If you’re like most women, you’ve been trying to avoid fatty food to keep your waistline in check. The trouble is that good dietary fats supply your body with essential nutrients such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, the nutrients it needs to support cell growth. Eat too little and you’ll suffer some unattractive side effects (think brittle nails, lackluster hair and flaky skin). So, if you want flawless skin (and who doesn’t?), “good fat” may be your best ally. Without fat, your body can’t absorb vitamin D, an important fat soluble vitamin that can help prevent osteoporosis and is associated with an ever expanding list of possible health connections.
“You need fat to carry vitamins A, D, E and K into your bloodstream where they can be absorbed,” says Ann Yelmokas McDermott, PhD, MS, director of STRIDE, a center for translational research, and associate professor of nutrition at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Each of these vitamins plays a specific role in the body. Vitamin A is important for vision and skin, D is critical for bone health, E has antioxidant properties that may help preserve cellular functioning, and K is required for blood clotting. And since fat is required to carry and absorb certain vitamins, your body can’t get the nutrients it needs without them. The vitamin K in your leafy greens, for example, won’t be absorbed unless you eat them with some fat. Dress your salad with a touch of olive oil and sprinkle nuts, seeds or low-fat cheese on top.
How Does Fat Act in the Body?
At nine calories per gram, fat carries more weight than either protein or carbohydrates. It’s mostly stored in the body’s fat cells, but you’ll also find fat in the blood, plasma and other body cells. The trouble is that if you eat too much (even of the good stuff), you’ll experience weight gain, obesity and accompanying disease states, including heart disease; cancers of the colon, lung, breast, endometrium and prostate; and dementia.
“Bad fats tend to increase inflammation in the blood vessels which over the long run can result in atherosclerosis and increase the risk of having a heart attack,” says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, MEd, a registered dietitian and the director of wellness coaching at the Cleveland Clinic and a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
To get the most nutritional bang for your buck and nourish your body with high-octane fats, increase your intake of fish like salmon, sardines and tuna to at least a few times per week. Studies show that downing just one or two servings of fatty fish a week can significantly reduce your risk of dying from heart disease. Hate fish? Tofu, canola oil, walnuts and flaxseed contain omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).