Healthy Fats Support Us Inside and Out
Healthy fats have always been considered seasonally appropriate food in fall and winter. Healthy dietary fats protect skin from the ravages of cold winter weather and hold moisture in the skin. Under the surface, fats support healthy organ function. Deeper still, essential omega-3 and -6 fats (ALA and LA, like the ones in Udo’s oil) are integral to the structure of the membranes around every human cell.
Fatty Acids are Functional
These omega-dependant membranes have important metabolic functions. They regulate the nutrients and wastes that enter and exit cells and allow cells to plump up attractively when hydrated. They play a role in intercellular communication, too.
Fats Give Us Energy to Burn
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids also play a role in a specialized area of the cell called the mitochondria, where we generate energy. Fats, specifically fatty acids, are broken down here into carbon, then burned for energy.
Fatty Acids Have a Thermic Effect
Burning fatty acids creates energy as ATP and produces heat that helps us maintain regular body temperature. When our cells need energy or recognize the body’s need to increase the production of heat, they communicate their need for fatty acids.
A fat molecule will circulate in our blood until a hard-working cell requires it, takes it into its mitochondria, breaks it down into fatty acids, and utilizes them to create energy. If we are sedentary, we will have more resting cells, and more fats will be stored instead.
Adipose is active too
Our stored body fat is not a passive layer of insulation, despite our perception. This adipose tissue functions as an endocrine gland. Fat cells have active metabolic and hormonal functions. They communicate with the nervous system, secrete proteins that affect metabolism throughout the body, and produce sex hormones.
Warmth in Winter
Our ability to produce heat is critically important. When there are not enough dietary fatty acids circulating in the bloodstream and available to burn for energy production, we will break down the small reserves of fat stored in muscle to meet energy demands.
Fatty Acids Fuel Metabolism
Breaking down fat stored in muscle is already a slow process, easily impaired further by a bad diet or medications. This can leave our cells without fuel, causing a slowing or cooling of our metabolic fires. A warmer body temp and a faster metabolism go hand in hand, so our metabolic rate is at risk.
When Fat Burning Goes into Hibernation
In animals like bears, slow metabolism is a useful thing. It enables them to hibernate through winter, when food, especially carbohydrates, are scarce. Our ancestors also lived with times of scarcity, so we inherited the ability to turn down our metabolic rate in this way, too. Unfortunately, this efficient system can lead to problems in a world where carbohydrates are now available on-demand.
Beating the Bulge
North Americans gain a pound or two each winter and don’t tend to shed them. Slow weight gain continues through our mid-fifties when we begin to lose weight, but not fat. To store less fat on our frames, we should avoid overeating starches, sugars, and trans-fats. We could take a brisk walk after our heaviest daily meal to divert circulating triglycerides into calorie-burning processes rather than storage.
Avoiding Metabolic Disorders
Fighting our natural urge to consume fats in winter is not the answer. This can slow our metabolic fires, and create problems for our cells, skin, and hormones. Although more human studies will be needed for confirmation, clinical studies hint that polyunsaturated fatty acids help prevent metabolic disorders, while the studies that formed the basis of the war against fat in the 80s and 90s were hypothetical and never proven in humans.
What Fats to Get
There are advantages to incorporating a blend of fats into our diets year-round. The form of fat being consumed influences how well it will be burned. From the point of view of chemistry, we want fatty acids of varying length: long-chain fatty acids, medium-chain triglycerides, varying types of omega-3s and omega-6s, and some omega-9 fatty acids, also called oleic or monounsaturated. Because that gets complicated, we make Udo’s Oil® Omega 3+6+9 blend!
In summary, to look and feel your best and keep your metabolic fires stoked:
- Eat a good diet, avoiding overuse of unnecessary medications
- Move, especially after large meals
- Eat seasonally – don’t overconsume starches and sugars in winter
- Don’t hate your fat – it serves useful functions
- Eat a variety of fatty acids including omega-3 PUFAs
Dana Green Remedios, RHN, RNCP, NNCP, is a Vancouver-based educator and coach. She is a regular contributor to the FloraHealthy blog and can answer your questions in English, French, and Spanish as a Product Information Specialist at Flora.
- PUFAs and metabolism https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26829184
- Thermic effect of omegas https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22146121
- Yearly fat gain https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4336296/
- Body temperature and weight https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2744512/
- ALA helps cells https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3112425/
- Omegas and metabolism https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5872768/
- Fat is endocrine https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/89/6/2548/2870285
- Energy in kids https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/80f9/e1cadd852a906a6ab1a582c5fa96cef7a1fd.pdf