Fats are a macronutrient that is important for our cellular health (our cell membrane is made of fats), the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, can be turned into energy, supporting our brain health and myelin sheath (which protects our nervous system), and more. Some fats, in particular, are even helpful at lowering inflammation in the body.
Besides the body's need for fatty acids, as a macronutrient, fats also play a role in the absorption of specific micronutrients. Fat-soluble vitamins D, A, E and K, require fat to be absorbed and used by the body.
All of that to say, it's really important that we're both getting enough healthy fats through our food, and that we're then digesting them and absorbing them properly, so our bodies can use them as they need to!
In this article, you're going to be learning some of the common signs and symptoms associated with fat maldigestion, as well as how you can support your body for better fat digestion.
Signs you're not digesting fat well
So how do you know whether or not your body is doing a good job of digesting fats, or not?
Here are some signs that you might not be digesting fats well:
floating, greasy stool
pale coloured, or yellow stool
If you have any of the above-mentioned signs or symptoms, I'd definitely recommend looking deeper into whether or not fat maldigestion could be a culprit!
How to Improve Fat Digestion
Investigate your Gut
Fat maldigestion can occur for a number of reasons. If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, it could be worthwhile to investigate things like celiac disease that can impact the lining of the small intestine, which can compromise the body's ability to absorb fats.
Likewise, infection in the gut can contribute to inflammation, which can also affect the small intestine's integrity, and ability to absorb fats from our food.
Beyond investigating these potential causes, it's also important to make sure you're supporting the organs involved in this process!
Support your Liver
Your liver is the organ that actually produces bile. Bile is a substance that is made of bile acids, cholesterol (yes — a lipid!), water, phospholipids, among other things. It helps to break down, and emulsify fats, increasing their surface area, so they can more easily be broken down into their simplest parts: fatty acids.
One way to support fat digestion, is to support your liver health.
Here are some foods you can include into your daily nutrition to support your liver:
dandelion root tea
citrus (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit)
milk thistle tea
Support your Gallbladder
The gallbladder acts as a reservoir for bile, storing and concentrating it until it's ready to be secreted into the upper part of the small intestine when we consume fat.
We want to make sure that our gallbladder is in good shape, and that bile is able to flow without issue, for optimal fat digestion.
To support your gallbladder, you can eat:
Beets: Thin bile and improve bile flow - may help dissolve stones.
Lemon: Research shows vitamin C may help dissolve and protect against gallstones.
Bitter greens: Compounds in greens like arugula and dandelion leaves stimulate bile production and help fat digestion.
Oily fish: Can help lower cholesterol levels, 80% of gallstones are made of cholesterol.
Ground flax/chia: Adding a couple tablespoons/day can increase solubility of bile salts - helpful for prevention and reversal of stones along with a high fibre diet.
Oats: Helps with excretion of cholesterol and bile - helpful for prevention and reversal of stones along with a high fibre diet.
Support your Pancreas
The pancreas also plays a role in fat digestion. It produces and secretes an enzyme called "lipase," which specifically helps to break down lipids (AKA fats), into monoglycerides and fatty acids, so our body can use them!
Sometimes, due to different conditions, or different imbalances, "pancreatic insufficiency" can occur, which means it's not secreting enough enzymes to adequately break down our food. This can often happen due to stress, parasites, bacterial overgrowth, nutrient deficiencies, etc. — and I'd definitely recommend looking into this further if you experienced any of the fat-maldigestion symptoms that was mentioned earlier in this article.
Here are some things you can do to support your pancreas:
address any underlying parasitic infections or bacterial overgrowth
focus on getting good quality protein in your daily nutrition (via eggs, organic poultry and some red meat, beans, legumes, organic dairy if you tolerate it)
eat antioxidant-rich foods: berries, herbs, turmeric, dark chocolate, ginger, kidney beans, etc.
If you're struggling with your digestion, and figure that fat maldigestion might be part of the picture for you, I can help you explore that.