by Melanie Christner, NTP, CGP, CHFS
You’re probably going to notice (if you haven’t already) that fats are my favorite macronutrient. Proteins and low-glycemic veggies as Carbs definitely have their place, but fats hold a special place in my heart (literally and protectively)
Here is a lesson I wrote last spring for the Calm Mind course, and I wanted to share it with my readers. I hope you find it helpful!
Did you know?
- Fats are a considerable part of EVERY one of our 100 trillion+ cells. The quality of fats you eat = the quality of your cells.
- Fats & cholesterol are critical in making steroid hormones, which influence our moods.
- Fats make up about 60% of your brain’s dry weight.
- Fats satiate us and make food taste good.
- Fats are essential in the makeup of our neurotransmitters…our brain and gut messengers.
This lesson includes…
- A Fat Story
- Who messed with fats and cholesterol?
- What do fats have to do with moods and mental health?
- Fatty acid deficiency
- Roles of fats
- When, and how much, do we need fats?
- What are good fats to cook and eat with?
- Where do I find good fats?
- I-LOVE-FAT Recipes
A Fat Story – (condensed version)
I adore fat.
I didn’t always. And I didn’t give it much thought until around age 30. Growing up my family cooked and baked yummy food with industrially produced vegetable oils or mainstream butter, depending on the application. In my 20’s I bought into the low-fat thing and bought fat-free sour cream. (Food industry adds genetically modified corn syrup and other sweeteners to make up for the lack in good taste that is lost when removing the natural fats.)
Thankfully that low-fat phase didn’t last forever. I lost some health and vitality, which led me to research what healthy traditional cultures ate. Now, among other dietary changes, I stay slim, strong, and mentally calm by consuming plenty of nourishing fats as part of a balanced whole food diet, and avoiding the real fat producing and mood diminishing culprits – sugar and processed foods.
Who messed with fats & cholesterol?
As a culture we weren’t always scared of fat. This modern phenomenon is largely due to erroneous reporting by a researcher named Ancel Keys, in the 1960’s. Big-agriculture got involved (because you could make a lot more money from cheap, subsidized mono-cropped grain/seed based vegetable oils, than sustainable pasture raised healthy animal fats) and for the past 50+ years we have been led to believe that natural and traditional fats are evil and not necessary for human health, while grains and vegetable oils have been pushed as a necessary part of our diet. At the same time (and due to more factors than JUST fat, I know) we are more aggressive, more depressed, and more anxious than ever.
So what do fats have to do with moods and mental health?
Again, the brain is composed of mostly fat…about 60% of its dry weight.
Every one of our 100 trillion+ cells has fats composing its outer “lipid bilayer” or “membrane”. The quality of the fats we eat determines the quality of our very cells. These cells make up our organs, our tissues, our nervous system, our brain, and every other part that is “us”. High quality cell membranes allow for good messaging between cells and good transfer of nutrients, again attesting to the importance of the types of fat you consume.
Processed fats like Crisco, Pam, Better than Butter, and a whole lot of other margarines, shortenings, vegetable oils, spreads, as well as processed fats as ingredients in processed foods, are foreign to our human physiology. The unsaturated fatty acids that are contained in these seed and plant oils are unstable and easily damaged. When put through the high heat, high pressure, chemical extraction, the fatty acids structures are chemically altered and become even more harmful. On top of this processing, many are hydrogenated to stay solid at room temperature. This process also involves high temperatures (248 – 410 degrees F) in the presence of metals like nickel and aluminum. Remnants of these toxic metals stay in the hydrogenated oils and add to the general toxic load on the body. Toxic metals have been linked to brain & mental conditions such as Alzheimer’s, learning disabilities and dementia.
Here’s a clip showing how vegetable oil is made…pay attention to the line about canola oil being one of the healthiest oils on the market…choke and gasp!
Many hormones (our body’s messengers) and neurotransmitters (substances that carry nerve impulses from one neuron to another across a synapse) are made of fat. Hormones and neurotransmitters are substantial players in our mental well being. This makes fats extremely important in our diet.
Starving our bodies of fat, or just not getting “enough”, can cloud our brain’s perception and leads to seeing the world through the lenses of anxiety, depression, mistrust, anger, aggression, or mood swings and, combined with toxins, and even leads to more serious mental conditions like bipolar or schizophrenia, addictive behaviors, or developing seizures and epilepsy episodes.
Fatty Acids = The smaller components of Fats
Today, healthy fatty acid deficiency is epidemic.
Deficiency leads to:
- Musculoskeletal issues
- Endocrine issues
- Cardiovascular issues
- Immune issues
- Allergies and asthma
- Depression and other mood disorders.
Roles of Fats:
- Provide a source of energy (fats are the longer lasting fuel, the “logs” with carbs being the “kindling”)
- Are important in the makeup of cell membranes (as you can see in the graphic…the lipids, the cholesterol, the fatty acid tails…)
- Are necessary for healthy liver function: building healthy cholesterol and bile
- Are required for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins: A, D, E, K
- Are required for the adequate use of proteins
- Serve as a protective lining for the organs of the body
- Play a role in slowing the absorption of food for proper energy regulation
- Are imperative to managing the inflammation process
- MAKE FOOD TASTE GOOD!
So when do we need fats? How much?
Every body is bio-individual and will need to figure out what their body needs. A general goal for your meals, or your day, is this: 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fats. 30%!!! Sweet, right?
As Brenda lays out in Lesson 1 the kinds of carbs, proteins and fats are the difference between what is harmful and what is healthy.
What are good fats to eat and cook with?
We need a variety of healthy fats. For your brain and gut health, animal fats from healthy animals are the most nourishing and soothing. Traditional healthy cultures cooked with animal fats such as goose fat, lard, beef tallow, duck fat, and butter. In the tropics, the powerfully anti-microbial fat, coconut oil, was also used.
Healthy Fatty Acids – remember, approximately 30% of your diet…awesome, huh?
|Fish oil||Blackcurrant seed oil||Extra virgin olive oil||Coconut oil|
|Flaxseed oil||Evening Primrose oil||Hazelnut oil||Butter (pastured best)|
|Walnut oil||Sunflower oil||Palm oil|
|Hemp oil||Sesame oil||Animal fats from pastured animals|
Just a note: Many of these fats overlap in other groups…these are just listed according to their predominant fatty acids.
Another note: Watch for the processing of your oils. The delicate Omega fatty acids are very susceptible to heat damage, so should be cold extracted. If wishing to preserve the fatty acid profile in your meats and fish, different methods of preparation need to be considered.
Saturated fats are very stable and thus less susceptible to heat damage, which means they are good for cooking with. Duck fat and beef tallow are especially good for high heat cooking.
Where do I find good fats?
You will want to get fats from healthy animals for this reason: toxins are tucked away and stored in fats until they can be safely eliminated by the body. So a healthy animal = fat that will be healthier and without toxins. The healthiest way to raise animals is on green grass in the sunshine. Cows raised on grass and sunshine actually have substantial amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids, while cows raised on corn do not. Farm-raised salmon may have little to no Omega-3 fatty acids while wild-caught salmon are rich sources. Organic Valley is now offering a pastured butter.
Get to know your local farmers and ask around at your farmer’s market. Often pig farmers will have lard they can bring you if you ask (make sure the pigs are pastured or raised free ranging in the woods), a farmer raising beef may have suet that you can melt down for tallow in your crock pot, you can roast a whole duck and keep the ample fat drippings (stored in your fridge). Your pastured chicken farmer might just render chicken fat if you ask for it.
Online sources can be pricier, but here are some options:
- US Wellness Meats – A good source for tallow, lard, raw cheeses, grassfed butter, and more
- Tropical Traditions – High quality coconut oil and other natural products
- Fatworks – A new kid in town but very promising, they offer hard-to-find fats like duckfat
- Wilderness Family Naturals – A good site for real mayo, coconut oil and other products
Steps for Getting Started…
- Get rid of your spray on oils for cooking and baking. Replace with butter or other stable cooking oil (see chart above). I recommend pastured butter.
- Replace your liquid vegetable oils with nourishing, immune boosting coconut oil.
- Stop buying anything low-fat or no-fat. Instead purchase full-fat products from healthy animals and whole foods.
- Visit a local farmer’s market and find a farmer that is raising animals on grass, in the sunshine…introduce yourself and make a friend! The fat from his animals will be your body’s friend.
“I Love Fat!” Recipes
Preserves the delicate fatty acids in fish, via “cooking” with acidity like lemon or lime juice. A simple Google search can bring up many recipes such as this one: http://www.food.com/recipe/simple-peruvian-ceviche-111154
A recipe for a decadent dessert filled with lovely fats, from my website www.honestbody.com
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1/4 cup raw honey
- 1/4 teaspoon unrefined sea salt
- 3 egg yolks
- 3 ounces 65-85% dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
- Whipped cream, to serve (Simply beat 1 cup of heavy cream with 2 Tbsp honey with your mixer)
Set your double boiler (You can use a stainless steel bowl over a pot) on top of a pot half-full of simmering water. Pour in the cream and warm it for 3 or 4 minutes, then whisk in the honey and salt. Continue whisking until the honey is dissolved. Spoon a bit of hot cream into the egg yolks to temper them, then pour the eggs into the double boiler, stirring continuously for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the chopped chocolate and continue stirring until it melts, combining with the cream and eggs and thickening enough to coat the back of a spoon. Spoon the custard into ramekins, refrigerate it or serve immediately with whipped cream.
Simple Vegetable Stir-Fry
All you need for this recipe is a good cast iron pan, plenty of fat, unrefined sea salt, and your veggies of choice. Veggies should be sliced or chopped in roughly the same size so that cooking time is even.
Heat pan over medium heat, add plenty of a traditional cooking fat such as coconut oil, lard, tallow, duckfat, butter or a combination. Add sliced or chopped vegetables of choice. Examples are: beets, cauliflower, garlic, carrots, onion, broccoli. Sauté on medium heat, stirring as needed, adding more fat as needed to prevent sticking, until veggies are tender and have started to brown or get a little caramelizing on their edges. So good! Season to taste with sea salt and serve.