Embracing the base: a look at fat in our diet, body and society

October 6, 2015

By Audrey Roen

Let’s talk about fat. We have all assessed our bodies about it, heard what comes from having too much of it, and seen the negative impact of the way society responds to fat.

But lately, it seems as if a body with a few extra pounds of fat isn’t such a bad thing after all.

I’m no expert on fat, but I have heard the lyrics of Megan Trainor songs. I think it’s fair to say we are “All About (if not embracing) that Base,” now. And, speaking as a student in dietetics, I think it’s about time.

From a dietary perspective, here’s the run-down on fat.

First, dietary fat provides energy and essential fatty acids which transport and store essential fat-soluble vitamins in our bodies. The recommendation that 25 – 35% of caloric intake comes from fat includes both plant and animal sources. Unsaturated sources of fat are generally found in liquid form (olive oil, canola oil, fish oil, avocado’s etc.) and are encouraged over solid forms of fat like butter and lard. . While both solid and liquid forms of fat provide significant sources of calories the use of unsaturated fats like olive oil, canola oil, avocado’s, and fish oil have shown to prevent the onset of heart disease, coronary artery disease and cancer.

Second, the fat we have on our bodies is called adipose tissue. Adipose serves multiple purposes in the way it is stored and the way our bodies are maintained. Adipose can be stored just about anywhere in the body (even on your internal organs) and looks like stacks of balloons under a microscope. Adipose tissue provides protection for our bodies, serves many biological functions including hormone production, and serves as the building blocks for cell membranes.

In the scientific world, the structure and function of fat is rarely questioned. The concept of “fat shaming” has affected those who qualify as overweight or obese. Furthermore, the availability of fresh food and sources of unsaturated fat does not extend to everyone who deserves it. Food deserts in which healthy forms of fat are unavailable currently affect over 2.3 million people in the U.S. and that number is said to be an underestimation (3).

But where do we draw the line? With the choices we are able to make about our diet and fat intake, what amount of fat is “acceptable” to have on our body? Can we be fat, attractive and healthy? I believe yes, but it is important to remember a key phrase: bigger is not necessarily better.

People who are genetically predisposed to a lower body weight may have a difficult time finding clothes that fit, carrying out biological functions that come with puberty, and are told they should eat healthily and, “eat a cheeseburger!” at the same time. They may look like stereotypical models, but they may also be far from a healthy. Just as an overweight individual may need to lose a few pounds, an underweight person may need to gain a few. It’s all about what your body needs to function properly. That should be the goal.

Ultimately, it is important to remember to improve the body’s function and not solely its look. The, “fat but fit” concept questions whether obese and overweight individuals are healthy so long as they eat properly and exercise regularly and is being debated among professionals and health nuts.

Overall, the functioning of the human body is what we aim to improve. I encourage you to consider what having a functional body means to you: are you consuming healthy sources of fat? Are you getting the appropriate exercise for your body? Is your body fat allowing you to carry out biological functions without impeding your ability to pump blood or continue cell division? Regardless of size, all bodies are perfect. This fall, I invite you to embrace your base (whatever size it may be) by helping it function by keeping it nourished.