By, Lisa Biederman, CNTP
In the world of functional medicine, why does fat matter?
- Curbs overeating and calms leptin, the hormone that controls hunger
- Gives structure to our cell membranes
- Makes our steroid hormones, including testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, and pregnenolone
- Burns body fat in the absence of carbohydrates
- Stabilizes blood sugar
- Forms neurotransmitters vital for cognitive and memory function
- Decreases inflammation
The best way to burn fat is to eat fat, but only in the absence of carbohydrates. When sugar is not available to burn, the body burns fat. Minimizing our dependence on glucose for fuel will optimize our brain function. Spikes in blood sugar increase insulin, leptin, inflammatory cytokines, and cortisol and deplete our neurotransmitters and nutrients.
The brain is made up over 50% fat, and prefers ketones, sourced from healthy fats, for its main source of fuel. Ketones are a sustainable, reliable source of energy and prevent the mental, emotional, and physical symptoms associated with low blood sugar. Omega-3 fatty acids help with electrical and cardiovascular function, joint health, immune system, gastrointestinal system, and health of the brain and nervous system. Deficiencies in Omega 3s are often found in people with depression, obesity, bipolar disorder, cardiovascular disease and ADD/ADHD. Omega 3 fatty acids contain DHA, which support neurotransmitters and are vital for brain function. The use of vegetable oils can interfere with the absorption of omega 3s. These harmful oils, such as canola, corn and soybean oil, can increase insulin resistance, lead to obesity, atherosclerosis and cancer, and should be avoided.
Common myths and truths about fat:
MYTH: Fat makes you fat.
TRUTH: As well as being a source of energy, good fats provide satiety and satisfaction. Most fats are not stored as fat. In fact, sugar is more likely the culprit in increasing body fat. Eating simple carbs turns on insulin, a fat storage hormone, which takes the fuel out of the bloodstream, causing hunger and slowing metabolism.
MYTH: Saturated fat causes high blood pressure and heart disease.
TRUTH: A review of all the research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows there is no correlation between saturated fats and heart disease. The major fatty acids in blockages are unsaturated. While lowering saturated fats in the diet may lower cholesterol, it lowers the HDL, which is the good cholesterol. When people eat less fat, they usually eat more sugar or starch which increases the LDL, the dangerous cholesterol that can lead to heart attacks.
MYTH: Cholesterol is bad.
TRUTH: Cholesterol is needed for brain development, hormone production, and protecting cell membranes. Dietary cholesterol does not increase blood cholesterol. Most of our cholesterol comes from our liver, not from our diet, so when dietary cholesterol is increased; less is synthesized in the body.
Enig, Mary G. Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils, and Cholesterol. 2013.
Hartwig, Dallas and Melissa. It Starts with Food. 2012.
Shanihan, Catherine and Luke. Deep Nutrition. 2009.