Fat’s where it’s at

Fat’s where it’s at – at least that’s what my Dad says when he hears the word come up, especially when it comes to complaints about weight loss or being too heavy.  My Dad is a man of few words, but when he does speak it’s usually something unexpectedly funny.  However on the serious side of things, he’s actually right!  Fats are a really important part of a healthy diet, weight loss, satiation, metabolism and of course, making the food we eat taste delicious!

Though for this blog I’m focusing on fats, it’s worth noting that food, especially GOOD food is essential to our health and affects our health in four main ways:

  • It provides energy
  • It fuels our metabolism
  • It becomes a part of our body structures and,
  • It influences hormones and neurotransmitters necessary for our body’s to perform their daily functions

Many people are unaware that the types of fats you consume not only affect your body’s composition (how much fat you have compared to muscle and water) but they even affect your individual cells and how they function.  Aside from the facts that some fats will indeed make you fat when overconsumed over time, some fats will also cause your cells to function poorly.

The border of your cells (plasma membrane) is made up of a fatty layer of phospholipids – they have fatty tails and phosphate heads (imagine little tadpoles).  One part of the tadpole loves water, the other does not and this is what helps to regulate what substances can move in and out of the cell.  In order for our bodies to function, there are hormones and neurotransmitters coming in and out of our cells all the time. The types of things moving in and out and the rate they move drastically affect our metabolism and your body’s ability to function in general. Naturally, if these cell borders are made of fats, the type of fats we consume will drastically affect how our cells function.

There are two main types of fats:

  • Saturated Fats
    • Generally solid at room temperature
    • Animal fats, palm and coconut oil are natural sources
  • Polyunsaturated Fats
    • Generally liquid at room temperature
    • Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids
    • Found in fish, walnuts, flaxseed, canola oil, soybeans, to name a few

While there are many positive and negative effects of fat consumption, in this blog I want to look specifically at how they affect our cells.

A diet high in saturated fats will actually cause your cell’s borders to become more rigid and a diet high in polyunsaturated fats will do the opposite.  Ideally, your body needs those borders to be fluid and flexible to make it easy for your cells to communicate.  When they are so tightly packed together, it can be extremely difficult for the passage of hormones – insulin resistance is a great example of this.  It occurs when those little tadpoles are packed so closely together that it becomes difficult for insulin to enter the cells.  This leaves excess insulin floating around in your blood stream which increases your risk of type II diabetes.

Another area of the cell that is greatly impacted by fats are the peroxisomes.  The WHAT?  You don’t need to remember the name!  BUT…what you do need to remember is that these little organelles work hard all day long to break down fats consumed in our diet.  When peroxisomes break down fat, they actually produce a lot more heat than actual energy compared to what other areas of the cell can produce.  They are specialists when it comes to breaking down omega-3 fats, however they need a lot of fat in order to produce a significant amount of energy in your body.  This is GREAT news for those of us consuming omega-3’s on a regular basis because peroxisomes will burn MORE omega-3’s fats to produce the same amount of energy required by your body to do work as other areas of the cell.

While this is great news for fat consumption, it certainly doesn’t mean we need to rush out and start eating fish and consuming omega-3’s like the ocean is about to dry up.  It’s super important to stick to your recommended daily intake of omega-3, more is not necessarily better.  According to the dietitians of Canada, adult women should be consuming 1.1g/day and adult men 1.6g/day.  For the average person, you could easily achieve this by eating 2 servings of fish per week.

Consuming a diet low in saturated fats and high in polyunsaturated fats is critical not only to fat loss, but also to maintain a healthy bodily functions!  I think most of us know this by now as the media has drilled it time and time again, but often the science behind it is isn’t explained.  Hopefully this gives you some insight…and perhaps extra motivation to watch those saturated fats!

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