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Posts Tagged ‘cell membrane’

The next few posts will explore the role and important relationships of fat and oils  (together called lipids) in our bodies and our metabolism; what they are, where they’re located, what are “good” fats and what are “bad” fats, and some of the myths and misinformation relating to fats.  I’ll try and give you at least a short version of the skinny on fats.

There’s a story out there that fat is bad. It’s ugly, it’s nasty, it maims and kills, and nutritionally, we should stay as far away from it as we can. Well, guess what? All that’s not true. Fat is our friend  and we can’t live without it.  In fact, we’re “meant” to eat fat.

While water may be the most underutilized nutrient, fat is probably the most neglected, rejected and least understood.  So, why all the fuss about fat?  Because it’s involved in so many (dare I say most?) metabolic processes in some way, shape or form (and fat takes on all kinds of shapes and forms for being such a simple molecule).

For starters, most of our brain is fat (more than 50%), and our neurons could not function or fire without it.  About 75-80% of the myelin sheath that surrounds all of our nerve cells is made up of fatty acids.  Being a fat head is really a complement (to good health).

Fats are highly protective of our organs, giving cushioning and shock absorption to vulnerable tissues and cells.  With all of the jarring and jostling that our bodies take each day, fat softens the blows, making for happier, healthier organs.

Fats are the precursors and building blocks of many of our hormones, that complex chemical web of communication that tirelessly gives and receives messages for our myriad metabolic processes, like growth, reproduction, energy production and storage, construction and destruction of building blocks, fight and flight responses, pleasure, pain and on and on.  What would puberty be like without fat to get things stirring?

Fats are necessary for healthy liver function.  Both healthy cholesterol and bile are made from fat (cholesterol is found in nearly every cell of our body and is the main building block of most hormones).  Bile, which is made from fat, is also responsible for breaking down fats in our digestive processes, so that fats can be easily absorbed into our blood stream.  Bile is part of the great fat recycling system.

Fat is needed for the absorption of all of the “fat soluble” vitamins — A, E, D, and K.  These vitamins are instrumental in supporting healthy hair, teeth, bones, immune system function, calcium balance, cell growth, blood balance and clotting, antioxidant support and anti-aging qualities, amongst other things.

Fats are also imperative for managing anti-inflammatory responses.  The biochemical pathways for both inflammation and anti-inflammation start with good, healthy, and specific fatty acids.  Many practitioners see systemic and specific inflammation as the leading cause of many degenerative diseases, including cardiovascular disease.

Fats supply a slow and steady source of energy.  While carbohydrates burn quickly (like the kindling on a fire), fats burn at a more even pace (like a log on the fire), which gives a much more sustained form of energy (and therefore is more satiating).  Fats actually keep you from eating too much (unlike carbs).

Maybe the most important single characteristic of good fats is their role in the structure of every cell in our bodies.  Each of our 40-50 trillion cells has a membrane which serves as the brain and communication hub of the cell (much more important in many ways than the cell’s nucleus).  This cell membrane is made up of a phospholipid, or fat layer, that helps to protect and define the cell.  When we consume “bad” fats, such as hydrogenated oils, this membrane becomes compromised and the cell does not function effectively.

And, finally, fats  just plain taste good.  Humans have a natural attraction to fats (even though we’ve been told to avoid them like the plague, for the past 30 to 40 years).  Our hunting and gathering ancestors often went for the organ meats and fatty tissues first, and ate the lean meats as “leftovers” after making a kill.  Traditional societies still relish fats as the major nutrient in their diets.

Next time we’ll look at the many different types of fats, how they differ, and what makes a “good” fat and a “bad” fat.

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