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Angie Needels / Director / 510-325-4785



Berkeley, CA


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Nourishment and Support for Growing Families

Sacred Foods: The Basics on Fats & Essential Fats For Our Health

Angie Needels

Healthy fats are an important part of our daily diet.

A rule of thumb: Eat fats and oils from animals and plants that you would naturally eat.

Healthy animal fats include:

butter and ghee

beef tallow

pork lard

lamb suet

chicken schmaltz

duck fat


Healthy plant fats include cold-pressed:

olive oil

coconut oil

avocado oil

other nut and seed oils

Refined vegetable oils such as rapeseed, canola, and cottonseed oils are processed using high temperatures, high pressure, bleaching, deodorizers, colorants, and sometimes are hydrogenated to make them solid fats at room temperature, like margarine and shortening. These processes denature the molecules, strip out micronutrients and fat-soluble vitamins, and can create trans fats. These are not healthy fats for our bodies. Eating whole foods for our dietary fat needs helps with absorption and is preferable to taking oil supplements.

Dr. Weston A. Price observed that indigenous cultures around the world have favored eating fat-rich foods like raw milk and cream, eggs, fish, roe, fowl, game, and organ meats. These fats are nutrient-dense fertility foods and fed to couples during preconception, pregnancy, and postpartum.

Each fat is composed of its own ratio of saturated and unsaturated fats. We tend to think of saturated fats as being solid at room temperature and unsaturated fats as being liquid. No fat is 100% saturated or 100% unsaturated, but is a mixture of both. Fats are made of triglycerides which are three fatty acids attached to a glycerol. Fatty acids are composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen molecules. A saturated fat has its carbon molecules fully saturated by hydrogen, which makes it more stable and less susceptible to oxidation and rancidity. An unsaturated fat has openings for other molecules to attach to it, which makes it more volatile and more susceptible to oxidation and rancidity. Monounsaturated fats have one opening, and polyunsaturated fats have multiple openings. Saturated fats are safer to cook with since they can be heated to higher temperatures without it changing their molecular structure. Saturated fats include butter, coconut oil, and rendered animal fats. Unsaturated fats are best used in cold preparations, such as salad dressing and mayonnaise. Unsaturated fats include olive oil and nut and seed oils.

The foods we eat contain both micronutrients and macronutrients; fat is a macronutrient that contains micronutrients. Micronutrients include vitamins, minerals, trace elements, phytochemicals, coenzymes, and antioxidants. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble, as are the carotenoids: alpha and beta carotene, lutein, lycopene. Fat-soluble means we need fat to absorb these nutrients and make them available for our body to use. Macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Carbohydrates and proteins have four calories per gram, and fats have nine calories per gram. Calories measure the energy that we can produce from foods. Since fats provide more calories per gram, they provide longer lasting energy than carbohydrates or protein and keep us satiated for longer periods of time. For people with blood sugar regulation issues, such as those with diabetes, eating fats with carbohydrates slows digestion as fat envelops glucose and slows absorption of glucose. This is less-taxing on the digestive system and on the pancreas for the production of insulin. When we use fat as the primary source of energy in our cells, we are in a ketogenic state. When we use glucose from carbohydrates as the primary source of energy, we are in a glucogenic state. A ketogenic diet has anti-cancer properties because cancer cells can not use ketones, the energy from fat; they can only use glucose.

Fats do many functions in our bodies. They create the outside membranes of our cells; the quality of the fats we eat affects the quality of the cell membranes in terms of strength, suppleness, and permeability---the ability for nutrients to flow into the cell and for waste products to flow out of the cell. Our skin cells are constantly regenerating, and healthy fats in our diets help keep our skin supple and prevent wrinkles. Our brains are made of 60% fat molecules. Fat provides body insulation and warmth which is essential for living in colder climates. Fat protects our organs, holds them in place, and keep them warm. In Chinese medicine fats are yin and provide a sense of groundedness, security, warmth, and safety.

Fats and cholesterol tend to be controversial topics. Cholesterol is linked to heart disease as it can be seen during surgery blocking arteries. Therefore doctors recommend limiting cholesterol intake as a preventative measure. However a primary purpose of cholesterol is to respond to inflammation in the body and to try to patch up cells. People who have heart disease tend to have high cholesterol and high levels of inflammation in their body. This inflammation may be due to eating processed foods, toxin exposures, or autoimmune disease. A low-cholesterol diet may not lower our cholesterol levels much because cholesterol comes both from foods we eat and is made in our liver. Our bodies will create the cholesterol we need to deal with inflammation. Eating healthy fats brings in cholesterol more easily, so there is less pressure on the liver to produce it, and the liver can devote itself to other functions. Cholesterol is also vital for the formation and processing of hormones; healthy hormone levels help us manage our emotions and stress.

Essential fatty acids can not be manufactured in our bodies; we need to eat foods containing them in our diet. The two essential fatty acids are linoleic acid, an omega-6, and alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3. Omega-3s and omega-6s are precursors to eicosanoids like prostaglandins which control inflammation in our bodies. A 1:1 ratio of omega-3s and omega-6s helps balance inflammation. Omega-3s create prostaglandins which are anti-inflammatory, and omega-6s create prostaglandins which are inflammatory. People tend to eat more omega-6s today, so there is higher incidence of inflammatory diseases. Omega-6s are found primarily in plant fats such as hemp, chia, flax seeds, and any plant-based oils. Omega-3s are found primarily in animal fats such as egg yolks, seafood, and meats. DHA, an omega-3, is found in fish and some sea vegetables, and is important for healthy neurological function starting from conception to continuing to old age. Lauric acid is another fatty acid important for brain development and is found in high concentrations in coconut oil and breast milk. Breast milk is 50-80% fat and is recognized as the perfect food for babies.

A great book for more information on fats is Know Your Fats by Mary Enig.

Vital Choice is a reputable source of seafood and fish oil supplements