With all the low-fat and fat-free products on the market, you'd think reducing fat intake would be the surest way to greater health. In fact, there is such a thing as too little fat.
Strange but true: Eating fat-free can lead to health problems. Specifically, it can lead to vitamin deficiencies. That's because some vitamins require fat to be absorbed into the body and to do their jobs, which include providing energy, keeping cells functioning and supporting the immune system, for a start. Vitamins are essential, which means fats are essential, too.
Dietary fat, which comes from the food you eat, is crucial to the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins, which includes vitamins A, D, K and E (water-soluble vitamins B and C don't need fat). Vitamin A is essential for good vision, vitamin D for bone health, K for blood clotting, and E for limiting the formation of harmful free radicals.
When fat-soluble vitamins are ingested, they move from the mouth to the stomach to the small intestine. Their ability to dissolve in fat allows for their absorption: Fats are able to move across the cell walls of the small intestine and enter the body's general circulation. Any vitamins dissolved in that fat are absorbed into the body as well. The dietary-fat vehicles carry the vitamins through the intestine, into the bloodstream, and then to the liver, where they're stored until the body needs them.
Without an adequate amount of fat in your diet, your body is unable to effectively absorb the fat-soluble vitamins that are essential to your health. However, that's not a free pass to consume a dozen donuts: The types of fat you eat matter. A lot.
While the fat in donuts will help you absorb your vitamins, it'll also make you overweight and increase your cholesterol. When consuming dietary fat to improve your health, there are some important rules to follow, including:
- Avoid unhealthy fats, including saturated and trans fats. Plant fats are best -- avocado, coconut, nuts and seeds are good sources.
- Stick with the healthy oils, including olive oil and flax seed oil. Soybean and canola are less-healthy choices.
- Don't overdo it -- you only need a small amount of fat to facilitate vitamin absorption. Just consume a little (maybe 5 or 10 nuts, a small handful of sunflower seeds, or a couple of bites of avocado) with any vitamin-rich meal.
So when you take that multivitamin in the morning, pop a few raw almonds in your mouth as a chaser. It'll get those vitamins into position to do some good.
For more information on vitamin absorption and related topics, look over the links below.
More Great Links
- Adams, Mike. "Dietary fat is necessary for absorption of vitamins, nutrients and phytochemicals from fruits and vegetables." Natural News. July 28, 2004.http://www.naturalnews.com/001545_dietary_fat_good_fats.html
- How Does Digestion Work and How Can I Improve Mine? WHFoods.http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=faq&dbid=16#vitamins
- Katz, David L., MD. "Is It True That Our Bodies Can't Absorb Vitamins Without Fat?" Oprah. March 30, 2010.http://www.oprah.com/health/Dr-Katzs-Tips-for-Absorbing-Vitamins
- Vitamins and Minerals. TeensHealth.http://kidshealth.org/teen/food_fitness/nutrition/vitamins_minerals.html
- Water Soluble Vitamins vs. Fat Soluble Vitamins. MedicineNet.http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=10736
- Your Digestive System and How It Works. National Digestive Diseases International Clearinghouse.http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/yrdd/