Fats – Fat is not your enemy. I know that can sound backward, but your body actually needs fat to work correctly and heal. If you have been cutting out all fats or switching to “healthy” low-fat alternatives thinking you are helping or in an effort to lose weight, stop.
All fats are not the same as far as health goes. “Light” margarine is essentially poison. Yes, it has less fat and calories than an equal amount of butter, but its broken and damaged trans-fat cell structure makes it a non-food, one that our bodies have no idea what to do with. And so our bodies, especially our chronically ill bodies, look at it as poison and, you guessed it, it causes inflammation.
On the other hand, ghee, or clarified butter, our bodies know how to digest better. The same goes for olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil. However, these are all 100% fats. The thinking that it doesn’t matter how much you consume is false. Studies have shown that even “good” fats can raise cholesterol. After eating a mostly Paleo diet for about four years, my LDL raised significantly, which made me research a little further into fats. The thing is, our bodies make all the cholesterol we need. Any amount we add into our bodies is extra and forces our bodies to have to do something with it. Eating animal products might be a major way we mess up our hormones. (Here’s some more ideas on what might be messing your hormones up.)
Where some nuts and seeds are nutritious for (some of) our bodies, most of the oil from them is not and causes inflammation because of the way it’s harvested. If you can find an organic, cold-pressed oil from a non-GMO source like sunflowers, it wouldn’t be the worst thing to use. But the average kitchen oil ends up being broken, rancid and poison in your body. Included in this list is all “vegetable” oils and blends, corn oil, sunflower, safflower, peanut, canola and rapeseed. I mean, what is a canola seed? Right. It doesn’t exist. That’s because it’s a genetically modified something-else-seed.
Seed oils like these are heated to super high temperatures which make them rancid, then processed with a petroleum solvent to extract the oil. Then the oil is treated with acid, then chemically processed to make the color better, then deodorized to make it smell better. Yummy. And if you want to make it margarine? Just hydrogenate this delicious product and ta-da.
If we look at the difference between “vegetable” oil and olive oil, it’s like night and day. They harvest the olives, then grind them up, pits and all, then press them between stones, and collect the oil, separating it from the pulp and the water used to help the pulp move through the mill. The oil that comes from the first pressing is the extra-virgin oil, the most nutritious, and the one you want. At most orchards, they do the picking and bottling within 24 hours.
Another way to look at oils is to find and get them in the foods you eat like nuts, seeds, and avocados and avoid processed oils all together, even “healthy” ones. If we’re trying to eat more whole plants and avoid processed foods, well, oil is a processed food. The ratio of what our bodies need versus how much we routinely cook with and pour over our foods might be something worth looking into and changing.
When it comes to butter, it’s made from a whole food – milk, and also in a simple way. They spin the butter until the cream rises to the top. Then they take the cream and churn it until it turns into butter. If you can handle some dairy, eating organic butter from grass-fed cows is fine. If you can’t, ghee might work for you because the milk solids have been removed. I’ve now removed dairy from my diet and find that the taste of butter isn’t worth the skin irritations and mild stomach upset.
With cooking, ghee is better than butter simply because it has a higher smoke point, meaning you can heat it to a higher temperature before it breaks down and becomes rancid. Ghee can heat to between 400-500 F, butter to 325 – 375F. But if you’re going to melt a little fat on your hot, cooked veggies, butter is fine. Olive oil’s smoke point can be as low as 250F but generally thought to be at 375F. You have to be gentle with it. They aren’t all made the same due to the organic and natural processing. It’s not good for high temp cooking. Extra virgin (unrefined) coconut oil’s smoke point is about 350F. Here’s a guide.
There’s an entire world of cooking without oils out there if you’re concerned about the calories and/or what animal products might be doing to your health. (Some of the recipes on this site are oil free and some are Paleo-friendly.)
What’s good about fat – You can look at your body and see some measure of your fat. You’re either happy with the amount you’ve got or not. That is irrelevant right now. I don’t mean to say it’s unimportant in the scope of your entire life, but as you look at your body, it’s important to learn to be kind, even if you are unhappy with the state of your body visually.
We are doing important work on the inside and part of that is in your mind. Please know that your body has been fighting for you. It’s been doing the best it has known how to do for years. It’s been trying with all its might to be the best it could be. It’s protected you. It’s tried to protect your organs. And yes, it’s now in a state of disrepair, but not out of lack of trying!
So, say a quick thanks, give yourself a break, and let’s start from where we are, not where we wish we were. Let go of the shame. Things are challenging enough without all of that.
Whether you feel you have too little or too much fat on your body, once we get things soothed and your machine working correctly and your system is out of crisis, your weight will shift and correct. There will be time to work on that issue. But for now, let’s look at how fats are good for us in the body.
Body Fat – Our bodies are saturated and monounsaturated fat. Our bodies need real, good, whole fats to rebuild cells, which make new healthy tissue. Fats help our bodies manufacture biochemicals like hormones. Fats are a source of energy. They are made of nutrients. They are vital.
The fat you can’t see is in every cell membrane of your body, holding each cell together. Fat is a part of protecting your nerve cells and makes it possible for them to fire the correct messages so you can think, see, speak, move and do everything you want to do. Your brain? Made of awesome fat. Your hormones depend on fats. You can’t absorb some of your vitamins without fat. During this time of healing, your body needs fats to do all these important processes of regeneration. It’s likely you’ve had hair loss, dry skin, you might get cold or too hot easily, or experience bone aches, or get a lot of colds, or take a long time to heal, or had foggy brain and been tired a lot. These things are what good, whole, healthy fats are going to help.
Here’s how it works: our bodies need us to put some essential fatty acids in our mouths because our bodies can’t make them on our own. For a person with a chronic illness, these essential fatty acids are magic. They give energy to our machine to keep working all throughout the day when previously, it’s been too tired. It helps our skin stop itching. It stops our bones from aching. These magic essential fatty acids act like messengers, helping all the proteins we eat go where they need to go, helping quiet our overactive immune functions, regulating our hormones and helping our brains clear.
Eating enough fat triggers your gallbladder to do its job, which is sending out its bile to digest the fat. If you don’t eat enough whole fats, the bile doesn’t get sent because the trigger never goes off alerting the gallbladder. That means the bile just sits in there, getting thicker and thicker and then when you do finally have a nice fatty meal, the gallbladder has a hard time getting the bile to get going. And the toxins and hormones that are collecting in the gallbladder, waiting to get excreted, just keep accumulating, meaning we get more toxic because those toxins slowly get recirculated throughout our system. This is a very real concern for someone taking on a long fast or juice cleanse and needs to be factored in to doing it safely. Before triggering a cleanse, we’ve got to make sure all our toxin exits are in working order.
Some of your vitamins can only be absorbed in a healthy amount of fat. That includes A, D, E, and K. Balancing your hormones, cholesterol and blood sugar all require good, whole fats, as does breaking down and utilizing proteins. Get whole fats from eating avocado or coconut and a handful of sprouted nuts or seeds and you’ve got all the fat you need.
But what makes the fat from an avocado so much better than that in “vegetable” oil? It’s the PUFAs. Ready to get a little science-y?
Let’s get more technical about PUFAs and OMEGAs – We know that our bodies are made of saturated and monounsaturated fats. A PUFA is a Poly-Unsaturated Fatty Acid and comes in the form or Omega-3 and Omega-6.
PUFAs are essentially broken fats and can be found in the highest quantity in “vegetable” oils and every processed and packaged snack food you can think of. They are missing part of their molecular chains (hydrogen) and because of that, most of the time, our bodies are all, say what? What is that thing? And in the case of a healthy body, it will just hopefully get flushed out. But, in the case of someone with a chronic illness, depending on what kind of PUFA it is, that PUFA can be poison, and poison causes what? Yes, inflammation.
Some Omega-3 essential PUFAs are naturally occurring and this is the kind you need for brain function and helping to keep inflammation down. But too much out of ratio to Omega-6s, and you can trigger a flare up reaction. You’ll find them in some fatty fish like mackerel, tuna, trout, salmon, sardines, all shellfish, liver and in plants. Some people try to boost their intake with Fish Oil supplements. That can be tricky because many supplements are already rancid by the time you purchase them off the shelves. (There’s a debate around whether fish oil supplements will raise your LDL or not.)
Omega-6 PUFAs also occur naturally. They are found in seeds, nuts, legumes and traditionally-raised animal products. They are harder to digest and become anti-nutrients in many people with a chronic illness. Keep that in mind for yourself and don’t be afraid to cut them down if it’s right for you. Your goal for right now is to heal. But don’t cut them all the way out or you will be too far out of ration with Omega-3s. Soak your nuts and seeds and keep in some whole fats.
The poisonous, rancid “vegetable” oils we learned about earlier are teeming with unnatural PUFAs, crazy with free radicals ready to go nuts in your body, wreaking havoc on your metabolism, your thyroid, basically all your hormones, inflaming your organs, and actually signaling your body to store more fat by triggering a specific hormone when they identify Interleukin-6, a hormone inside you which rises in response to excess PUFAs.
Cut out all the over-processed and packaged foods if you haven’t already done so. Stop cooking with and using “vegetable” oils. Stop eating most shellfish for the first few months and then re-introduce it if you’re fond of it and see how you feel. Cut out all seeds and nuts unless they are raw and soaked/sprouted and your body has proven to digest them with no problems. Same for all legumes, (especially all soy which is almost all GMO), unless your body has proven to digest them well. If you’re going to eat meat, only eat organic and/or pasture-raised animal products if possible.