May 8, 2009

The Goods on Fat

Today a patient and I were discussing a whole foods diet. She was already aware of the importance of eating whole foods and had, she thought, transitioned her family to eating that way. She just about fell out of her chair when I suggested she try my Kid-Friendly Baked Chicken with skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs.

I went on to explain the importance of eating the skin and cooking with the bone in: the fat in the skin helps to assimilate the nutrients in the meat (and adds flabor), and the bone adds moisture and minerals.

I often find that my patients are feeling “deprived”- that there is something missing in their diets, a “soul food" - that they often seek outside of their meals. These are the people who are reaching for the chips and the ice cream. Perhaps what they are seeking is fat which helps them to feel satisfied and nourished from a meal and less likely to snack afterward.

Believe it or not, saturated fat, like that in chicken and meat, butter, eggs and olive oil, plays an important role in body chemistry. According to the Weston A Price Foundation saturated fat makes up more than half of the cell membrane as it is needed to provide the proper integrity to keep nutrients in and toxins out. It is needed to incorporate calcium and other minerals into tissues and bones. It protects the liver from toxins and enhances the immune system. Certain short and medium chain fatty acids (butter and coconut oil respectively) have properties that are antifungal and antimicrobial

I found a great article in The New York Times that discusses a study where researchers found that people on a relatively low-fat diet lost less weight than those who ate a low-carbohydrate, higher fat Mediterranean diet. The article goes on to discuss the effects of saturated fat on cholesterol levels suggesting that diets higher in saturated fat lead to better cholesterol levels than lower saturated fat diets.

Yes, you heard it correctly; in addition to tasting really good and contributing to overall health, saturated fat may actually be heart-protective. So go take a bite out of a drumstick and chew on that one for a while.