Lets chat about fats.

The ayurvedic texts discuss meda dhatu (lipid tissue) and explain how to maintain a healthy quantity and quality of fat tissue in the body. When meda dhatu is balanced and healthy, that subsequently helps to maintain balanced cholesterol.

For instance, imbalanced meda dhatu can distort the cardiovascular veins. When they become stiff and clogged, this causes high blood pressure. If ama-the result of undigested food has mixed with the blood and fat tissue, it can distort and damage the srotas (channels that carry fluids of various sorts throughout the body), narrowing the veins as in atherosclerosis. So ama can cause all of the problems that are associated with impure lipid tissue which in turn are associated with high cholesterol, even though it’s not the cholesterol itself that causes these problems.

  1. If ama has accumulated in the nutritive fluid coming out of the digestive system, which flows into the blood plasma then muscle tissue, which are all raw material for forming fat tissue, then that ama will also be present in the fat tissue. So that is one reason for ama in the fat tissue: ama accumulating in the proforma tissues.

Ayurvedas’ emphasis and specialist knowledge for strengthening digestion as the basis of good health becomes evident.

  1. Eating unhealthy types of fat, which do not nourish the body but rather create ama. By unhealthy fat, we mean fat that is difficult to digest. This includes saturated fats found in meat, butter and vegetable oils. A worse type of fat that is virtually indigestible are the trans fats, or hydrogenated vegetable oils, that are found in almost all packaged, processed and fast foods. Another type of unhealthy fat is rancid or overheated fats.

I think it’s obvious why you shouldn’t eat fats that are spoiled. But overheating fats is just as bad. Most polyunsaturated vegetable oils (corn, sunflower, safflower, sesame) are processed with chemicals or heat, and their nutritional value is destroyed. They end up creating free radicals, contributing to oxidized fats, or cholesterol, in the body. This can happen even if you use cold-pressed oils for frying or cooking foods.

    1. Too much fat overall, even if it’s the good kind of fat. While all of these factors can cause high cholesterol, the most dangerous combination is eating large quantities of unhealthy fat, which can happen easily if you eat fast foods or processed, packaged foods on a daily basis.

Q What foods contain saturated fats and are they bad for us?

A: Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Eating saturated fat should be avoided, because it can lead to imbalanced cholesterol production and disease.

Most saturated fats come from animal products. They include lard, butter, hard cheeses, cream, ice cream, beef, pork, poultry with skin, palm oil, and coconut oil. Saturated fats are often used in fried foods and desserts such as cakes and cookies.

Q: What foods contain trans fats and why are they bad for us?

A: Trans fats are a modern invention, formed by adding hydrogen to liquid fats. These trans fats cannot be digested by the body and thus create ama. They are considered to be far more harmful than saturated fats in disturbing the ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterol. Consuming a diet high in trans fat not only raises cholesterol levels but increases risk of heart disease, stroke and type II diabetes.

Margarine and vegetable shortening are trans fats, so you’ll want to stop using them. Because most packaged foods and restaurant fried foods contain trans fats, the easiest way to avoid these harmful fats is to stop buying packaged foods such as doughnuts, cakes, pies, cookies, pastries, pizza dough, crackers, biscuits, and fried foods. Look for labels such as hydrogenated vegetable oil, partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil, hydrolyzed vegetable oil and partially-hydrolyzed vegetable oil — as these are all names for trans fats. And avoid eating fried food at restaurants, especially fast food restaurants, as trans fats are commonly used for frying French fries and other foods.

Q: What are the recommended guidelines for fats in our diets?

A: The American Heart Association recommends limiting your intake of saturated fats to less than 7% of your total calories for the day. So if your total calories was 1500, you would eat only 105 calories of saturated fats. Trans fats should be avoided altogether.

Monounsaturated fats are recommended, as they reduce total cholesterol levels and have the added advantage of raising HDL cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends that you include 10 to 15 percent of your total daily calories in monounsaturated fats such as canola oil and olive oil.

Polyunsaturated fats, found in nuts and in corn, safflower, sesame, and sunflower oils, also help to reduce total cholesterol levels, but because they also lower HDL cholesterol, they are not considered as healthy as monounsaturated oils. The American Heart Association recommends that we get no more than 10 percent of our total daily calories from polyunsaturated fats. And they shouldn’t be heated. Buy cold-pressed polyunsaturated oils and use them raw in salad dressings instead.

Q: What fats are recommended by Maharishi Ayurveda?

A: The two fats recommended by Maharishi Ayurveda are ghee and olive oil. Ghee, or clarified butter, is made by simmering butter on a low heat for a long time and separating out the milk solids. What is left is a clear, pure fat that can be heated to high temperatures without destroying its natural qualities.

Ghee provides essential fatty acids (fats that cannot be produced by the body and must be obtained from food). Ghee is the most easily digestible fat, and it contains Vitamins A and E and acts as an antioxidant. It is also a highly-intelligent type of fat, because it is a food that converts quickly into ojas, the master coordinator that integrates consciousness, mind and body. Ojas is another word for nature’s intelligence in the body.

The other oil that is recommended is olive oil. Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat, which means that it actually lowers cholesterol and triglycerides. But it is important to choose first cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil, which means that the oil is pressed from the olives without heat or unnatural processing. This method of processing has been followed for thousands of years, and it doesn’t destroy the nutritional quality of the oil, unlike modern processing methods, which involve high heat and chemical additives.

It’s also important not to heat olive oil at high temperatures for cooking. Use it for baking, for salad dressings, and for low-heat sautéing of spices and vegetables. If you need to heat the oil at higher temperatures, it’s better to use ghee.

Both ghee and olive oil are recommended, because nature’s intelligence has not been destroyed in their processing. Ghee contains smaller, highly intelligent fat molecules that pass through the lipid barrier and nourish the brain, which needs a higher proportion of intelligent fats than the rest of the body to function properly. That is why ghee is known as medhya, a substance that nourishes mental functioning and improves learning, retention and recall, in the same way that certain herbs and Rasayanas nourish the mind.

The srotas, too, are a highly intelligent part of the body, and thus need a highly intelligent or healthy fat to nourish them. Lack of nourishment from intelligent fats can cause many problems in the coordination of heart and mind.

Q: What about canola oil? Isn't it a good fat?

A: Canola oil is a monounsaturated fat, it’s true. But 50% of the canola oil grown today is genetically modified, which means that its natural intelligence is destroyed. For this reason, canola oil is not recommended by Maharishi Ayurveda.

Q: Even though ghee and olive oil are nutritious and intelligent, how much is too much?

A: That is a very good question. To understand how much, you first need to realize that not everyone is made the same. Each person has a different body type, and for some people, even one teaspoon of ghee used in cooking twice a day may be too much. If you have a Kapha imbalance or are predominantly Kapha, you probably require less fat, and too much fat — even the good kind of fat — could lead to imbalances such as obesity and high cholesterol. A person with a Vata imbalance, on the other hand, needs more healthy oils and fats to stay healthy and to maintain a normal body weight.

But to digest fat, even good fats like ghee and olive oil, a person needs to have a strong agni, or digestive fire. Remember that there are actually 13 agnis, or metabolic processes, that participate in digestion. If fat metabolism or any of the first nine agnis that support meda dhatu agni in the sequence of digestion (i.e. jathar-agni, the five bhut-agnis, rasa dhatu agni, rakta dhatu agni, mamsa dhatu agni) is weak, then that person is not going to be able to digest as much fat as someone who has strong fat metabolism.

Weak fat metabolism is one problem, but another problem is caused when the digestion is too high, or sharp. Called tikshnagni (literally, sharp agni), this is actually one cause of amavisha, the reactive type of ama.

Q: Is a low-fat diet to lower cholesterol a good idea, from the ayurvedic perspective?

A: From the ayurvedic perspective, the body also needs a proper amount of fat tissue for supporting and lubricating the body’s channels, known as srotas. Millions of microsrotas carry nutrients to the cells and waste away from the cells. Other srotas are larger, such as the arteries and veins that carry blood to and from the heart. All of these srotas, whether large or small, are made of the element akasha, or space, because they are basically hollow. Vayu, the element of air, is responsible for moving blood, air, nutritive fluid or waste through these channels.

Because both Vayu and Akasha are dry by nature, the srotas can become dry and brittle over time. This is especially true in the Vata time of life, from age 60 and older, when the dry, quick-moving Vata dosha predominates. To keep the srotas flexible, elastic and functional, they must be constantly lubricated with fat tissue. Of special importance are the delicate pranavahi srotas (channels carrying prana vata, or oxygen) that lead to the brain. If they dry out, the brain doesn’t receive enough oxygen, creating symptoms such as fatigue, lack of focus, high blood pressure, dementia and Alzheimer’s. The srotas that carry hot fluids such as blood also are prone to drying out, which can cause narrowing and even obstruction of the arteries (atherosclerosis). So this is another reason why your body needs a certain amount of fat tissue: to keep the body and its srotas unctous, healthy and vital. And the amount of fat that is healthy for a person depends on their body type and health needs. It is different for different people.

Ghee
For a healthy cooking oil that doesn’t compromise on taste, try ghee—an Ayurvedic cooking medium that’s been around for thousands of years. With a rich, buttery-tasting oil with a host of benefits for mind and body. Rich in essential fatty acids (“good” fats), ghee doesn’t contain oxidized cholesterol, trans fatty acids, or hydrogenated fats (“bad” fats). It’s also an excellent source of vitamins A, E, D, and K.

Ayurvedic texts say that this highly absorbable oil helps balance excess stomach acid and helps maintain the mucus lining of the stomach. It also nourishes the skin from within, enhances the bioavailability of nutrients, and supports brain health and memory. Making your own ghee or buying from a very reputable source is advised (we stock ghee at the centres ask me if you’d like a recipe:-)

Learn a wealth of knowledge about creating health in your personal Ayurveda Health consult with Suzanne.