Last month we delved into the world of fats. We talked about the good and bad ones we find generally in our diet.
I’d recommend getting stuck into that before you read this as I’ll be discussing different conditions and breaking down the importance of specific fats to assist managing them.
Fat for weight management
Managing our weight is a complex issue, comprising not only what we eat but our bodies normal weight control mechanisms, energy intake versus output, sleep, neurobiological control, excess and access etc. Just like any health condition each individual has their own contributing factors when it comes to their weight.
Over the many years, health professionals have tried to find the magic bullet for the obesity epidemic, dietary fat was a casualty. It was demonised and viewed as the absolute cause for cardiovascular disease & metabolic conditions. Thankfully, we’re moving away from this mentality, however I do notice occasionally that foods higher in fat still instil fear.
Incorporating gorgeous monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) and some saturated fat like medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) can be an important tool for helping you manage your weight.
Yes, fat is higher in calories… about double of carbohydrates and protein. But when it comes down to it, calories are not the be all and end all and not all fats are created equal.
We need to consider how each macronutrient works in the body once we’ve digested them not just the energy they provide.
We can definitely over-do it by having an abundance of energy/calories day-to-day, but we also need to look at the macronutrient (protein, fat & carbohydrate) balance on our plate.
As a result of the anti-fat movement, ‘skim’ and ‘lite’ products were touted across the world as the answer to managing weight.
What we need to understand, is when they rip out the naturally occurring fat from a food, we remove an important component which helps to regulate our blood sugar. And because milk has a higher carbohydrate load due its lactose content, it actually has a pretty high blood sugar spiking effect. Quite often to make skim products taste more palatable, greater amounts of sugar is added. Talk about a double negative!
Blood sugar dysregulation commonly contributes to weight issues via the release of the insulin which helps our body store macronutrients rather than releasing them.
Fat is an important component of a meal when it comes to weight management via triggering release of digestive hormones which delays gastric emptying & motility. This increases the satiety of the meal and reduces our appetite, essentially chance later on reaching for something a little cheeky (1). These mechanisms help slow the absorption of carbohydrates in to your bloodstream, which reduces blood sugar and insulin spikes that are known to contribute to metabolic conditions including obesity.
Looking at dietary patterns that focus on a lower carbohydrate intake and higher fat intake have been shown to be therapeutically applicable for managing weight (however this topic is a little lengthy, so we might cover that a little later on).
Fat for your brain
Most of our brain is made up of fat, so our mood, cognition and memory among other things depends on a healthy level of it in our diet.
Alright, time to bear with me while we dive into a little science to help us understand why fats are a "no-brainer" when it comes to our brain health.
Every cell in our body which makes up our tissues & organs- including our brain, has a cell membrane. This layer is made up of cholesterol, phospholipids, proteins and carbohydrates. The cell membrane allows some things in and keeps other out depending on their function, and allows messages to be relayed to get the job of the cell done.
Bad fats (eg. trans fats) can compete with good fats (Omega-3s) for incorporation into this cell membrane, so if you’re not getting the good ones in or getting too much of the bad ones- this layer becomes inflexible and won’t function properly.
If the cell becomes rigid then important things like hormones, neurotransmitters, nutrients, electrolytes can’t connect to their receptor or enter the cell.
Think of it as a key not fitting into its lock.
Alright, still with me?
So each cell also contains a little powerhouse called a ‘mitochondria’.
These are integral to our cells to function optimally, by taking in carbohydrates, protein & fat to make energy. These are really sensitive to damage and certain nutrient deficiencies, like essential fatty acids. Mitochondrial dysfunction impacts neuron function by reducing energy production and has been correlated to a number of degenerative neurological disorders eg. Alzheimer’s Parkinson’s, depression & Autism.
Not only are omega-3 fats important for the composition of nerve cells, they also help to dampen inflammation which is a significant factor in the conditions mentioned above (2). They’re also the main building block of myelin sheath that covers our neurons and helps them to communicate and transmit their message.
Fat for your hormones
Our liver naturally produces cholesterol to form our reproductive hormones and to help form the structure of our cell membranes. For years, cholesterol was demonised and eliminated from our diets, however we now understand that our body naturally alters its own level of production depending on our dietary intake.
Contrary to popular belief dietary cholesterol has little effect on our blood cholesterol levels and unlike some bias assed “health” documentary which talked about eggs being equal to smoking cigarettes (ffs). Eggs are actually incredibly nutrient dense (but we’ve just gotta know where they are coming from?). They’ve also been shown to have no effect on total serum cholesterol levels (4).
Essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) have demonstrated that they support optimal fertility, pregnancy and menstrual cycle function through production of these hormones and cellular support. Further to this, shifting from a diet low in fat or high in bad fats to these beneficial kinds can improve metabolic and overall endocrine (your hormone system) function which is clearly significant for our overall health.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is considered a metabolic condition and is characterised by insulin resistance and high levels of androgens (male sex hormones), although these hormonal shifts do contribute to cyst development and poorer fertility outcomes. One important treatment aim is to improve metabolic health and increase insulin sensitivity, and as a result reduce circulating androgens (5). Like we discussed above, omega-3 help our cells to become more sensitive to insulin, which helps to regulate our blood sugar, manage weight and improve metabolic health (5).
Good fats aren’t just for the ladies, omega-3 and omega-6 fats are important for sperm production and successful fertilization.
High amounts of oxidative damage and inflammation can damage sperm DNA which impacts sperm motility and morphology. This is where omega-3 fats come in to protect the sperm from damage improve sperm concentrations, motility and morphology.
It feels a little like we’ve only scratched the surface, but I really hope that if you have feared fat in the past that this article has shown just how important they are.
Next month we have a really exciting collab with Simon from Save the Bees & Brooke Keam Photography. We’ll be talking all things bees and the importance they hold for our world and health.
Love Romy & Ali,
- Cooper, J.A. (2014) Factors affecting circulating levels of peptide YY in humans: a comprehensive review. Nutrition Research Reviews, 27, 186-197
- Raison, C.L. Lowry, C.A. Rook, G.A.W. (2010). Inflammation, Sanitation, and Consternation: Loss of Contact With Coevolved, Tolerogenic Microorganisms and the Pathophysiology and Treatment of Major Depression, Arch Gen Psychiatry, 67(12): 1211-1224.
- Assies, J. Pouwer, F. Lok, A. Mocking, R.J.T. Bockting, C.L. Visser, L. Abeling, N.G.G.M. Duran, M. and Schene, A. (2010). Plasma and Erythrocyte Fatty Acid patters in Patients with Recurrent Depression: A Matched Case-Control Study, PLoS One 5(5): e10635. Doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0010635
- Melough, M.M., Chung, S., Fernandez, M.L., & Chun, O.K. (2018). Association of eggs with dietary nutrient adequacy and cardiovascular risk factors in US adults. Public Health Nutrition, doi:10.1017/S1368980019000211
- Mohammadi E, Rafraf M, Farzadi L, Asghari-Jafarabadi M, Sabour S (2012). Effects of omega- 3 fatty acids supplementation on serum adiponectin levels and some metabolic risk factors in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Asia Pac J Clinical Nutrition, 21(4)