The fictitious old saying “fat makes you fat” has long been debunked by research and literature, yet there is still a lingering fear or misrepresentation of this macronutrient. Fat is a vitally important and nourishing component of our diets, and here are just some of the roles it plays within our bodies.
Function in Brain Health
Omega 3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) makes up more than 30% of the total composition of the plasma membranes in the brain, therefore being vitally important in maintaining membrane integrity and cognitive abilities.
DHA is primarily found in seafood, such as fish, shellfish, and algae, including mackerel, salmon, herring, and sardines.
We have a substance called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which plays a role in nerve cells' survival, contributing to their growth, maturation, and maintenance. Nerve cell (neuron) health within our brain is important to support long-term potentiation, strengthening how effectively neurons communicate with one another to ensure optimal learning and memory, protecting us from conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Our hormones are derived from cholesterol, therefore if we don’t have enough, it typically creates problems with hormone production.
In females, eating a low-fat diet decreases the production of oestrogen and progesterone, which can lead to symptoms of oestrogen deficiency such as night sweats, insomnia, irritability, dry skin and potentially loss of menstrual period (amenorrhoea).
Women have higher energy requirements during menstruation, pregnancy, and breastfeeding; therefore, the requirement of fats as the most energy-dense macronutrient should be prioritised.
In males, omega-3 fatty acids are positively associated with enhanced sperm count, sperm morphology (size, shape and appearance) and sperm motility, in addition to higher antioxidant activity in seminal fluid.
It’s important to understand that unsaturated fatty acids such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (abundant in fatty fish, good quality olive oils, avocados, nuts and seeds) are the fats we want to be choosing, as they aid in supporting healthy cholesterol production, via raising our good HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol that can accumulate in the walls of our arteries to increase risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Fatty acids, especially omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA’s) found in fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds, are necessary for fluidity, flexibility, and structure of cell membranes of the outermost layer of our skin. This contributes to moisture, hydration, and sun protection for our skin.
Omega-3 PUFA’s and fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin E also have an anti-inflammatory function. This means they mitigate inflammation from stress, infection, allergens, toxins, and tissue damage we are frequently exposed to. Skin inflammation presents as conditions such as eczema, acne, psoriasis, and seborrheic dermatitis (a condition characterised by scaly patches, red skin, and stubborn dandruff).
Exposure to substances such as alcohol, tobacco smoke, fried foods and pesticides causes free radical damage to our cells and cell membranes. Vitamin E from sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, egg yolks and olives are a rich source of antioxidants that mitigate this damage from free radicals, contributing to protection from UV radiation, accelerating wound healing from scarring, and promoting collagen production.
Packed with Other Nutrients
When we choose fats from whole-food sources, we are not just consuming fat, we are consuming a complete package of other vitamins, minerals and nutrients that serve multiple functions for our health and wellbeing.
Eggs, for example, are one of the most nutrient-dense foods we can consume, but unfortunately, we still see their yolks demonised in fear of their cholesterol content. Eggs are one of the only foods that contain naturally occurring vitamin D, required for immune function, bone health and mental health. They also contain B vitamins required for energy production and nervous system health and choline required for brain development, memory, and supporting healthy pregnancies.
Do you include a source of good fats with every meal?
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