Eating Fat & Why It Matters

I'm not going to lie- growing up I definitely had a fear of eating fat and it took me a really long time to get past the misconception that eating fat will make you fat and that is was extremely unhealthy.  A child of the 80's and 90's, I grew up during a time when low fat was all the rage. I would have my fill of Snackwells (and by 'my fill' I mean the whole box- because, hey, they're fat free!!!), margarine, and fat-free potato chips which were cooked with Olestra, an ingredient that had a very unappealing effect onthe body- if you've had it, you know what I mean. Back then I would rather die than touch a fat filled avocado or butter or red meat.  But here's the thing.  Fat is good for us. Like really, really good for us and our country's fear of fat has led many people to deny their bodies of one of the most essential nutrients for their health. 

All of our body's functions and our brain health are dependent on the health of our cell membranes and it so happens that these membranes are mostly composed of FAT---75% phospholipids, 20% cholesterol and 5% glycoplipids to be exact. Healthy fats keep our cell membranes strong, flexible and in communication with their surrounding environments. When our membranes are weak or rigid, we are susceptible to disease and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's Disease, heart disease, Cystic Fibrosis, Muscular Dystrophy, premature aging...the list goes on and on.  

It's important to get a bit of an understanding of the role fats play in the makeup of the cell membrane in order to understand just how vital they are. Phospholipids, the largest component of the cell membrane, have a head and two tails---one straight, one crooked. The straight tail is made up of saturated fats, which are fats that are solid at room temperature and can be found in meat, dairy and certain plant products including palm oil, coconut oil and cacao butter.  These fats provide the cell membrane with stability and do not interact much with their environment.

The crooked tail is made up of unsaturated fats which are fats that are liquid at room temperature and can be found naturally in avocados, nuts and vegetable oils. These fats are not as strong as the saturated fat tails, but they interact with the cell's environment and allow the membrane to be flexible.

The phospholipids line up in such a way that a semi-permeable wall is formed which controls which substances are allowed to enter or leave the cell. So you can see how crucial it is to have these phospholipids working optimally, they are pretty much the cell's gate-keepers.

Problems arise when we are not eating enough fat or when we are eating the wrong kinds of fats. When processed fats (mainly hydrogenated fats, partially hydrogenated fats and unsaturated fats that have become rancid) are eaten they displace the healthy saturated and unsaturated fats in the phospholipids tails.  The permeability is affected and the membrane becomes rigid, trapping waste in the cell and not letting in healthy materials.

Cholesterol is another word that brings fear to many people's minds. However, it is a major component in the health of the cell membrane and is responsible for maintaining the structure of the membrane walls. Cholesterol molecules are located between membrane phospholipids. They prevent the phospholipids from packing too close together which would result in the membrane lacking permeability, meaning nutrients could not get in and waste could not get out. It is important to make sure you are eating enough cholesterol-rich foods like eggs, liver, butter and red meat to ensure sufficient permeability.

Glycolipids help with communication and cell recognition. These are found in milk, ideally raw milk. Unfortunately the commercial milk that most people drink has been heavily processed so the fat obtained from it has been altered and is pretty unhealthy.

It's important to recognize that cells are the building blocks for our bodies. They provide structure, take in nutrients,  create energy and carry out functions essential for life.  If the cell membrane is compromised our cells won't function properly, our tissues and organs will begin to deteriorate, and our health will decline.

So what are the best ways to keep your cell membrane healthy and functioning at an optimal level?

-eat healthy saturated fats from organic meat, dairy, palm oil, and coconut oil

-eat healthy, natural unsaturated fats from avocados, nuts and olive oil

-drink raw milk

-eat cholesterol rich foods like eggs, liver, butter and red meat

-avoid processed and hydrogenated fats

-avoid unsaturated fats that have not been consistently stored in a cool location, kept out of the light or stored in dark colored bottles