By Carie Conell

Significance to Overall Health

Fat: the ultimate enemy of all diets, the reviled adversary of health and beauty – and above all, perhaps the most misunderstood and misrepresented category of food.  While popularly portrayed by the processed food industry and many diet programs as a vile obstacle to a healthy body and lean physique, fats (the good fats) are essential to overall health.

Fats, also known as lipids, are a class of organic substances that usually occur in the smaller form of triglycerides in our bodies.  Fats represent a concentrated, essential energy source that take longer to break down and absorb and thus help to keep you feeling fuller longer.  Fats are the building blocks for cell membranes and hormones, giving our cell walls their firmness and flexibility.  Fats are essential to your body’s effective use of vitamins, as they act as carriers for the important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, K, E.  Also, dietary fats necessary for conversion of carotene to Vitamin A and for absorption of necessary minerals

The confusion surrounding fats and their supposed danger in causing heart disease and obesity is fostered by prolific advertising and the commercial food industry.  While elevated levels of triglycerides in the blood stream have been linked to increased potential coronary disease, the important difference is the type of triglycerides.  Those found in our bodies and consumed from plant and animal sources are not the triglycerides that threaten your heart.  The other triglycerides are produced in the liver from an excess of sugars (carbohydrates including sugar, white flour, and other highly processed foods) that have not be used for energy.

Saturated fats are a subgroup that has been most misrepresented by the food and diet industry, touted as dangerous and threatening to heart health.  Not only do these fats not cause negative effects, but they have been proven to be vital to the health of many bodily functions.  Saturated fatty acids are essential to the strength of cell membranes, enhancing the immune system, and protecting the liver from alcohol and other toxins.  In addition, saturated fats are key to protection against harmful microorganisms in the digestive tract and helping proper absorption of calcium into bones.

Sources of “Good” Fats

When considering fats and their effects on the body, it is becoming increasingly common to hear references to the “good” fats.  This usually means fats that are most usable and necessary for health.

Good fats to eat are olive oil and the oils from almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans, and avocados.  Butter is a wonderful source of good fat and should have a strong place in yours and your children’s diets.  For cooking, coconut, palm, and olive oils are good fats because they can sustain very high temperatures before going rancid.  Canola and corn oils, commonly used for cooking, are bad because they go rancid at high cooking temperature.

Canola oil is particularly bad because toxic chemicals and high temperatures are used to extract the oil from the original seed.  This process leaves the oil in a form that does not occur normally in nature and makes it unsafe for human bodies.  The high temperatures used to make the oil often turn it rancid before it reaches stores, and the fats found in this and other vegetable oils have been linked to cancer and heart disease.

Avoiding bad oils and fats and only using good fats will help you maintain healthy hormone balance, brain development, and lean body mass for your children (and you too!).

8955507_mHydrogenated fats and polyunsaturated oils, found abundantly in processed foods, are dangerous for heart health and weight.  Instead, seek out extra virgin olive oil and unrefined flax seed oil to replace the unhealthy hydrogenated soybean, canola, cottonseed, and corn oils.  Organic butter is an excellent source of good fats and should always be chosen over highly refined margarines and vegetable oil substitute spreads.

When considering what to eat and what to feed your children, it is so important to remember that the closer something is to its natural form, the better it will be for your body.  Low-fat foods are processed and reduced from their natural valuable form and should be avoided for their additives.  Most processed foods contain refined oils that are unhealthy byproducts of their original vegetable, soy, or corn form.  These oils still carry the chemical additives used in the refining process, and these chemicals are harmful for your body.  Again, butter, coconut, and olive oil are good choices to opt for over processed oils and fats.

Recommended Fat Consumption

Adequate and abundant amounts of good fats are important for all ages, but are especially significant for young bodies.  Babies and young children benefit from more fat as they are growing because their bodies use it more quickly and effectively than do adult bodies. (Of course, this means more of good fats!)

Mother’s breast milk is high in fat content (over 50% of its content is fat, and much of that is saturated fat), and as babies and toddlers move from the breast-feeding phase of life to eating solid food, it is still essential that they consume adequate proportions of fat to fuel their growing bodies.

It is recommended that toddlers and young children consume about 6 tablespoons of fat a day (based on a dietary allowance of 1500 calories daily).  This fat should come from an assortment of good fats, including those found in raw nuts and seeds, butter, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, and raw dairy products.