The Oily Edition

Mar 3, 2014

photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Here in DC it’s another snow day, and it is C O L D!  Maybe it’s cold at your house, too; and perhaps you don’t mind. I have to admit, I do mind: I prefer sundresses to long-johns.

Last week, I was in the Bahamas, basking in the sun at a yoga ashram on a much-needed vacation.  I feel very priveleged to have been able to “reset” in such a peaceful place, and to have the amazing experience of chanting with Krishna Das.  (He’s coming to DC on March 26, go get your tickets!)

The food at the ashram was, in the Hindu/yoga tradition, “lacto-vegetarian,” which means there was a little bit of dairy — yogurt, butter, and the occasional dash of cheese.  In the warm weather, we need fewer dense calories to survive; so while the starchy, grain-heavy diet wouldn’t make me happy long-term, it was fine for a week.

Now, however, back in the wintry chill, my body needs different things to survive.  So I’m going to chat a bit about oils and fats: a.k.a. lipids.

Loveable Lipids:  The Skinny On Fats & Oils

Sadly, “fat” has a bad reputation in our culture.  We associate it with weighing more than is healthy, and via that association the whole crazy “low-fat” fad dieting came into being.

We need fat in our diet.  Fat is a macronutrient.  Like protein and carbohydrates, it is essential to the human diet.  You will die if you don’t eat any fats.

Perhaps a better word for “fat” is lipids.  No negative association with lipids, right?  Just an innocent, valuable molecule found in meat and dairy, as well as in oils, nuts, seeds, and some vegetables and fruits.  Lipids make up the boundaries of our cells; they support skin, as well asbrain function and the whole nervous system.

And lipids are an essential part of cooking:  fat is what makes food satisfying.  Ever try a salad without any oil in the dressing?  No fun at all.

Lipids are especially necessary in the winter. Our bodies need extra dietary fat to keep warm.  Eskimos survive (or did, traditionally) on a diet made up almost entirely of fat – to insulate themselves against the bitter cold.

In our modern culture, we often eat far too much unhealthy lipids, in the form of trans-fats (a.k.a. hydrogenated oils) and fried foods.  But if you notice yourself feeling cold and spacey in the winter, try adding healthy fats into your diet.


Top Ten: Happy Lipids For You

  1. Olive oil: drizzled on vegetables; or cook with it on low temperatures (no frying).
  2. Nuts: Walnuts, almonds, cashews, etc.
  3. Avocado.
  4. Olives.
  5. Coconut: add coconut oil to your morning coffee, or use it in coooking.
  6. Seeds:  sesame, flax, pumpkin, etc.
  7. Fish: especially salmon and mackerel, for omega-3 fatty acids.
  8. Eggs: eat the whole egg, it is a perfect food!
  9. Ghee: clarified butter, a traditional Indian food.
  10. Yogurt or cheese, if your body digests dairy well.


Topical Oils: Protect Your Fortress

The skin is the first line of defense for the immune system – it is the largest part of the “innate” immune system, meaning the aspect of your body’s defenses that you are born with. It serves as a protective barrier to keep out invaders: your personal fortress.  This applies to both the outer skin — on your arms, for instance — and to the mucous membranes “inside” the body, such as the nose, the mouth, the eyes, etc.

Keeping your skin healthy depends on being properly hydrated and properly oily!  Oils and fats (lipids) create your cell membranes, and the cells create the border that separates You from the Outside World — a world full of bacteria, viruses, and fungi who may attack your personal fortress at any time.

Fear not!  There are many simple, gentle, inexpensive ways to support your immune system.

#1: Stay hydrated.
Drink your water.  This means approximately 8 glasses of water per day, not including coffee, caffeinated tea, or wine.  Herbal tea counts.  If you feel like the water just runs through your body and you’re running to the bathroom all day, try adding a tiny dash of sea salt to your water, and/or drinking warm water.  If drinking water is new to you, it may take a month or so for your body to acclimate to being hydrated.

#2: Consume healthy fats & oils.
See above writings on healthy lipids.

#3: Moisturize the skin with healthy oils.
Applying chemical-free oils to the skin will help moisturize and protect the body.  Apply coconut oil to the body before bed, or even right before a shower if you don’t plan to scrub it off with soap.  Massage the feet with sesame oil.  Avoid heavily-scented, alcohol-based commercial lotions.  Consider natural healing lotions (full disclosure: I make that sort of thing).

**If you’re shopping for body oils, feel free to shop in the food section of the grocery store: food-grade oils are a higher grade AND less expensive than those you’ll find in the body-care section.