Tough Luck, Jack Sprat: Why it’s Important to Stop Avoiding Some Fatty Foods

How many of us grew up having it drilled into our heads that eating fat was BAD for our health and well being? Possibly, most of us.

There was no distinction made between “unhealthy fats” and healthier ones; in fact, the words “healthy” and “fat” never got put together at all! And old-school health fanatics had their way, we would have lived like Jack Sprat from the nursery rhyme, never letting a modicum of fat pass our lips.

In reality, both Jack and his wife were unhealthy eaters, because it turns out that your body needs some fatty foods in order to function properly. The question, of course, is what types of fats your body needs, and in which foods you can find those fats.

Why Does Your Body Need Those Fats? Most of us tend to associate fat with the excess baggage we carry, and we imagine that every ounce of fat we eat will be destined to become an equal amount of unwanted fat on our hips or stomach. Luckily for us, that’s not how it works.

It’s true that fats are high in calories, which are really just units of stored energy. And it is also not further from the truth that when we eat more calories than our bodies need, the body will put those extra energy-units back into storage, in the form of fat. But when we moderate the amount of calories we intake, the fats we eat don’t get stored on the body.

So, where do those fats go, and what are they good for? Or more accurately, what are they necessary for? There are several functions for specific fats that your body can’t produce itself. For instance, fatty acids are the building blocks for cell membranes and components of nerves and brains. They transport fat-soluble vitamins to your tissues, which are necessary for the hormones your body manufactures.

I’m sure you are beginning to get an idea of why your body needs you to eat some of the fats it can’t produce for itself. So, the next question is: which fats does your body need, and which foods have those fats?

Fat Foods That We Like!

Not all fats are alike, so it’s important for you to know which ones your body needs. The healthiest type of fat is called unsaturated fat. In its pure form, you can tell unsaturated fat from saturated fat because it will stay liquid at room temperature. Think of olive oil (liquid) compared to margarine (saturated, and solid).

 

Monounsaturated fat is a key feature of the Mediterranean Diet; full of fruits, vegetables, nuts, cereals, beans, fish, and my favourite-olive oil. This cuisine has been my choice for several decades. The fantastic side benefits of a Mediterranean diet are truly worthwhile; increased longevity, reduced inflammation, chronic pain and lower cholesterol. Bring on the Avocados!

But don’t forget the benefits for brain health. A recent study published this year by the American Academy of Neurology analyzed the diets of about 400 adults, 73 to 76 years old, over a three-year period measuring their overall brain volume and thickness of the brain’s cortex. The study found that those who closely followed a Mediterranean-like diet showed less brain atrophy as they aged, compared with those who didn’t follow such a diet. All of this information is good news for switching not only to a diet without saturated fat, but to a more healthful Mediterranean Diet.

Here is a list of some of my favourite Good-Fat Foods.

•  Avocados: Not only does an avocado have a substantial amount of fiber and nutrients, it is also packed with monounsaturated fat– the best kind for your health.

•  Fatty fish: Look for cold water fish like herring, mackerel, and salmon for unsaturated Omega-3 fats. These are known for boosting immunity, improving brain function, and reducing inflammation.

•  Nuts: Nuts contain fiber, a multitude of vitamins and antioxidants and a significant amount of heart-healthy unsaturated fats. You can eat the nuts themselves, or various nut butters like peanut butter and other variations.

•  Seeds and seed oils: Seeds are very high in unsaturated fat, which is why so many of them are used to produce cooking oils. This type of healthy fat can be found in sesame seeds or sesame oil, grapeseed oil, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and sunflower oil, and any number of other variants.

Olives and olive oil: A plethora of studies have shown that Mediterranean cooking with olive oil is exceedingly heart-healthy.