Low fat. No fat. Reduced fat. These days, fat is considered the enemy to anyone who wants to lose or maintain their weight. Grocery store shelves are full of nonfat or reduced fat versions of traditionally high fat or unhealthy foods. Want to lose weight and still eat cookies? No problem! Want a slice of pizza without the guilt? Just add some nonfat cheese!
Except that the American obsession with eradicating fat from our diets has created a number of more serious health problems. The fact is, the human body needs some fat in order to function and maintain optimum health. Just like eating too many of the wrong fats can cause serious heart problems, diabetes and other complications, not eating any fat at all can also be detrimental to your health — and can literally hurt you.
The Pain-Fat Connection
When you think about fat, you probably imagine your cells storing the excess fat that your body doesn’t need. Too many fat cells equals weight gain — and weight gain can mean a whole host of other health issues.However, it’s not just the stress of carrying that excess weight that causes health problems. When you have too many fat cells, they undergo a metabolic process that essentially turns them into a trigger for inflammation. Inflammation is the underlying cause of almost all serious diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, cancer, digestive disorders and rheumatoid arthritis.
At the same time, not eating enough fat can cause serious health problems as well. Your central nervous system relies on fat in order to protect the neural pathways that transmit nerve impulses; not eating enough fat can cause mental fatigue as well as depression or mood disturbances. Not getting enough fat can contribute to vitamin deficiencies, as many vitamins are fat soluble, meaning that they need fat in order to be absorbed. Dry skin and hair, difficulty regulating temperature and excess hunger can also be attributed to an extreme low-fat diet or not eating enough of the right fats.
Pain is also common among those who fail to eat enough good fats. Fats act as a sort of lubricant in the body, helping maintain not only digestive function, but also helps keeping joints healthy. And again, too much of the wrong fat can cause inflammation that contributes to chronic joint pain. Thankfully, anti-inflammatory treatments will reduce acute or short term pain, and a change in diet can actually help reverse damage and even prevent chronic pain and discomfort.
What to Eat
Most people look at fat as either saturated or non-saturated fat, believing that saturated fat is the enemy while non-saturated is “the good stuff.” However, it’s a little more complicated than that.
Instead of focusing on saturated/non-saturated, we need to be paying attention to the Omegas — more specifically, getting more omega-3 fats in our diet and eating fewer omega-6 fats.
Omega-6 fats are the most common fats found in the American diet. Contained in common cooking oils, like sunflower, corn, and vegetable, these are the fats found in fast food and commercially processed foods. These fats are inflammation promoting, and considering that for most Americans, almost 20 percent of their daily calorie intake is Omega-6 fats, it’s no wonder that so many people are experiencing health problems.
Omega-3 fats, on the other hand, are neutral, meaning that they do not increase or decrease inflammation but still offer all of the important health benefits of fats. Experts recommend that adults get from 1 to 4 grams of omega 3 fats each day while limiting omega 6 fats as much as possible. How you get your omega-3s matters too: In general, seafood is the best source of omega-3s, as the body is better able to process those fast than those from plant based sources.
To help reduce inflammation and increase the proteins that help prevent inflammation:
- Eat as much fresh, unprocessed food as possible to reduce omega-6 intake.
- Add fish to your diet. A single three ounce serving of salmon has two grams of omega-3 fat. Other fish species, including tuna, are also high in omega-3 fats.
- Add flax seeds. Two tablespoons of ground flax seeds has three grams of omega-3. Add the powder to a smoothie, your favorite breakfast cereal or other recipes.
- Cook with canola oil, instead of vegetable, sunflower or corn oils.
- Snack on nuts, avocados and other “healthy” fats.
- Consider a supplement. Taking a fish oil pill daily can help significantly reduce inflammation causing proteins.
Cutting fat from your diet can help you lose weight, but it can also have more serious consequences for your overall health and well-being. Try to eat a diet that is heavier on the “good” fats while avoiding as many “bad” fats and chemically processed foods as possible, and you should see a reduction in pain in addition to the many other health benefits.