Fat vs Fat - What you need to know?

We live in a world where low fat is considered healthy and it seems like people believe that they can have anything they want , as long as it is labeled low fat. But what is fat when it comes to our bodies? Do we need fat? What are the myths and truths about fat?
 I had to delve deeper in this subject when I started my "health" journey. For years I was told that canola oil and olive oil are the way to go when you are looking for healthy cooking oils, I was thought that butter is a fast way to heart disease and full fat dairy should be avoided. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends giving non fat milk to children as young as 1 year of age. Then I started educating myself about how our bodies work and I had to change the way I think about fats.

Why are fats important for our bodies?

  " Fats from animal and vegetable sources provide concentrated source of energy in the diet; they also provide the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances. Fats as part of a meal slow down nutrients absorption so that we can go longer without feeling hungry. In addition,they act as carriers for important fat-soluble vitamins A,D,E,and K. Dietary fats are needed for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, for mineral absorption and for a host of other processes." (From"Nourishing Traditions" by Sally Fallon) 
Simply said, the non fat milk you are drinking will not do you any good, even if it is fortified with tons of calcium and vitamin D. 

Good Fat vs Bad Fat
 This is where all the myths and truths are in play for our attention. Years ago the traditional diets included butter, tallow, lard, whole dairy products, olive oil, and some tropical oils like palm oil and coconut oil, where available. This period is also known for low levels of heart disease, autoimmune disorders and cancer. Hmm. Then science started meddling with tradition and streets smarts, and margarine and vegetable oils were born. With them came heart problems, obesity, clogged arteries and many other "common" for our time illnesses
So here are some of the myths:
  • Animal fats are full of saturated fat therefore they are bad for you health.   True and false. Butter, tallow, and even coconut oil ( non-animal fat) is full of saturated fats and that is not a bad thing. Saturated fats are important for our bodies. Saturated fat plays a vital role for the proper functioning of our cell membranes and for the proper absorption of calcium in our bones.They protect the liver from toxins and enhance the immune system. Saturated fats are needed for the absorption of essential fatty acids and since the body can not produce them on its own, but only absorbs them through food , this is a very important factor. Also, short- and medium-chain saturated fatty acids, like butter and coconut oil , have antimicrobial properties and protect us against harmful bacteria in our digestive tract.
  • Vegetable oils promote healthier cholesterol levels in the body and protect us from heart disease. Let me first say that 99 % of oils like canola, corn, cottonseed, or soy , available out there are genetically modified. That alone convinced my husband, who is the skeptic in our family, that we need to stop using those immediately. If this is not enough for you, have this in mind, commercial vegetable oils are mostly extracted with the help of high heat and chemicals. This process causes them to go rancid and to form free radicals. We all know that free radicals can age our skin prematurely, but that is not all they do. They damage cell membranes and red blood cells, causing damage in DNA strands that can trigger mutation in the tissues and blood vessels. To top all of this, most of those oil go through the process of hydrogenation, during which the already rancid oils are mixed with tiny metal particles, usually nickel oxide. Add more heat , hydrogen gas, soap-like emulsifiers and starch. Then the oil is steam cleaned and bleached to give it a more appetizing color.I hope you are on you way to the fridge and are throwing that staff away right now! 
  • Cholesterol - We've all heard about good and bad cholesterol and the balance between them , that our body needs to function properly. Thankfully , this brought back the healthy , delicious egg into our diet. If cholesterol is still a dirty word for you, consider this. The body needs cholesterol to produce vitamin D, needed for healthy bones and nervous system, proper growth, muscle tone, insulin production and many more functions. Mothers milk is very rich in cholesterol, which helps babies develop proper brain function and nervous system. Cholesterol is also vital for the function of the serotonin receptors in the body. This is our "feel good " hormone and low levels of cholesterol are being linked to violent behavior.
This list can go on and on and I can bore you with facts. The point is - stick to traditional foods. My great grandparents were in their late eighties when they passed away. I have never seen them get a cold or take pills. They used full fat animal fats, pastured eggs, and pastured meat. I know it is hard for more modern families to go beyond the convenience of the grocery store and spend more money on food than they are used to. But think of it as preventive medicine, your own health insurance policy. It takes a little bit of research, sometimes no more than asking a neighbor. Look for local butchers or grocery stores. Check out your local health food store. Those are not for foodies and special dietary needs people anymore. Even some big chain grocery stores carry grass fed beef, organic meats and eggs, coconut oil, cold pressed quality olive oil. Experiment and be delighted. When we started buying pastured eggs, butter and grass fed milk, I ran out of the kitchen every five minutes to show my husband how golden the yolks are, or the thick cream forming on top of the milk. It is exciting!Have fun with it! And be healthy!

Pantry Healing

I've been working on this blog for some time now. At least idea wise. It is so hard to choose what I want to include in it since there are so many beautiful healing foods that we can reach to on a daily basis. I finally decided I am not going to write about fruits and veggies and their healing power. This information has gone mainstream and is in every women's magazine out there ( or at least the basic information is). I want to write about the oils, the spice cabinet, our bread, and a lot of other things that have been condemned into the "questionable health benefits" isle.
 I have re-started my health journey recently in order to teach my son the value of nutritional food and be an example. We can not instill any value in our children unless we truly believe in it. And I am a firm believer that Mother Earth gives us everything we need to stay healthy and strong. I also believe that science is good but sometimes we get carried away and forget that we are only nature's children. As a full time employee and a full time mom I often took shortcuts that science gave me to make life easier. But life became unhealthy, or at least for me. I've always provided my son with healthy nutritious food, chemical free detergents for his clothes, toxin free washes and creams for his skin, and herbal medicine for his aches. But as often as I did it for him, I neglected to do it for myself. The pounds kept going up, multiple aches and pains started sneaking on me, the constant fatigue, sleeplessness, mood changes. Thyroid and adrenal problems started. It was easy at first to blame the fact that we had a newborn , and eventually went back to full time hours at my job. But my son is almost two now and I had to face the facts. Changes needed to be made and it was all up to me. I am the one that buys food, cooks the meals, so practically I am the one responsible for my family's well-being and their health.
 I've been going through my expanding library of books on nutrition ( really thankful for my Kindle ) and I've been trying to figure out the common denominators. Here is what I've summed up as the basic steps on the journey to health:
  • Cut out all processed foods - It is very important to eat foods that are closest to their natural state, like raw fruits and veggies, whole grains, raw nuts and seeds, grass fed meats and pastured eggs. Giving up all processed foods doesn't mean giving up everything we love, it doesn't mean eating only raw salads ( which is a great thing if you are up for it), or giving up condiments and delicious crusty breads (for example). There is a wonderful book called  "Nourishing traditions" and it is a great starting point for anybody who wants to return to basics and embrace the "whole foods" way of eating. I look at modern processed food as a chemistry experiment and I have decided not to take part of it as much as possible. I like to eat food that eventually spoils and that I can make at home. If I can't pronounce the ingredients I don't eat the product. 
  • Eat your fruits and veggies - It is so simple it almost seems like there is no need to mention it. Still, there is people that have never tasted a lot of what their grocery store offers, not to mention that there is even more people that have never been to a farmers market. There is also the big controversy about going all organic and avoiding all non organic produce like poison. I think that both those are extremes and we can find an easier path to healthy nutrition when we educate ourselves. In our house, we try to follow the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15 rule. If it is on the Dirty Dozen list , we buy organic or local ( which is often grown organic but the farmer has not been through the expensive process of getting certified). If it is on the Clean 15 list , we can buy the items from the grocery produce section. Snack on fruit and have fresh or steamed veggies with each meal and you will be on you way to health in no time.
  • Meat , Dairy and Eggs - The opinion here is again divided into two points of view : vegetarians/ vegans  and followers of diets like Atkins.  For me, it doesn't matter which one you choose . What matters is the quality and the nutritional value of the products we put in our bodies. Choose grass fed and pastured meats, pastured eggs, organic, non homogenized milk ( or raw milk if you have access to it). Use nourishing bone broths for soups and stews. 
  • Fermented foods - Fermentation is a natural process and is a traditional way of preserving food without the use of fancy equipment. Fermented veggies, like sour kraut , kim chi, pickles, carrots, and others, make great condiments and are full of probiotics. Homemade yogurt, kefir, kombucha , are an amazingly easy additions to our diet that can keep us healthy and "doctor" free. 
  • Know your grains - There is such a great variety of grains out there. Experiment. play it safe at first and use some barley or brown rice instead of white rice. Add some quinoa to soups and stews. Try buckwheat pancakes for breakfast. Use spelt flour for baking.  I love using almond meal and coconut flour for making muffins and loaf breads. It is delicious, grain- free option. My family didn't know until I told them, and they are still pretty excited, since muffins are now something we have at home all the time.
  • Sweeteners - Forget all that zero calorie, made from sugar, but not sugar, stuff. Use real healthy , unprocessed sweeteners like sucanat (evaporated unprocessed cane juice), honey, maple syrup( not pancake syrup, the real stuff), dried fruit and molasses. They not only sweeten your food but are full of vitamins and minerals.
  • "I can not afford to eat healthy" - I feel like this is the number one excuse for people not to eat healthy. In our house we spend a good portion of our income on food. Produce is expensive, but we try to buy things in season, which are often on sale. So, we won't eat strawberries all winter and go for a pumpkin desert instead or use frozen berries for muffins and smoothies. It is still healthy and delicious and it does not break the bank. Pastured, grass  fed meats and eggs are expensive but we try to make veggies the main event in our meals and use broths to make soups and stews. This still brings the nutritional value of the meat into our diets. Basically, think about how much nutrition you get for your dollar and spend some extra time in the kitchen. If you spend some time planning and prepping when you have the time and energy , you can be eating healthy foods all the time, even when exhausted after a long day at work.
I adopted these basic steps for our household. We've always liked to eat more veggies than meats and grains, but I still try to balance things out for us so we get the best nutrition possible. In the next few blogs I plan to share with you details about our food choices and how they help me get closer to health.

 What are some ways you keep your family nourished and healthy?