By Mark Hyman, MD Huffpost Healthy Living
It's time to change the way you think about fat. For 30 years well-meaning diet gurus have preached that eating fat makes you fat. I'm here to tell you that fat, in and of itself, is not what is making you fat. Instead, it's eating too much of the wrong kinds of fat. After all, all fats are not created equal. But, if you are like 90 percent of Americans, you are eating the wrong kind of fat most of the time. Time for an oil change!
What is Fat?
Fat is one of the body's most basic building blocks. The average person is between 15 and 30 percent fat! Of all of the types of fats in our diets, the body only REALLY needs two -- omega-3s and omega-6s. What is an omega fat? The omega numbers (in this case 3 and 6) refer to where the hydrogen atom joins the fat molecule. Remember, the name is just basic chemistry lingo. What is important is to understand the impact of different fats on body.
The higher-quality the fat, the better your body will function. That's because the body uses fat you eat to build cell walls. You have more than 100 trillion cells in your body, and every single one of them needs high-quality fat. How do you know if your cells are getting the fats they need? Your body sends signals when it's not getting enough good fats. It's up to you to recognize the warning signs:
- Dry, itchy, scaling or flaking skin
- Soft, cracked, or brittle nails
- Hard earwax
- Tiny bumps on the backs of your arms or torso
- Achy, stiff joints
Which Fats to Eat and Which to Avoid
If you want to settle for shoddy, stick with a diet of processed foods. Most processed foods are made with poor-quality omega-6 fats because they are abundant and cheap. Plus, fat makes food taste good and improves its texture. Take a look at the ingredients of your favorite packaged food. If the list includes oils made from corn, soy or safflower, you are getting a sub-par fat. When the body puts these cheap fats to work, the cell walls are also sub-par. That means instead of flexible and responsive, cell walls are stiff and rigid. The more rigid the wall, the slower the cell functions and the more vulnerable it is to inflammation.
To ensure your body has the fats it needs to construct high-quality cell walls, you need to eat more omega-3 fats. For starters, cell walls made from omega 3 fats are flexible, allowing cells to respond more quickly to messages. Secondly, these "good" fats help the body churn out prostaglandins, hormones that put the kibosh on inflammation. The best places to find omega-3 fats include cold-water fish, organic canola oil, walnuts, Brazil nuts and sea vegetables.
Your body is designed to run on high-quality fats. Scientists suspect that early humans ate almost equal amounts of omega-6 fats and omega-3 fats. (Back then, most people got their omega-6 fats from seeds and nuts.) But, as people began to refine oils from plants, the ratio became skewed toward omega-6. As a result of fats being out of balance in the modern diet, our bodies are more vulnerable to diseases such as cancer and heart disease. After all, when the human diet contained a balanced number of omega-3s and omega-6 fats, heart disease was almost nonexistent. Now cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the developed world.
The more omega-3 fats you eat, the easier your body cools itself. A cool body is a less inflamed body. And inflammation is at the root of nearly every chronic disease, especially those impacting the brain and the heart (1).
Of all the body parts dependent on high-quality fat, the brain is uniquely vulnerable. That's because the organ brain is made up of 60 percent fat, the biggest portion of which is an omega-3 fat called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA for short) (2). Your brain needs DHA to spark communication between cells. Easy access to high-quality fat boosts cognition, happiness, learning and memory. In contrast, studies link a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids to depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia (3).
After the brain, it's the heart that will thank you for eating more omega-3s (4). The heart is a direct beneficiary of omega-3 fats. They tamp down cholesterol by reducing levels of bad fats (triglycerides). Meanwhile, they raise levels of good fats (HDL) in the blood. Part of their magic is that omega-3 fats make blood more slippery, which reduces the likelihood of artery disease.
Beyond the heart and brain, eating the right fat also helps you shed fat. Healthy cell walls made from high-quality fats are better able to metabolize insulin, which keeps blood sugar better regulated. Without proper blood sugar control, the body socks away fat for a rainy day. Ironically, it's not eating fat that makes you gain weight it's eating the WRONG types of fat.
3 Ways to Change Your Oil
The process of rebuilding all the walls of your cells can take up to a year, so there's no time to lose. Here are three ways to change your body's oil:
- Eat more wild or sustainably raised cold-water fish. Aim for two servings a week. The best sources of omega-3s are wild salmon, sardines, herring or small halibut. Of course, everyone is concerned about the sustainability and safety of fish. It's important to know where your catch comes from. For more in-depth information about seafood safety and sustainability visit http://www.oceansalive.org/.
- Buy omega-3 rich eggs. These are one of the few animal products that are low in toxins and high in quality fats that balance blood sugar. These eggs supply the body with DHA and don't raise your cholesterol; just the opposite. Enjoy up to eight of these eggs a week.
- For good measure, take an omega-3 supplement twice a day with breakfast and dinner. Look for a reputable supplement maker that certifies its products are free of mercury and other contaminants. (For more information, see The Healthy Living Store). Choose a supplement with 500 to 1,000 milligrams of omega-3 fats. (A ratio of roughly 300 EPA and 200 DHA is ideal).
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Now I'd like to hear from you...
Do you eat a lot of processed foods?
Are you consuming the right kinds of fats?
Do you suffer from memory or cognition problems?
Please leave your thoughts by adding a comment below.
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, MD
(1) Wolfgang, K et al. 1999 C-Reactive Protein, a Sensitive Marker of Inflammation Predicts Future Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Initially Healthy Middle-Aged med. Circulation 99 (2) 237-242
(2) Bradbury J 2011. Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA): An ancient nutrient for the modern human brain. Nutrients 3 (5): 529-54
(3) Freeman, MP, et al 2006. Omega-3 fatty acids: evidence basis for treatment and future research in psychiatry. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 67 (12): 1954-1976. Review.
(4) Mozaffarian D, Wu JH, 2011 Omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease: effects on risk factors, molecular pathways, and clinical events. Journal of the American College of Cardiology 58 (20): 2047-67
(5) Mozaffarian D, Wu JH, 2011 Omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease: effects on risk factors, molecular pathways, and clinical events. Journal of the American College of Cardiology 58 (20): 2047-67
Mark Hyman, M.D. is a practicing physician, founder of The UltraWellness Center, a four-time New York Times bestselling author, and an international leader in the field of Functional Medicine. You can follow him on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn, watch his videos on YouTube, become a fan on Facebook, and subscribe to his newsletter.