Still Scared of Dietary Fat? Why You Can’t Live Without It (Literally!)

January 09, 2015

Dietary fats are more important than you may have previously thought. Find out what vitamins rely on healthy fats for their absorption and why going on a fat free or low fat diet may be detrimental to your health.

Dietary fats are more important than you may have previously thought. Of course we know they are essential for keeping inflammation at bay (think omega-3s), but they are also deeply satisfying, providing a feeling of fullness and adding a flavor, texture, and consistency to foods that we like – and expect. Fats are found in every cell membrane of all the cells in the body, and they are critical components of brain and nervous system tissue. Additionally, fats are used to make hormones that affect blood pressure, blood clotting, immune function, and smooth muscle contraction. Fats also help make our skin, hair and nails luminous, beauty from the inside out.

Most importantly, without fats, we would not be able to properly absorb fat-soluble nutrients like vitamin A, D, E and K, and the range of carotenoids, the nutrients in foods like carrots and sweet potatoes. It is critical to have healthy fats with every meal for this reason.

Here are the various fat soluble vitamins and their sources as well as the roles they play in the body:

Vitamin A can be classified generally into retinoids or carotenoids, either animal or plant derived respectively. Vitamin A from retinoids benefits the immune system, inflammatory response, genes, and the reproductive system. While the carotenoids function as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients, particularly beneficial for eye health. Great examples include, spinach, kale, sweet potato, Swiss chard, carrots, romaine lettuce, chicken liver, cod’s liver oil, and red peppers.

Vitamin D is actually a group of fat-soluble vitamins that are considered pro-hormones, or the precursors to hormones, and are essential to endocrine health. Vitamin D is also essential for bone health, immunity, as well as playing a role in preventing cancers and chronic disease. Vitamin D rich foods naturally come paired with healthy fats, think sardines, mackerel, milk, oysters, tinned salmon with bones (yes, they are soft enough to eat), and eggs from hens raised outside.

Vitamin E is also not a lone vitamin but also refers to a group of nutrients called tocopherols. Vitamin E protects your skin from ultraviolet light, helps prevent cell damage from free radicals (acts an antioxidant), allows for proper cell communication, and helps protect against prostate cancer, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s. Excellent sources of naturally occurring vitamin E include, sunflower seeds, flax seed oil, almonds, spinach, wheat germ, Swiss chard, papaya, and asparagus.

Last but not least, vitamin K. Not surprisingly vitamin K also refers to a group of vitamins mainly K1 from plants and K2 from animal products and good bacteria in our gut. Both are essential for normal blood clotting, bone health throughout life, keeping our arteries flexible and providing possible protection against liver and prostate cancer. Vitamin K rich foods include: natto, hard cheeses like gouda, brie cheese, kale, spinach, mustard greens, parsley, broccoli, leeks, prunes, chicken and goose liver, and egg yolk.

Now that you’ve learned the importance of the fat-soluble vitamins, removing fat from your diet wouldn’t be prudent as you wouldn’t be able to use these precious vitamins. Instead use healthy fats, i.e. like olive oil and even coconut oil (not liquid at room temperature, unless you live in the tropics) and fats in fish (salmon, sardines, makerel), tree nuts, avocados, flax seeds and many of the foods mentioned above.