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Are you scared of eating fat?

For many years, I was scared of fat. I never ate butter until a few years ago. I didn’t know what I was missing!

I know I wasn’t alone. It seems that everyone is looking for low-fat products, skim milk, or consuming only diet produce. But nobody told me what they replaced the fat with. If you just remove the fat from food it doesn’t taste as good, so something needs to be added — and of course that is sugar, artificial sweeteners and food additives.

If you think about it, when did we start to hear more about obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease? Not too long ago, sometime around the 1970s. And it was after then that the low-fat industry, and even non-fat foods, have been the fastest-growing part of the food industry.

In addition, they started to blame saturated fat as a negative factor for cardiovascular disease and many other related diseases. So many studies are now showing, however, that saturated fat is not directly related to these diseases.

Fat is an essential macronutrient in our diet. It provides energy, absorbs certain nutrients (vitamins) and maintains our core body temperature. We need to consume fat every day to maintain homeostasis. Some important reasons for this include:

• Fat is the body’s second energy source, that is used when carbohydrates are low or not available.

• One gram of fat has 9 calories, more than double the amount of carbohydrate and protein.

• Fat does not affect insulin.

• Vitamins A, D, E and K are called fat-soluble vitamins, and cannot function without adequate daily fat intake. These vitamins are essential. For example, vitamin A keeps our eyes healthy; vitamin D assists in keeping our bones strong and by boosting calcium absorption (plus many more benefits, even cancer prevention); vitamin E protects cells by neutralizing free radicals; and vitamin K is important for blood clotting. If you don’t consume adequate amounts of fat in your daily diet, absorption of these vitamins may be limited, resulting in impaired functioning.

• Triglycerides, cholesterol and other essential fatty acids (the scientific term for fats the body can’t make on its own) store energy, insulate us and protect our vital organs. They act as messengers, helping proteins to do their jobs. They also start chemical reactions involved in growth, immune function, reproduction and other aspects of basic metabolism.

• Cholesterol, which has a bad reputation (more on that later), exists in all cell membranes. Membranes are made of lipids and proteins, and they serve a variety of barrier functions for cells and intracellular organelles. Membranes keep the outside “out” and the inside “in,” allowing only certain molecules to cross and relaying messages via a chain of molecular events.

• Cholesterol is vital for such physiological functions as transmission of nerve impulses, formation of vitamin D, synthesis of testosterone and estrogen, and formation of bile. Approximately 80 percent of total body cholesterol is manufactured in the liver, and 20 percent is derived from the diet. As total body cholesterol increases, the rate of liver synthesis decreases. If dietary intake is low, liver synthesis increases to meet functional needs. When dietary intake is chronically high, however, the ability of the liver to compensate with decreased production may be come compromised.

I encourage you to consume whole foods with healthy fats, such as raw nuts, avocados and cold-water wild caught fish like salmon and tuna, organic coconut oil, organic high quality olive oil, ghee, grass fed butter, and whole raw milk (if you are not sensitive to dairy). At the same time, it’s advisable to decrease processed carbohydrate, packaged food, ready frozen foods, processed baked goods and sugary beverages.

When you start to increase healthy fats in your diet, most likely your appetite will decrease too so you will not feel so hungry.

As always, consuming lots of fresh fruits and veggies, and avoiding low-fat and diet products will give you much more energy to move, improve your mood, and most importantly you will live healthy.

Think it through — while eating real food, imagine what is going on inside your body, and then try to imagine what is happening when you eat highly processed food. Which one do you think your body wants?

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Ayda Ersoy is a nutrition and fitness director at The Diet Doc Hawaii. She can be reached at DietDocHawaii.com, Ayda@DietDocHawaii.com, or (808) 276-6892.

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