Published on the Samahita Retreat Blog, May 6, 2016—the website has since been overhauled and many blog links severed.
When we place heavy fitness demands on our bodies, we want to feed it in a way that encourages a primal sense of “enoughness.”
Google “good fats” and “health” and you’ll see quickly see why the low-fat diet trend has all but died. Yet before we look into how fat is good for our lives, let’s consider that maybe it’s time to ditch trends altogether.
With all of the information available through the Internet, we can either get overwhelmed or excited—because finally we have a chance to experiment and see what is just right for our bodies. This is actually not a new concept at all. In fact it is the premise of ayurvedic wisdom: Learn, try it, see how your individual system responds, repeat.
Just as medical doctors are now focused on personalized medicine and unique metabolic markers to treat disease, we, too, are now informed enough to make food and fitness choices that reflect our own bodies. That said, let’s look at some reasons healthy fat is a friend so that we can each explore its role in our fitness routine and overall health.
1. Fat is energy-dense and time-released. Compared to carbohydrates and proteins, fats contain more than twice as many calories per gram. They are also processed, stored and used differently. The body calls on them to build cell walls, assist in metabolism and as an energy reserve. When consumed as energy, fats “burn” slowly—like a big log, vs. a piece of paper (refined sugar) or twigs (complex carbohydrates). This slow burn of energy can help keep many cravings at bay because when you eat them you feel full longer and gain a general a sense of satiation.
2. You need fat to process some important vitamins. Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble. This means that they require a minimal amount of fat consumption to be processed and stored by the body. These vitamins are basic to myriad functions, including vision, reproduction, immunity, bone formation, protection from free radicals and many more.
3. Fat provides insulation, stamina and a general sense of wellbeing. A certain amount of body fat is healthy. It ensures that our organs are insulated and that we maintain a healthy core body temperature. When we place heavy fitness demands on our bodies, we want to feed it in a way that encourages a primal sense of “enoughness.” Once body fat dips below a certain fat percentage, deprivation cues take over and compromise our physical capacity in terms of strength and stamina. In extreme cases, brain function is impacted. It’s kind of like your body has a brain and you want it to think in terms of abundance instead of scarcity!
4. It’s sugar, not fat, that is emerging as a big culprit in cardiovascular issues. This is partially due to the fact that industry uses carbohydrates and sugars to replace fats in trendy low-fat versions of foods. Driven by more than a decade of marketing, people have consumed these and become fatter for it. Fats like avocados, specific types of nuts, olive oil, coconut oil and ghee are emerging as superfoods of sorts. And with these you get the added benefit of not throwing off your insulin levels (as your body processes excessive amounts of glucose) or your liver enzymes (as your body processes excessive amounts of fructose). Insulin, diabetes and cardiovascular function are all under the microscope right now as closely related and impacted by excess carbohydrate consumption. This study highlights how excessive loads of sugars impact the receptors in blood vessels and affect cardiovascular function.
5. Level out that energy spike, and focus on enjoying life and activity instead of just when you will eat next. As mentioned, fat burns more slowly. Add this in with proteins and carbohydrates and you have a well-rounded campfire. But if you have just paper and twigs, you constantly have to replenish it and dust out the ash. Of the many benefits around this way of eating is the opportunity to eat less often. And this is showing to be a huge benefit to health—giving the digestive system a rest so the body can do other things like clean itself and repair tissues, see point ten of this article.
We are often marketed to with images of ultra-thin people. In reality, what is most stunning is someone who is confident, balanced and radiant. Fat is part of this equation, and let’s make sure it’s the good kind, vs. the processed stuff in many fast and packaged foods.