I admit that probably just like you I suffer from lipophobia from time to time.
How can we not be afraid of eating dietary fat? After all, since the mid-20th century, we have been programmed and brainwashed to believe that eating fat will make us fat.
Thanks in large part to food manufacturers and sugar industry executives and lobbyists for the junk food industry most of us have been led to believe that eating fat causes heart disease and other health problems.
If only fat grams listed on nutrition facts labels were instead labelled by its more scientific name, “lipids.” If that were the case then maybe a consumer who is thinking about buying one of the healthiest cooking oils on the planet—avocado oil—wouldn’t be scared of the fact that it contains 14 grams of fat in just one tablespoon.
Thankfully, I got over my lipophobia several years ago when I embarked on my journey as a functional medicine provider and health coach. But every once in a while when I look at a food label, if I see that a serving of food has a high amount of fat, for a brief second, my brain processes the information as if I were still living in the 1980s and 1990s, before I knew that eating natural sources of dietary fat contributes to optimal health rather than kill people prematurely.
How pervasive is the fear of dietary fat? Here’s a fun thing to do next time you go food shopping: count the number of non-fat and low-fat items. You can stop when you get to 50!
In my functional medicine practice, I help people discover the root causes of their health concerns. Through functional lab testing, I help people discover nutritional deficiencies. And one of the most common things I see when I analyze a client’s real time nutritional evaluation is an essential fatty acid deficiency.
What Are Essential Fatty Acids?
You’ve probably heard of omega-3s and omega-6s. These are two types of essential fatty acids. They’re called essential because you need to obtain them from food; your body doesn’t produce it on its own.
Why Are Fatty Acids Important?
Just as amino acids serve as the building blocks of protein, essential fatty acids (EFAs) are the building blocks of cell membranes.
Why is this important? I admit to never giving thought to my cell membranes but I should.
That’s because each one of us has approximately 37 trillion cells. And each one of our 37 trillion cells has a cell membrane.
Cell membranes play a critical role in communicating with other cells. So the strength of your cell membranes determines how strong an immune system you have. With weak cell membranes, your cells die, and then the organ and tissues of that cell network also die.
And when it comes to looking your best and feeling your best, EFAs are critical. Supplementing with EFAs has been shown in research studies to improve joint pain and other inflammatory conditions.
In addition, if you’re having trouble going #2, EFAs can help. That’s because they play a critical role in removing waste from the body.
EFAs also help burn a particular kind of fat in your body called “brown fat.” As opposed to dangerous white fat that’s responsible for spare tires and saddlebags, brown fat helps you become a highly-efficient bodyfat-burning-machine—but only if it gets activated.
Are you able to concentrate on what I’ve written so far? If not, that’s a sign you have essential fatty acid deficiency. EFAs fuel brain power and can also help keep your mood stable. Studies (like this one) show omega-3 fatty acids can help prevent depression.
I’ll leave you with one more essential fatty acid benefit for now, although there are many more. EFAs can help prevent hair loss. Thinning hair or even baldness is thought of as something that mostly affects men. But approximately 30 million women have Female Pattern Hair Loss, the most common form of thinning hair in women. (I’ll cover this topic in greater detail in a future post. Stay tuned.)
Best Sources of Essential Fatty Acids
I’m going to focus on omega-3s because Americans consume way too many omega-6 fatty acids. I’m not saying you shouldn’t eat omega-6s because there are very healthy ones. But there are also omega-6s that cause terrible inflammation in the body. The worst offenders are vegetable oils. Which brings me back to being fat-phobic. If you didn’t know any better, “vegetable” oil sounds very healthy. After all, veggies are good for you, right? But the most common veggie oils—corn, soy, canola and cottonseed—quickly turn rotten when they are exposed to heat or light.
To coat the frying pan, use avocado oil or walnut oil. Grass-fed butter is also good.
As for the best natural food sources of omega-3s, I love wild salmon. You can also buy flavored cod liver oil. (Unflavored tastes disgusting.) The most concentrated sources of omega-3s and therefore the best are, like salmon and cod, aquatic creatures: Sardines, oysters, anchovies, caviar, mackerel (the richest source of omega-3s) and herring.
Besides wild salmon, you probably don’t eat these other fish and marine creatures very often. Which is probably one main reason why you may have an essential fatty acid deficiency.
The two best land-based animal sources of omega-3s are pasture-raised eggs and grass-fed beef.
Plant-based sources of omega-3s contain the essential fatty acid, ALA. But ALA doesn’t convert very effectively into the two other, more potent omega-3 fatty acids: DHA and EPA. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid the best vegetarian sources of omega-3s, which includes: flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and hemp seeds.
Say No To Snack Foods, Say Yes To Healthy Fats For Increased Fat Burning!
As I mentioned earlier, Americans consume far too many omega-6s and far too few omega-3s, so when I talk about essential fatty acid deficiency, more accurately most Americans have an omega-3 essential fatty acid deficiency.
But there are very healthy sources of omega-6s you should consume every day such as evening primrose oil, blackcurrant seed oil, borage seed oil, hemp seed oil and blue-green algae. (These are all available as supplements, making it easy to get your daily dose of brown-fat-burning essential fatty acids.)
Just imagine how quickly you’ll get leaner by including healthy sources of fatty acids in your diet. Of course, you gotta give up the empty-calorie snack foods and highly-processed junk meals. But you don’t have to do it alone. I’ll hold your hand every step of the way and tell you exactly what to eat and what not to eat.
So stop being afraid of fat! Don’t believe the non-fat and low-fat hype, and don’t be conned into buying cheap vegetable cooking oils. Together, let’s you and I overcome essential fatty acid deficiency.
Take that first step towards reclaiming your life by getting in touch with me today.
To your health,
Jenna L. Witt, APRN
Family Medicine/Functional Medicine
Certified Health Coach