Fats contain carbon, hydrogen, and some oxygen. The three main forms of fat found in food are: glycerides – mainly triglycerides, the form in which the body stores fat for fuel; phospholipids; sterols – mainly cholesterol.
These crucial nutrients provide up to 10 kilocalories per gram of energy, compared with four kilocalories per gram from carbohydrates and proteins. Fats are not taken up directly by any tissue, but must be hydrolyzed outside the cell to fatty acids and glycerol, which can then enter the cell. Thus, when metabolizing fats, the body must use energy, primarily from carbohydrates in glucose form, to produce energy.
Fats come from food, adipocytes (fat cells), and some amino acids. Lipolysis, or fat breakdown, occurs in the mitochondria, and lipogenesis, or fat synthesis, then takes place the liver, adipose tissue, and intestinal mucosa. The fatty acids derived from this process are essential for metabolizing carbohydrates and using them as energy. Fat also maintains cell regulatory signals (essential to combating auto-immune conditions), supple skin, balanced hormonal function, and healthy nervous system response. Without the presence of fat in the system, the body stores carbohydrates as fat because it does not know when it will next gain this essential nutrient.
Hence, when the body is deprived of fat, it may crave carbohydrates, causing the binge response that can lead to weight gain. When we consume healthy fats, the body feels satisfied with less food. When fat is present in a meal, the brain releases endorphins to signal fullness, provide ease, and lubricate the digestive system so that it can effectively process carbohydrates and proteins. We support our strength and ease by eating small quantities of high-quality fats such as olive, sunflower and coconut oils, animal fat from poultry, eggs and fish, and hormone-free butter.
Fats contain omega 3, omega 6, and other essential fatty acids, which soothe nerves and lubricate bones and joints. Fats support the function of hormones such as the adrenals, which maintain healthy stress response and support immunity.
Healing Properties of plant fats:
Olive oil: monounsaturated and liquid at room temp., first cold press olive oil is high in anti-inflammatory polyphenols, which reduce risk of heart disease, maintain a balanced cholesterol profile, and reduce the overgrowth of ulcer-inducing helicobacter pylori bacteria in the intestines. It improves calcium levels in the blood and enhances memory function by oxygenating blood.
Sunflower oil: this polyunsaturated oil is rich in vitamin E, which stimulates the liver rejuvenation and aids in nutrient absorption; its high magnesium content soothes nerves and muscles, acts as a diuretic for water retention, and lubricates the digestive system to aid elimination.
Coconut oil: saturated fat, solid at room temperature, is a plant-based alternative to saturated animal fats. It stimulates brain function and promotes intestinal motility; its anti-bacterial benefits make it an important fat to choose during times of illness or infection and is specifically indicated for combating intestinal parasites.
Visit the Harmonized Cookery website for healthy animal fat recipes such as ghee (clarified butter) and chicken stock.
Source information: Bland, Jeffrey S. et al. Clinical Nutrition: a Functional Approach. Gig Harbor, WA: Institute of Functional Medicine, (1999).
Lisa Mase is a whole foods cooking educator, translator, and herbalist with a passion for words and nourishment. Lisa writes about healing foods, mindful eating, and cooking traditions on her blog Harmonized Cookery.