The majority of people today eat a diet low in fat or high in rancid or hydrogenated fats. On a cellular level, why is a low-fat (or “poor fat”) diet detrimental to health?
For years Westerner’s were told to eat a low fat diet in order to be healthy even though as far back as 1939 this myth had been debunked. In his book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Weston A. Price, DDS related how various cultures thrived with a higher fat diet. He studied cultures, which at the time, were not influenced by Western or Modern life. The Masai people of Africa, for example, only had 4 dental cavities of over 2500 studied. They were impressionable figures with many over six feet tall. They sustained themselves on a diet consisting mostly of Meat, blood, milk and some fruits and vegetables.
There are many reasons to eat a diet containing healthy fats. Fats make up very important parts of cells (the plasma membrane). Fats (lipids) are crucial in forming the membranes that surround each of our cells. Our amazing bodies can also convert fats, into Adenosine Triphosphate or ATP energy to be used by our bodies. This makes them essential nutrients along with proteins while carbs are non-essential. Our body can make some of the Amino Acids needed for our cells, but for overall cell health dietary fats are crucial.
Fats and Cholesterol are also precursors to hormones such as Estrogen and Testosterone. In the athletic world it is common to find women who do not have their menstrual periods due to low body fat composition. Over a period of time this can be dangerous and unhealthy. For men, increasing fat in the diet can aid with testosterone levels.
Fats are also important for regulating the blood sugar and absorbing crucial vitamins like A, D, K, and E, which are fat soluble. Vitamin D deficiency is common in Western countries.
Why are poor fats bad?
For years we have been told that Saturated fat should be avoided, but it turns out that they are the most stable fats. On the other hand polyunsaturated fats are the most troublesome especially when heated because they become unstable. This instability can cause free radicals. Free radicals can combine with others of their kind to form toxic substances like hydrogen peroxide. These free radicals can lead to cell damage of various types of cells like DNA, proteins or lipids.
The process of hydrogenating a polyunsaturated fat to make a solid fat at room temperature is also dangerous and unhealthy for the body. The process forces the hydrogen atom to change its position on the fatty acid chain. This is called trans formation and is inherently unnatural. The problem is that the body does not recognize these trans fats as bad and incorporates them in the cell membranes where they can cause issues with chemical reactions. Correlations have been seen between hydrogenated fats and cancer. Altered fats can also mess with essential amino acids causing sexual dysfunction, high cholesterol, obesity and immune diseases among others.
It is important to choose high quality fats in your diet and avoid processed foods with hydrogenated oils. Look for good quality butter, olive oil, and coconut oil.