Everything that we put in our mouths influences our cellular health and function. And it is the nutrients, or foods, that we eat that, after being assimilated, become the building blocks of our cellular and metabolic structures.
Back in the year 1997, I remember a very distinct conversation I had with a friend of the family by the name of Jim Brice. I had just started working out at 24 Hour Fitness and he was the only person I knew that was somewhat of a health guru. Back then we called them health nuts.
I contacted him because I was wanting more information about protein and how I could build bigger muscles without having to spend too much money on a bunch of unnecessary supplements. He moved the conversation pretty quickly from protein powders to cellular structure and why building healthy cells was the first step to building bigger muscles. What he said next has stuck with me for the last 25 years. And he painted a brilliant word picture to illustrate.
He told me that our cells need to be like brand new racquetballs and as soon as he said that, I knew exactly what he meant.
If you are not familiar, let me explain. A brand new racquetball is shipped directly from the manufacturer, packaged in a vacuum-sealed container, to ensure the highest quality product for its intended use. A brand new racquetball is soft, supple, pliable, yet rigid in structure. When the package is opened, it whooshes as the outside air rushes inside. And that is when a racquetball is at its highest useful quality. If you’ve ever held one in your hand, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s all downhill from there though as the ball begins to oxidize as pliability gives way to structural rigidity.
When attempting to understand how sufficient fats are necessary to maintain cellular health and therefore, whole creature health, one needs to first understand what our cells are made up of.
This does not only apply to humans, but it also applies to the foods that we eat. We, quite literally, are what we eat. Or so we’ve been told. But it may actually be more accurate to say that we are what our microbiome eats, which of course is the foods that we eat. That is to say that we are or should be considering first and foremost that there is an intermediate step between our stomach and the nutrients that find their way into our bloodstream. And that intermediate step consists of many trillion micro-organisms and organelles that inhabit our intestinal tract just below our stomach.
So, in a sense, when we feed ourselves, we are technically acting as a banquet server for those intermediary life forms that participate in the digestion process that allows us to assimilate the nutrients from our food.
This brings me to that dreaded F word that is lacking in many whole-food/plant-based diets. Fats. Some would suggest that we don’t need to consume what they refer to as overt fats, like avocado, nuts, seeds, and oils. However, our internal cellular structures require these to function properly. They are necessary and deficiencies will eventually show up. Not right away, but over time. It may even take a good year before we start noticing changes on the surface. That thing we see in the mirror.
The following is an extensive list. I personally abstain from a number of things on this list. Those things will be marked with an asterisk(*).
- canola oil*
- olive oil
- peanut butter*
- sesame oil*
- sesame seeds
- chia seeds
- corn oil*
- fish (especially fatty fish, for Omega-3 fatty acid)***
- pumpkin seeds
- sunflower oil*
- sunflower seeds
- soybean oil*
The reason why fats are important is that they help maintain a semi-permeable state of our cellular structures, allowing pliability and nutrient transport across the cellular barrier. In contrast, saturated fats do not function in like manner. They result in the cellular membranes becoming rigid. This is not optimal in that it results in the limited functionality of our cells.
All this to say that we need to be consuming a sufficient amount of fats in our daily diet. But not just any fats. We need to be consuming a sufficient amount of the right kind of fats. And I’m sure you noticed that the list above was primarily plant-based. The exception is fatty fish which this author DOES NOT recommend for optimal health for those on a whole-food/plant-based diet. However, there is some research that would suggest a very small amount once per week may provide some additional benefits to those 65 years of age and above.