Fat has gotten a bad reputation in recent decades and has been blamed for many health issues. The reason for this is that there are unhealthy fats that have become prevalent in our food supply, and thus the pet food industry. Well sourced fats, that is, fats from pasture-raised and appropriately fed animals are not only safe, they contain essential nutrients that cannot be found elsewhere in the food chain. Even butter, which has been given a bad rap, if sourced from pasture-raised, grass-fed cattle, contains many important nutrients. Many fats are unstable and become rancid easily; this includes many of the common vegetable oils such as canola, corn, or soy. These fats will actually cause inflammation and cellular damage rather than offering any benefit.
Rather than fat, it is actually the consumption of carbohydrates, either in the form of simple sugars, including ‘healthy’ sugars such as honey, maple syrup, or cane sugar, or more complex carbohydrates such as grains, legumes, root vegetables, or large amounts of fruit that cause the inflammatory changes leading to many of today’s rampant health concerns.
Sugars combine with protein and fat in the body through a process called glycation resulting in an Advanced Glycation End-product, or AGE. These cause inflammation in the body and many of the aches and pains that we typically associate with aging. Some glycation is normal, but when sugar is consumed in excess, this reaction will lead to increased pain and other inflammatory symptoms. AGE’s also cause damage to mitochondrial DNA which can lead to many diseases, including cancer. Inflammation of the brain can lead to Alzheimer’s disease in people, and in animals it contributes to seizure disorders and cognitive decline.
I cannot stress enough how important the sourcing of fat is. Fat from grain-fed, factory-farmed animals has a very different nutritional content compared with that from grass-finished animals. Pasture-raised meat that is grain-finished will have the same nutritional content as feedlot meat, so be sure to use beef products that are grass finished. Poultry and pork should be pasture-raised and fed a variety of foods, all of which should be organic and non-GMO. Only meat products from animals raised and fed the way nature intended them to be, in natural outdoor surroundings will provide the beneficial nutrients we are discussing here.
The bad press that meat and fat has received in the past results from research using diets high in fats from factory-farmed animals, fed in crowded feedlots and fed a diet designed to make them gain weight quickly (high in grains and sugars), which makes them very unhealthy. The fat and meat from these animals is high in omega-6 fatty acids so is very inflammatory, and can absolutely lead to heart disease and other health conditions. When people are taken off of these meats, they are healthier, making a claim for plant-based diets. Rarely do studies compare a diet based on grass-fed meat to one that is grain-fed.
There are many vital nutrients present in fat. In addition, fat is important for the proper absorption of plant-sourced vitamins and minerals. Eating enough fat in the diet is essential to healthy brain function, as well as heart and immune system function. A lack of healthy fat in the diet can lead to diseases such as age-related cognitive decline, auto-immune disease and cancer.
With today’s mineral deficient soils, the plants we eat often do not have the nutrients that they should. This makes the consumption of healthy fat even more important. Eating a diet low in fat can lead to deficiencies in carotenoids, vitamins A, E, D3, K1 and K2, Omega-3 and GLA fatty acids, CoQ10, and a variety of minerals.
Fat soluble vitamins are dependent on each other for proper digestion, absorption and utilization in the body. For example, vitamins A and K2 are necessary for the proper utilization of vitamin D3. Vitamins A, D3, and K2 help the absorption of minerals, and also require certain minerals to perform their specific functions in the body. It is important to remember that singular supplementation is not often beneficial as the vitamins and mineral are interrelated and must be consumed together in the appropriate ratios. This is the importance of getting nutrients from a whole food source; the work is done for you by Mother Nature!
Here are a few of the important vitamins that fat provides:
Vitamin A, or retinol (NOT the beta-carotene found in carrots), is ONLY found in animal food, and is highest in liver. It assists in regulating gene expression, is a potent anti-oxidant, supports thyroid function, supports cell growth and differentiation (very important in treating cancer). Furthermore, it helps support healthy hormone levels, stabilizes the mood, improves skin and fertility, supports digestion, manages the stress response. In addition to liver, it is found in sardines, salmon, egg yolks, emu oil, cultured ghee, and cod liver oil. When obtained from natural, whole food sources, vitamin A comes along with the co-factors necessary for its proper usage.
Vitamin D supports bone health, modulates the immune system, has anti-cancer benefits, is protective for the brain, anti-inflammatory, helps the gut and heart work properly, and protects against migraines and seizures. The vitamin D that is added to foods is often D2, not the metabolically active form D3. Vitamin D2 can be converted to D3 after exposure to the UV light of the sun, but it takes regular exposure, so consuming dietary sources is a better choice. Lard from a pastured pig is one of the richest sources, along with organ meats, marrow, sardines, salmon, and egg yolks. It is important to measure blood levels to be sure there is enough in the diet and it is being properly absorbed.
Vitamin K – Like vitamin D, vitamin K comes in multiple forms. K1 is found in leafy vegetables and is associated with blood clotting. K2 is essential for the activation of many proteins. It is very important for bone development through the activation of osteocalcin, which regulates the absorption of calcium into the bones and through the activation of GLA protein. Further, it removes unwanted calcium from soft tissues such as arteries and joints. It requires vitamins D3 and A for its production and is dependent on K2 for its activation. A deficiency of vitamin K2 can be a leading contributor to the incidence of arterial calcification in people. K2 is also found in large concentrations in brain cells and in the myelin sheath.
Vitamin K2, in combination with vitamins A and D3 has the potential to reverse tooth decay. The Mk-4 version of K2 is found in pastured eggs, dairy and meat from grass-fed cows. Duck and goose liver are the highest.
Here are more advantages of consuming healthy fat in your diet:
- Fat is more satiating because it helps regulate the hormones that control hunger. This helps eliminate food cravings and facilitates maintaining a healthy weight.
- Saturated fats support the immune system by fueling white blood cell activity and fats enter the lymphatic system directly providing antimicrobial activity.
- Hormones require cholesterol and saturated fats for their production and messaging. Eating more fat can help correct hormone imbalances.
- Saturated fat, cholesterol, phospholipids and omega-3 fats make up cell membranes in the body. This balance is essential for proper nutrient absorption and communication between cells.
- The endocannabinoid system maintains the homeostasis of every hormone and neurotransmitter system in the body and is made up of fatty acids.
- The heart prefers saturated fat in the form of stearic acid as its primary fuel.
- Bones need saturated fat along with fat-soluble nutrients to assimilate calcium and other minerals.
- Lungs use palmitic acid (a form of saturated fat) to make surfactant, an important protective barrier.
- A breakdown product of red meat, L-carnitine, is essential for moving fatty acids into your mitochondria.
It is no longer necessary to avoid fat in our diets or what we feed our pets. In fact, well-sourced animal fat provides a host of nutrients not found elsewhere in the food supply. It’s the factory farmed fat or easily damaged vegetable oils that need to be avoided to support optimal health.