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Beacon Senior News

Myth-busting fat phobia

Dec 30, 2019 03:53PM ● By Wendell Fowler

When it comes to diets, many of us are fatphobic. But did you ever consider you might not be eating enough fat? If you are experiencing symptoms such as continual hunger, depression, anxiety, frequent fatigue, aching joints, dry skin, brittle fingernails or a confused and foggy brain, a lack of fat might be the problem. Look at what you’re eating to see if the culprit may be eating too little “good fat.”

The war on fat

Dietary fat is a mystifying concept. Consequently, Americans have had a confusing relationship with fat throughout the decades. Since the ’30s, scientists have suspected that fat and cholesterol (a fat) could cause atherosclerosis, heart disease and stroke. However, later research has shown that judging all fats together—even all saturated fats—is a mistaken generalization.

The war on fat began with the rise of heart disease during the ’50s. All fats took the rap for this attack, and trusting, obedient consumers were mistakenly discouraged to eat fats that provide energy-dense macronutrients.

Then came the fat-scare craze of the ’70s and ’80s: all fats are bad for our health! Americans reacted, and for decades many needlessly avoided all “evil” fats. This was wildly unjustified, considering good fats support cognitive health, provide energy, assist the absorption of vitamins, aid skin health and balances hormones. Our body’s cells are held together by fat and need it to function properly, just not the kind of greasy fat that oozes out of chili fries.

Good vs. bad fats

There are good fats and bad fats. Some whole, unprocessed fats are vital for overall nutrition, others cause diseases. Good fats are typically found in plant foods and are minimally processed. In contrast, bad fats are man-made, high-heat treated, processed and refined.

Fat can be divided into three major groups: saturated, unsaturated and trans. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, with the exception of unrefined coconut oil. Good unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, and trans fats (aka partially hydrogenated oils) are primarily artificial fats.

It’s important to distinguish “good” unsaturated fats and “bad” trans fats found in highly processed foods like margarine and a variety of oils. Bad fats include shortening made from those saturated/trans-fat oils and hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated anything. Unless they’re hydrogenated, all coconut oils have medium-chain fatty acids that are healthy and do not break down when heated. Several populations around the world have thrived for multiple generations eating massive amounts of unrefined coconut.

Cholesterol, a good fat, is not necessarily our enemy. I’m not suggesting anyone to stop taking their statins. However, it is misleading to call cholesterol an evil, artery-clogging fat because it’s a useful fatty substance with many important jobs in our body.

Every single cell in your body needs cholesterol to survive. Some doctors and scientists are now saying that low levels can cause psychological side effects. The brain needs cholesterol to grow new nerve cells and for these nerve cells to work properly. So, when one’s brain is deprived of cholesterol, things don’t go so well up there. In fact, without enough cholesterol, you may even develop serious brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s or experience depression, aggressive behavior and fatigue. Like many things, cholesterol is good in moderation.

Everything in moderation

Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids in fish are good for your heart. Fatty fish such as wild-caught salmon, mackerel and sardines—as well as plant foods such as walnuts, chia, flax, hemp seeds and Brussels sprouts—all have abundant omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids proven to improve health.

Unless you overdo it. Harvard Medical School states omega-6 fatty acids have been linked to protection against heart disease. However, our American diet is omega-6 heavy because it’s used in many processed snack foods. This disproportionate ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids causes disease-generating inflammation.

These good essential fats boost energy levels and mental clarity, curb cravings and support immune response. In addition to reducing blood pressure, polyunsaturated fats may help prevent lethal heart rhythms. Evidence also suggests omega-3 may help reduce the need for corticosteroid medications in people with rheumatoid arthritis and reduce the risk of dementia.

At the end of the day, don’t be fatphobic. It’s never too late in life to eat necessary fat to bolster mental and physical health and energy. Just ditch industrial-strength bad fats and embrace good fats from nature, in moderation.