No Need to be Fat-Free

Here’s what healthy fats can do for you.

| July/August 2005

  • Evening primrose is a good source of anti-inflammatory fatty acids.
    Karen Bergeron,

Raise your hand if you’re a junkie for fat-free. I used to be one myself. Like many people, I bought fat-free products because when I ate them, I felt virtuous — or at least a bit less guilty. Because we all know fat is bad, right?

Wrong. Some fats are good for us, and others downright essential. Since I’ve learned about lipids, I’ve kicked the fat-free habit. Now I say yes to fats from herbs, veggies, nuts and fish, and feel much better for it.

Fat Is a Cellular Issue

The truth is, our bodies need fat to function. Hark back to Biology 101 and think cellularly for a minute. Remember that every cell in the body has its own little membrane, which keeps all the bits together so they can work properly? And that cells are always on the move, shucking and jiving, thriving or dying, taking in nutrients and excreting wastes through their membranes? Sure you do. And do you recall what these membranes are made of? Bingo: fatty acids.

Every cell in the body requires a certain amount of fat to maintain top condition. Fats also keep hair and skin healthy, as well as make us feel satiated after a meal. Not only that, but a few vitamins (A, D, E and K) are fat-soluble and can only be carried throughout the body in the presence of fats.

Not All Fats Are Created Equal

So what’s all the fuss? It looks as though fats are a girl’s best friend! Well, it’s all a question of choice — and moderation. Eating too much fat is not wise, as it can lead to weight gain and high cholesterol. Knowing what kinds of fats are in foods is the key to smart eating. Some fats are good for us, and some decidedly are not. Which fats should we avoid, and which contribute to a healthy diet?

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

In general, we can call most saturated fats bad and unsaturated fats good. Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature and come mainly from animal products like meat, butter, milk and eggs. Three vegetable oils — coconut, palm and palm kernel — also are highly saturated. However, research suggests that these tropical oils actually may confer some benefits. Some studies show they don’t raise cholesterol. Coconut oil, for example, is high in lauric acid and contains trace amounts of caprylic acid. It has been shown to contain antiviral and antifungal properties and support proper immune function.

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