We’ve had a guest in our house this week so I’ve been searching for good tasting, nutritious
meals to feed them. They’re a stroke survivor and have bounced back from near total paralysis, to almost full mobility.
I find that absolutely fascinating how the brain can rebuild pathways around the damaged area and re learn how to function. Incredible!
However, as I was preparing a salad last night, and I asked whether they like avocado, I was promptly told that ALL fats are unhealthy. This mind you from someone who’s morning bread rolls are slathered in butter, meat and cheese, as is customary in the country I live in.
I pointed out that this is a false premise, as I have learnt though the course of my Nutritional Therapy training, but they were having none of it.
So, are all fats bad? This weeks nutrition blog post will have a look and see.
What is fat?
It goes without saying that fat is an essential part of our daily diet. We absolutely cannot live
without it. We need it to help protect us from diseases and provide us with a source of energy. If we are lacking in carbs during a time of famine, (which could be dieting or exercise induced) we can call upon our fat reserves to keep us going.
It provides essential cushioning to protect our vital organs from damage and is an insulator, helping to keep our bodies at the correct temperature.
Some vitamins are only fat soluble. And we all know how important vitamins are.
Fat also contains essential fatty acids (EFAs) which are, the clue is in the name, essential for a healthy heart and immune system. The body can’t make it’s own EFAs so we have to get them from food sources.
Omega 3s contribute to the cognitive processes of the brain and let's not forget that fat makes food taste better.
Are all fats created equally?
In a nut shell (no pun intended), NO! One gram of fat is equivalent to 9 calories, which
compared to Carbs and Proteins (4 calories each) is pretty high. So just from that simple equation, we can see that we don’t need very much. If we eat too much, it goes straight to the places we don’t want it to go to. (And when we lose it, it seems to go from the places we’d actually rather keep it in, but I digress)
Different types of fat, have differing chemical structures. This chemical structure has an affect on how the body processes the fat. Trans fats, for example, are almost exclusively manufactured. (some do occur in meat and dairy) They are in many processed foods, are particularly bad, and are linked to heart disease and high cholesterol levels. These man-made fats are chemically altered fats. The chemical process extends their shelf life and means they remain solid at room temperature. Consumption of these fats has been shown to increase inflammation in the body, which leads do disease. There are a lot of studies that basically all agree that they are mean mo-fo’s and it’s best to just limit or stay clear completely.
But what about animals fats? They’re natural, right?
There has been a resurgence of going back to basics and reaching for the butter. Our grandparents and great-grandparents did it, didn’t they? Well, yes they did. And the
majority of them (who survived the war) died, especially the ones who were the grandparents of my generation, from heart attacks, strokes and cancer. A little of what you fancy, is always a good adage to maintain satisfaction, but saturated fat has been shown to increase inflammation in the body in much the same way as trans fats.
There has also been research into the link between saturated fat intake and increased insulin resistance. Type 2 diabetes is one of the fastest growing diseases in our modern world. Eating too much fat contributes to our cells developing a fatty kind of film around them and the insulin just can’t get in the cells.
So what fats should I eat?
Basically, anything that is plant sourced rather than animal sourced. There are of course exceptions to that. Pouring a cheap canola oil or generic vegetable oil down your gullet is no better than frying your bread in the left over bacon fat. (yes, that’s a thing in the UK)
Avocado, nuts, flax seeds, chia seeds and sunflower seeds, to name but a few, provide a good range of EFAs. However, still in moderation. All fat is after all, high in calories and therefore not required in large quantities.
Dr. Michael Gregor did a great podcast with lots of references if you want to look into it more.
So back to my stroke survivor friend
It seems astounding to me, that after a major stroke, most Doctors are not warning against continuing with the same fatty diet that was consumed pre-stroke and that this persons' perception of fat was a sweeping, ‘unhealthy’.
There is unfortunately a misconception that you can exercise away an unhealthy diet. This really isn’t true. The 80/20 rule applies to nutrition in that 80% of good physical health is attributed to a healthy diet and 20% to exercise. It’s plants that provide the essential nutrients needed to keep our arteries and blood vessels clean and strong. So cutting down on animal products and upping plant foods goes a lot further to improving health than swallowing a Statin and a blood thinner, and hoping for the best.
Are you interested in improving your diet but you just don’t know where to start?