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Fats - natures way of preparing for hard times and the source of the biggest myth in medicine

Vegetable oil, lard, butter, olive oil, cholesterol and many others too numerous to mention - fats are with us all day, every day - or so it seems. So what are they, what is their purpose and how do they affect health?

Think of fat and you almost invariably think of being overweight and low-fat diets. Fats, however, are an essential part of the diet and the oft-missed fact is that most of us aren't eating enough of them!

Is this too good to be true? Actually no, it isn't. the simple answer is that in the average Western diet, we consume too little fat overall, but actually the wrong types of fat - and before you think "here we go again", modern medicine has got it completely wrong - what most of us need is more natural and saturated fat and LESS of the synthetic plastics known as hydrogenated vegetable oils or trans-fatty acids. But, we're getting ahead of ourselves - first things first:-

What are fats?
Fats (or more correctly, fatty acids) are an essential part of the diet. Contrary to much of what we seem to hear, they are not confined to meat and animal products, but are also present in virtually all seeds, nuts and many plants themselves - think of olive oil for an example.

The way in which we refer to fats often belies their true functions - cholesterol, for example is not only the essential ingredient for both male and female hormones, it also has important healing functions. Other fats, such as the essential fatty acids DHA and EPA are fundamental to brain and nerve function.

What do they do in the body?
The simple answer to this is - lots of different things. The way we traditionally think of body fat is the adipose tissue we gain when we eat too much or eat the wrong things (the second is much more important than the first).

More properly known as "adipose tissue", this type of fat is the body's way of storing excess energy, so that it can be retrieved later. This process is very efficient and is regulated in the liver by the presence of various hormones, but is largely controlled by insulin, the hormone that regulates blood glucose levels.

In fact, the reason the body decides to store fat is usually that it has all the carbohydrates (sugars) it needs for its energy supplies and as a consequence, it converts the extra to fat and, at the same time prevents the "burning" of stored fat for fuel. (for more about this, see the chapter on insulin resistance).

However, as already mentioned there are numerous types of fats. Some of the most commonly mentioned are listed below, click on each link for more information:-

Public enemy number one. Or is it - find out why cholesterol is not the baddie it has been made out to be and why you need it!

Essential fatty acids
Otherwise known as "brain food", these fats can't be made in the body and must be in the diet. Unfortunately, in many cases they are almost toally missing, leading to numerous health (and psychiatric / social) problems.

Saturated animal fat
Red meat, dair products, lard dripping and suet - a recipe for disease or the means to prevent it?

Vegetable oils
All oils are not created equal. Find out why some vegetable oils are better than others.

Hydrogenated oils (unsaturated or poly-unsaturated fats)
Margarine, shortening and other "low-cholesterol" fats. Find out why these have caused more damage to health than any other type of oils or fats.

Back from Fats to nutritional supplements

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