You've likely heard plenty about 'Healthy Fats' in the news and over social media in the past few years. Perhaps you've pondered about coconut oil, is it good or bad?
You may even know that the FDA removed restrictions on cholesterol intake in the dietary guidelines back in 2015, stating that "it is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption" - meaning that the cholesterol in our food is not harmful - in fact it's essential to good health!
So why were we warned to avoid it for so long? Long story short, those in charge of writing the dietary guidelines got it wrong. This is very long complicated story that weaves in influences from the sugar/food industry, Big Pharma and others who were set to profit off of these recommendations. However the truth cannot be silenced any longer. We have loads of compelling research that demonstrates the importance of cholesterol, along with other healthy fats (like those from coconut or animal products), in our diet.
Unfortunately bad habits are hard to break and the message still hasn't spanned the entire healthcare system.
If you'd like to learn more about the history of the dietary fat guideline check out Nina Teicholz book The Big Fat Surprise or watch the documentary Fat Fiction, or you can visit The Harvard Medical School Blog.
For now, I'd like to shift the focus back to nutrition and what each of us as individuals can do to improve our own health.
Let's get started with some basics:
Cholesterol is a type of fat, or lipid. It is an essential building block for cell membranes and other crucial structures. It is needed to form the protective sheath that surrounds nerve fibers. The body uses cholesterol to make hormones such as testosterone and estrogen, the bile acids we need to digest and absorb fats, as well as the hormone vitamin D. Such an important and versatile nutrient! So eat your bacon & eggs folks!
Saturated Fats form the core structure in the human body. They can convert into energy with NO toxic by-products. Saturated fats also protect the liver (an important digestive organ!) from damage from alcohol or medications. Have you heard of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, K? They required saturated fat to be delivered to the cells and tissues. This process starts in our digestive system. Saturated fats are found in animal products, higher fat dairy products, egg yolks, coconut (milk, oil, cream) and MCT oil.
Monounsaturated fats help to support optimal blood pressure, improves your mood, can help you lose weight, and decreases the risk of blood clots. Monounsaturated fats can be found in animal fats, olive oil, nuts, avocados and whole milk.
Polyunsaturated fats are divided into two categories; omega-3 or omega-6. Omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory, help to prevent Alzheimer’s and autoimmune diseases, support a healthy gastrointestinal tract, and are important for brain development and preservation.
The problem we see today in a westernized diet is that the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 consumed can be as high as 1:30 - ideally, we want it closer to 1:1 or 1:5 at the most. A big reason for this is that one of omega-6's biggest roles is to provide a pro-inflammatory effect. While we do require our body to respond to certain situations and injuries with inflammation, consuming an overabundance of these oils leads to detrimental health consequences. Additionally, much of the omega-6 consumed is coming from harmful seed and 'vegetable' oils and not from whole foods.
Overall, including healthy fats in your diet supports digestive health because they help to keep your digestion "running smoothly". In general, healthy fats improve inflammation, and due to the consumption of an array of inflammatory foods in the westernized diet, the majority of the population is probably experiencing inflammation in their gut to some degree.
Additionally, the saturated fats found in coconut and MCT oil have been shown to help support balanced gut bacteria which helps overall digestion, but can also improve energy levels, how nutrients are absorbed, and even have antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties.
To top this all off, healthy fats taste amazing, and what says good digestion better than delicious, nutrient dense food!
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