepts made the mistake of classifying all fats as equivalent. But in fact there is a class of fats which are essential to health and most of us get way too little of them. As a group they are cleverly called essential fatty acids.
Essential fatty acids are called "essential for two reasons. The first reason, as you probably have guessed, is because they are essential to life and health. Simply put, without sufficient essential fatty acids (EFAs) we cannot be healthy. More on this in a moment. The second reason these fats are called "essential is because our bodies cannot manufacture them. They must be ingested through what we eat.
Fats are basically chains of carbon atoms with a little oxygen and hydrogen at one end. Along the chain hydrogen atoms are bound to the carbon atoms. When a fat chain contains as many hydrogen atoms as it can hold it is said to be saturated. These are the fats we should not eat in abundance because of their negative impact on health, especially heart health.
When a fat chain does not contain all the hydrogen it could possibly hold it is said to be unsaturated as in "polyunsaturated". Among these polyunsaturated fats is the class known as essential fatty acids.
Some essential fatty acids are foundational to the proper building and maintenance of the reproductive, immune and nervous (including the brain) systems. In general EFAs are necessary for the proper manufacture and repair of cell membranes. They aid the cells in obtaining optimal nutrition as well as the dispelling of harmful waste products. One primary function of essential fatty acids is the production of prostaglandins which are potent mediators for a diverse group of physiological processes. These processes include, but are not limited to, the regulation of heart rate, blood pressure, blood clotting ability, vasoconstriction, fertility, and immune function.
Of particular interest to those of us who are parents and grandparents are the effects of essential fatty acid deficiencies in children and infants, (Even the ones not yet born). EFAs are imperative for neural development and maturation of sensory systems in these little ones. Omega-3 (a very significant EFA) deficiencies in particular are linked to decreased memory and mental abilities, poor vision, increased tendency of blood clot formation, diminished immune function, impaired membrane function, learning disorders, irregular heartbeat and growth retardation. Infants can become omega-3 deficient because of inadequate supplies in the mother's milk as well as infant formulas. Because of this some formula manufactures fortify their products with omega-3 supplements.
There is a wide range of essential fatty acids which are important to health. But there are two in particular that deserve special attention. One was mentioned above, omega-3. The other is omega-6. Both of these EFAs have gained the focus of much research and have been tested in relation to a plethora of chronic conditions. We even buy dog food fortified with DHA (an omega-3) so our little puppy will grow up smart.
Of special concern to me are the heart health implications of EFAs. Essential fatty acid imbalance or deficiency (especially omega-3 and omega-6) has been linked to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), high blood pressure, sudden cardiac death, high cholesterol and the ever popular high triglycerides. The implication is, of course, that getting a proper balance of certain EFAs can help alleviate many of the chronic heart issues that plague our modern society.
But what about low-fat diets? They are still good. Normally when we talk about low-fat we understand that to refer to eating less saturated fat. We have become a race of fast-food junkies. The meats used in such "foods are saturated fats. Diets replete with saturated fats are destructive to health. Further "high-fat diets are normally low in essential fatty acids simply because we are filling up on one type of fat leaving no room for the other.
So I want to go on record for being an advocate of high-fat diets. That is, diets high in essential fatty acids. The particulars of such diets are beyond the scope of this essay. For more information on essential fatty acids, especially in relation to heart health, please use the links below. But generally speaking let's salute high-fat diets for good health. Got fat?
About The Author
Greg Post has degrees in science, divinity and philosophy and is currently an I.T. developer.