A Fat Chance

I suffer from intestinal lymphangiectasia, an extremely rare disorder which gave me a chance to change my life. A fat chance.

Location: Pisa, Tuscany, Italy

Medical student (Psychiatry), online and face-to-face facilitation, CoP practitioner, writer for and about mental illness (mainly in psychiatric rehabilitation, volunteerism and ICT) but also facilitation nonprofit and CoPs, person with mental illness in recovery.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

There's More To It Than Low-Fat

Despite a low-fat diet, some fat free foods still made me sick, and I couldn't understand why for the life of mine. Once, I had eaten a 2.4% fat chocolate sorbet with fat free whipped cream and I still got sick!! Patterns seemed herratic... I couldn't understand the meaning of it all.

I started - surprise surprise - reading the food labels and... I made some important discoveries!!!!!

Aside from the illness per se and the low tolerance to high amounts of fats, there are some substances that make me sick no matter what. I found it out by journaling the food I was eating and the symptoms I was having (that's a technique that is used for bipolar, in which one charts his/her moods AND what happens in their life).

These substances are used as food preservatives, emulsifiers, and substitutes of fats.

First big thing I discovered:
Foods advertised as fat-free might not be fat free, for three reasons:
1. the FDA regulation allows manufacturers to claim a food is fat-free when the fat concentration is less than 0.5 grams per serving. When the serving is below 0.5 gram (like for PAM spray), it can be labelled as fat-free even if the whole serving is composed of fats (that's what happened to me with the "I can't believe it's not butter" JUST before Thanksgiving!);
2. up to January 2006, trans fats were NOT included in the count of fats you find on the label (!!!) and the FDA allows manufacturers to still sell food with old labels provided the food was labelled before Jan 1st 2006;
3. mono and diglycerides (which basically are fats, but broken down in their components) are NOT counted as fats in the label.
Trans fats are also called partially hydrogenated fats and are artificial fats that aren't absorbed or digested by our bowel (thereby creating diarrhea!!). Even bacteria can't eat them, which is why they are used as preservatives (the food spoils later because even bacteria can NOT eat them!!!!). Interestingly, the "average" American eats up to 6 grams of trans fats a day, and diarrhea starts at 10 grams (some 30 grams "fat-free" chips, or cookies, are enough to go way above this limit).

Mono and dyglycerides are byproducts of fats (called triglycerides). When you eat them you eat exactly the same amount of calories you get from fats. They too can give diarrhea, especially in allergic people and especially in people allergic/intolerant to aspirin.

Second big thing I discovered:
Later, when I got back to Italy, some OTHER artificial food addictives, preservatives, emulsifiers, leviting agents and dyes can ALSO give problems. I have a whole list of all these substances, which ones are ok and which ones are bad, I will post them later.
Now, back to when I was in the States. I wanted to cook some Italian dishes but I couldn't find swiss chard. I got pointed to Whole Foods and I started buying organic food. Note: I had never bought organic stuff and thought that it was pure quackery. But I improved so much in my condition that now I eat organic only (OR industrial food without those nasty preservatives, trans fats and mono/diglycerides).

Third big thing I discovered:
The reason for organic food is healthier are two folds:
1. it's without nasty substances (preservatives, dyes, etc etc), and
2. it has loads of omega3 essential fatty acids, which are mood stabilizers, anti-inflammatory and natural pain killers. Omega3s are found in WILD oily fish (salmon, herring, tuna, yellofin, mackerel ONLY if wild, the farmed version contains too much fat and too much saturated, that is, animal fats), game (deer, wild rabbit, quails, etc etc) and in some vegetables (garbanzo beans, flaxseed oil, green leafy veggies, etc).
In my case, I can absorb them a lot better than animal fats. Just to give you an idea, I can only eat 3% fats (in weight) if assorted fats, but I can digest without problem up to 12% omega3s (like fresh salmon - yes, sushi helps a lot).

Fourth big thing I discovered: some ways to cook food are more dangerous than others, and for specific reasons. For example, butter and margarine have LOADS of those nasty trans fats and, when heated (like in baking) they develop even more trans fats. Deep-frying also produces trans fats, unless one fries in oils that are very stable (coconut oil, palm oil, lard and pork fat). Problem is, these very oils are dangerous for other reasons (they raise cholesterol and raise the risk of strokes, heart attacks, etc etc). At any rate, do NOT fry in oils rich in omega3s (like flaxseed, canola, sunflower, safflower, etc), you could get diarrhea out of it.

Five big thing I discovered: I improve my diarrhea by supplementing my diet with 3 teaspoon of soy lecithin a day, because it helps with fat absorbption and it prevents unabsorbed fats from eliciting diarrhea. Also, benefiber (powder) can help. Do NOT take the pills, cause they too have mono and diglycerides.

If you still don't believe how pervasive trans fats are, read this WebMd article.

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