Fats And Cholesterol, Debunking the Myths, Why You Need Them, And More!

In this post, I’m debunking myths about fat and cholesterol!

Fats are important to include in your diet:

  • They are a source of energy, which your body can also store for later use

  • Essential fatty acids are dietary fats that are essential for growth, development and cell functions

    • Essential means they come from your diet, and your body can’t make them

  • Your brain contains large amounts of essential fats

    • It is very important in children as they grow and develop, to make sure their diet is rich in essential fats

  • Fats are important for maintaining healthy skin and other tissues; and 

  • They are needed for absorbing fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K so you can use them

    • Vitamins A, D and E are important for healthy skin

    • Vitamin A is also important for your immune system and vision

    • Vitamin D helps just about everything including bone health, your immune system and mood, and it’s a lot more than a vitamin, it functions like a hormone

    • Vitamin E is an important antioxidant for cardiovascular health, your immune system, is anti-inflammatory, and may help lower your risk for cancer; and

    • You need vitamin K for your bones and to clot your blood

Cholesterol deserves mention here too. I know there is still a fear and confusion around cholesterol for some folks. Cholesterol is needed for:

  • The structure of your cell membranes

  • In order for your body to make vitamin D

  • It’s essential for the synthesis of hormones including cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone

  • It forms the myelin sheath that protects your nerve cells and allows them to conduct signals

  • It’s needed to make bile acids so you can digest food; and

  • Most of the cholesterol you have is made by your body (~80%). If you eat more your body will make less, of you eat less your body makes more!

I see cholesterol levels too low in so many clients. Yes, too low! If your LDL is less than 80, you’re going to have issues with all of these functions!

Here’s the deal with cholesterol. Your total cholesterol number really doesn’t mean much. If you have high LDL cholesterol, this is known as the bad cholesterol, that is a sign of underlying inflammation. And here’s where some confusion lies.

LDL cholesterol responds to inflammation in the body.

When you have inflammation, that can cause injury (tiny tears) to your blood vessels, veins and arteries. LDL cholesterol swoops in to help plug up those tears. It’s trying to protect you! And what do we do? We lower cholesterol levels. This leaves the underlying cause of inflammation active to continue to wreak havoc on your body, and what really needs to be done is identify and address why you have inflammation in the first place.

Also know that LDL cholesterol particles come in different sizes. Understanding the make up of your LDL cholesterol is important because if your particles are large fluffy ones, they are healthy. On the other hand if they are small and dense, those are the ones that are more of a concern.

The same goes for HDL cholesterol, known to be the good one. Depending on the make up of your HDL particles, higher HDL may or may not be a good thing.

There is testing that you can have done to better understand the composition of your cholesterol, and give you a better understanding of what your blood lipids mean rather than focusing on a total or LDL cholesterol number that doesn’t mean much! Ask your doctor for an expanded lipid profile.

If you do take cholesterol lowering medications like a statin, it is important that you supplement with CoQ10. Statins block a pathway that makes cholesterol, and that pathway has other roles, including making CoQ10. You need this nutrient for your body to make energy and without it, you can experience muscle, and nerve damage (among other problems) that may become permanent.

When it comes to foods that contain healthy fats, fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and herring top the list. They are rich in omega 3 fatty acids, which help keep your skin moisturized, help maintain healthy skin, and lower inflammation (like that in eczema and psoriasis). They also are beneficial for your heart, mood, infant health and neurodevelopment, cancer prevention, Alzheimer’s, cognitive function, dementia, age related macular degeneration, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel diseases, ADHD, and allergies.

Omega 3s are essential, meaning you need to get them from foods you eat because your body can’t make them. Your body can then make other fatty acids from the essentials.

Fatty fish are also a good source of vitamin E, an important antioxidant for skin health, that also helps reduce inflammation.

Fatty fish are rich in protein too, and you need protein to maintain, build, and repair skin.

Zinc is another important nutrient for your skin found in fatty fish. Zinc regulates inflammation, the production of new skin cells and overall skin health. A deficiency of zinc can cause delayed healing of the skin.

Avocados are another favorite healthy fat source of mine, and they are rich in vitamin E.  Vitamin E and vitamin C work together in your body (you need vitamin C to regenerate vitamin E). Vitamin C is important for collagen production and therefore your skin health. Low levels of vitamin C can cause easy bruising, and dry, rough, scaly skin. Vitamin C is an antioxidant as well, and avocados are a pretty good source of it.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant as well, and is the most abundant nutrient found in your adrenal glands. That means you need more of it when under stress. Chronic physical, chemical, and emotional stress burns through nutrients and steals them from other needs your body has.

  • Examples of physical stress include restricted diets, over exercise, physical trauma, impaired gut health, illness and disease of any kind

  • Examples of chemical stress include prescription medication use, environmental pollutants, pesticides and processed foods

  • Examples of emotional stress include personal, financial, and work related concerns 

So if you are under a lot of stress, and therefore are burning through vitamin C, you need more vitamin C to make sure you have enough vitamin E! This is an important example of how all nutrients work together in the body, and why you need to be careful when supplementing with single nutrients. Trying to correct one deficiency can cause others!

Walnuts are a great fat filled nut. They contain essential fatty acids (omega 3s and 6s), zinc, and small amounts of antioxidant nutrients including vitamin E, vitamin C, and selenium. You need selenium to make your body’s master antioxidant, called glutathione, and also to make thyroid hormones. Brazil nuts are the richest food source of selenium.

Other favorite fats of mine are olives and olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, ghee, and grass fed butter. Ghee and grass fed butter are sources of butyrate, a short chain fatty acid that confers overall health benefits, and specifically for your skin.

Not only do health fats have all the benefits mentioned, eating fat with each meal helps balance your blood sugar levels (along with protein), keeps you fuller longer, and prevents that HANGRY feeling!

How much fat should you eat?

A serving of fat is:

  • 1 Tbsp oil (olive or avocado, coconut oil, ghee, grass fed butter)

  • 2 Tbsp nut butter 

  • 1/4 cup nuts

  • 1/4 cup olives

  • 1/4 avocado

For young kids, especially, fat and cholesterol play important roles in brain development. And for those under 2 years old, fat should not be restricted. Generally, kids should eat a varied diet with about one third of calories coming from fat.

In general my rule of thumb is to include a healthy fat source with each meal, and don’t worry about serving size. Healthy fats don’t need to be limited or restricted (you need unsaturated and saturated fats, yes saturated ones too). 

What should be avoided are trans fats, and these are processed fats found in processed junk foods.

Questions? Book your introductory consultation with me!

Thumbnail photo credit: Roberta Sorge