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The Truth About Fats: Debunking Myths and Exploring the Health Benefits

Green background with plate and silverware. The plate has toast with slices of avocado and hard boiled eggs.
Think fat makes you fat? We unveil the truth about dietary FATS and why healthy fats are essential to your diet. Learn which ones to enjoy, which ones to avoid and why.

Fat is a macronutrient (along with proteins and carbohydrates) that is essential for the health and well-being of the entire body. When fats are digested, they become fatty acids, which the body uses for energy, building and repairing of hormones, cell membranes, and healthy function and form of the brain, heart and all other organs and muscles. 

There are 3 classifications of fats and we need all 3 types in our diets. All fats/oils are some combination of the following: 

Image explaining saturated, monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Saturated fats are best for cooking, do not go rancid easily and are solid at room temperature. They are the preferred fuel source for the heart. Examples include coconut oil, butter, ghee and animal fats. Monounsaturated fats are ok for low heat cooking and do not go rancid easily. Examples include olives, olive oil, avocado, nuts, nut butters and bone marrow. Polyunsaturated fat are not recommended for cooking and go rancid quickly. These include fish oils, fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseeds and other seeds as well as their oils.

What happens when we don’t have enough healthy fats in our diet? 

  • Low body weight/high body weight (this is often caused by excess insulin/cortisol levels due to overconsumption of carbohydrates) 

  • Dry, scaly skin 

  • Hair loss 

  • Heat/Cold intolerance 

  • Bruising easily 

  • Poor wound healing 

  • Poor growth 

  • Lower resistance to infection 

  • (Severe) loss of menstruation


Some of the Many Roles of Fat

• Fats provide a long, slow burning source of energy - very different than the quick burning energy of carbohydrates. When you eat healthy fats, you are satiated for a long time. It is difficult to eat the large amounts of food necessary in a very low-fat diet to get all the energy you need. 

• Fats slow down the absorption of food for proper energy regulation. 

• Fats serve as a protective lining for organs and joints. 

Fats are necessary for: 

• The make-up and absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. 

• The makeup of every cell membrane in the entire body. 

• The formation and function of every hormone. 

• Healthy liver function: building healthy cholesterol and bile. 

• Managing the inflammatory process. 

What is inflammation? Inflammation is one of the body’s ways of healing and protecting itself. The body has this mechanism of healing by design and inflammation in and of itself is not a bad thing! The body inflames to heal before it anti-inflames. The problems arise when these two processes are out of balance. This is most often caused by a diet high in refined carbs, sugar, processed seed oils and trans fats. It can also be triggered by food sensitivities (most common are gluten and dairy sensitivities but a person can be sensitive to any food). 

What about cholesterol? Cholesterol has received a terrible reputation in the last century and is woefully misunderstood. Much like saturated fats, it has been “demonized” and countless people have been put on medications to lower those “all-important numbers.” There is always more to the picture than just numbers from a single test. Cholesterol has many important roles in the body. Primarily it is used in the makeup of cell membranes, making steroid hormones including the sex hormones, cortisol and aldosterone. It helps bile production (so we can digest fats), and creates and metabolizes vitamin D. Without cholesterol, these processes do not happen well if at all. 

What about OMEGA 3 and OMEGA 6 fats? These are called “essential” fatty acids (EFAs) because our bodies can’t make them and we must get them from our diet. They have key roles in the body’s inflammatory process. 

Omega 3s are anti-inflammatory, while some Omega 6s are pro-inflammatory. The key is to have them in balance. An ideal ratio is 1:1. In today’s modern diet, the typical ratio is more often around 1:20 (Omega 3: Omega 6). This is due primarily to the overconsumption of Omega 6s in the form of vegetable oils used in cooking and in most processed foods, and underconsumption of Omega 3s. We should try to limit/ reduce our Omega 6s (vegetable oils) and increase our Omega 3s (fish, fish oils, flax, and chia seeds). 

An imbalance of PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids) play a primary role in the inflammatory process. When you consume a balance of healthy fats and remove toxins like refined sugar, et al, you will notice a major decrease in discomfort, swelling and pain in your joints, as well as all over your body. Hooray for healthy fats! 

Myth: Fat makes you fat. 

Fact: Sugar, refined carbohydrates, trans (fake) and hydrogenated fats make you fat. The only (macronutrient) fats associated with excess body weight are highly refined seed oils and fake fats. Healthy saturated, MUFAs and PUFAs keep the body healthy and are used as fuel for the body. 

Myth: Fat will give you heart disease. 

Fact: Sugar, refined carbohydrates, trans (fake), hydrogenated and highly processed fats will give you heart disease. 

Read The Label! 

Even if a food label touts “no trans fats”, look for the words “hydrogenated”or “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredients. If you see these words, PUT IT BACK! These are trans fats! 

Often in the media, saturated fat is clumped together with trans fats. They are NOT the same! Your body knows how to process saturated fats. It does NOT recognize trans fats as real food and will end up storing it in muscles, organs, or in adipose tissue (aka “fat cells”). 

“Vegetable oils” (canola, corn, soybean, etc.) are the primary PUFAs that cause problems in the body. They are highly refined, often (always?) made from genetically modified plants (GMOs) and are most likely rancid before the bottle is even opened. The refining process, which involves high heat, chemical solvents, bleaches and deodorants, breaks down their fragile nature. At this point, your body no longer recognizes this as actual food. 

The whole purpose of the refining process is to extend the oil’s shelf life. They sit in clear plastic bottles, exposed to light and air, which further breaks down these fragile fats. 

The longer the shelf life, the shorter your health life.

Sum it all up: Good & Bad Fats

The difference between a “good” fat and a “bad” fat has more to do with how it is processed than the fat itself. Trans fats and vegetable oils like canola, soy, corn and cottonseed oils should always be avoided. These GMO PUFAs are highly processed and refined and found in almost all processed foods. 

If you are interested in learning more about the impact of food on your health, improving your relationship with food and learning to eat nutritiously, join my RESTART program! Classes are ongoing, so you can join any time!

All content of this blog is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this blog.

Kelly Sherman, MS, NC, CGP, CPT, licensed nutritionist

Kelly Sherman, MS, NC, CGP, CPT, is a licensed nutritionist specializing in empowering women to reclaim their health by cutting through misinformation and ditching the diet culture. She has a master’s degree in nutrition and is degreed in exercise science as well as a certified personal trainer. With over 20 years of experience in the field, she combines the best of both nutrition and exercise sciences to best help her clients reach their potential. To nourish is to flourish!


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