The mere mention of an avocado make people cover their bathroom scales like mirrors during shiva. So acute is the aversion to fat that the thought of consuming nuts is akin to an aesthetic death sentence, a body-conscious individual’s worst nightmare. Yet the traditional breakfast in most western societies has become a croissant and an accompanying beverage. A calorific start to the day with added high levels of undesirable fat and sodium are preferred to unprocessed, naturally occurring food options.
Weight concern is as common in modern day living as rain in the United Kingdom. During the 1980’s, fitness gurus and experts advocated the indiscriminate limitation of all fats in the daily diet. That started the anti fat revolution with the focus on a variety of fat free products, promoting increased consumption of carbohydrates. Biscuits, crackers, bread and similar products reigned supreme.
The disconcerting after-effect is that the incidence of obesity, the prime motivation of fat reduction, has increased in Western society even after the war on fat was initiated. Nutritional experts have since been desperate to educate the confused and misguided population and health care professionals about the true value of fat, with specific emphasis on the alarming increase in learning disabilities such as dyslexia and other attention deficit disorders and cardiovascular ill health.
A nutritious diet includes carbohydrates, proteins and fat. Carbohydrates are converted to glucose, the preferred food for brain function, and primary source of energy. Protein is essential for growth, development, cell regeneration and immune support.
Fats are essential in the diet to provide:
• a concentrated source of energy;
• regulation of cardiac cells
• an insulating layer under the skin;
• structural components in the body;
• functional constituents of many metabolic processes;
• a vehicle for intake and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamins A, D, E & K);
• an important contributor to flavour and palatability of foods.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are made up of the ‘good’ fats that our bodies need in order to perform specific functions in targeted areas within the body, such as membrane structure and permeability. EFA’s are termed essential because they cannot be manufactured by the body, and thus need to be present in the foods that are consumed regularly.
EFAs support the cardiovascular, reproductive, immune, and nervous systems. The human body needs EFAs to manufacture and repair cell membranes, enabling the cells to obtain optimum nutrition and excrete harmful waste products. A primary function of EFAs is the production of prostaglandins, which regulate body functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, blood clotting, fertility, conception, and play a role in immune function by regulating inflammation and encouraging the body to fight infection. EFAs are also needed for proper growth in children, particularly for neural development and maturation of sensory systems, with male children having higher needs than females. Foetuses and breast-fed infants require an adequate supply of EFAs through the mother’s dietary intake to promote healthy growth.
Two important polyunsaturated fatty acids, Omega-3 (linolenic acid) and Omega-6 (linoleic acid) are said to play a major role in cardiovascular health and stroke by raising HDL (high-density lipoproteins) and lowering LDL (low-density lipoproteins). HDL is commonly known as “good” cholesterol and LDL is referred to as “bad” cholesterol. Additionally it is believed that these fatty acids decrease bone loss, reduce symptoms of arthritis by decreasing inflammation, promote wound healing, and improve skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema and acne.
These simple form EFA’s are converted within the body, in a healthy state, in order to become more specific within their action on specific target areas. α-Linoleic acid is converted to docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These converted EFA’s play a vital role in normal brain development, communication and vision. (If you were to ignore the water content, the dry mass of an adult brain is made up of 60 per cent fat). Fish is a rich source of the already converted omega 3 sub groups DHA and EPA.
List of conditions associated with EFA deficiency:
Inflammatory bowel disease
List of signs / symptoms of EFA deficiency:
Dry skin (face/arms/feet)
Scaly or flaky skin (legs)
Cracking/peeling fingertips and skin (heels of feet)
Small bumps on back of the upper arms
Patchy dullness and / colour variation of skin
Mixed oily and dry skin (“combination” skin)
Irregular quilted appearance of the skin (legs)
Thick or cracked calluses
Dandruff or cradle cap
Dry, lacklustre, brittle or unruly hair
Soft, fraying, splitting or brittle fingernails
Dull nails (Lack of surface shine)
Slow growing fingernails
Dry mouth or throat
Inadequate vaginal lubrication
Premenstrual breast pain or tenderness
Excessive ear wax
Allergic symptoms (eczema, asthma, hay fever, hives)
Stiff or painful joints
“In applying [the popularized low-fat guidelines], you must recognize that not all fats are the same…and that the twentieth-century increase in heart disease [as well as cancer and autoimmune diseases] has not been accompanied by an increase in the nature of fats consumed.”
A better understanding of the types of fat available in the human diet and their essential function within the human physiology may see a reduction in many debilitating degenerative diseases. Health care professionals and dietary educators alike have an obligation to encourage the population to regularly consume good sources of EFA such as:
• oily fish, including atlantic salmon, tuna, mackerel, halibut, rainbow trout, sardines and anchovies.
• flaxseed (linseed)
• hemp oil
• soya oil
• pumpkin seeds
With continued education we can dispel the anti-fat myth and together build a healthier nation, potentially free of modern day, preventable diseases.
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2. Richardson A. They are what you feed them. HarperThorsons. London. ISBN 978-0-00-718225-1
3. Pizzorno JE Jr, Murray MT, Joiner-Bey H. The Clinician’s Handbook of Natural Medicine. Churchill Livingstone. China. ISBN 0-443-07080-6
5. Galland L. Fact sheet on Dietary Fats and Disease. Townsend Letter for Doctors. 75:518-519. 1989
• Tortora GJ and Derrickson B. Introduction to the Human Body. John Wiley & Sons Inc. United States of America. ISBN 100-471-69123-2
• Carrié I, Clément M, De Javel D, Francèa H, Bourre J. Specific phospholipid fatty acid composition of brain regions in mice: effects of n;-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid deficiency and phospholipid supplementation. Journal of Lipid research. 41, 465-472. 2000
• McCance and Widdowson’s. The Composition of Foods, 5th Ed. Bookcraft. Bath, UK. ISBN 0-85186-391-4
This article was published in issue 181 of Positive Health On-Line Magazine in 2011