Oh that poor word, such a terrible stigma attached…
A long time ago, some scientists looked at the human diet and determined that fat was bad and caused heart disease. Fat-free became the all the rage.
Well, they were wrong.
Despite the fat-free fad over the last few decades, obesity and heart disease rates are higher than ever! Fortunately, a few doctors and scientists realised something wasn’t quite adding up and the fat debate has been revisited.
Sadly, that original ‘fat is the enemy’ research was based on some faulty science, and now, with the exception of trans fats (AKA devil incarnate), nutritional science is increasingly hailing the importance of fat in our diets.
Here is why:
Animals (us) use fat to store energy. It is an absolutely essential part of our composition and our diets. Fat is absolutely vital for optimal nerve and brain function, cellular integrity, heart health, bone strength (assisting in the assimilation of calcium), liver function, immunity and…wait for it…weight management!
We need fat!
Types of fats
Often praised as the healthiest fat option, monounsaturated fats are relatively stable in their molecular structure (although less so than polyunsaturated fats).
Quickest science lesson ever: their chemical makeup consists of one double-bonded carbon molecule (mono).
Monounsaturated fats are good for raising HDL (good) cholesterol and lowering LDL (the bad kind) as well as keeping the old ticker healthy.
Monos are found in: avocados, olives, olive oil, nuts, sunflower oil, seeds and vegetables high in oleic-acid.
When researching the benefits of polyunsaturated fats, ‘lower risk of death’ is quite often associated. So, hey, that’s a good thing – let’s eat more of these!
These babies remain liquid when chilled and even at room temperature. Their chemical makeup has more than one double-bonded carbon atom.
Polyunsaturated fats are where the Omega Fatty Acids come in.
Omegas are pretty awesome. They come in 3s, 6s and 9s, but higher numbers don’t mean much. The truth is, we need a balance of them all, and our modern diets are a bit too heavy in the 6s, and pretty lacking in the 3s.
Where to get Omega-3 Fatty Acids: flax seeds, walnuts and fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna.
Where to cut back on Omega-6s (we still need these, but not in nearly such high quantity): corn oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil (basically, all the most widely distributed oils). Cutting back on processed foods and low quality oils will make a difference.
Saturated fats are generally solid at room temperature (a comfortable cool room, not Caribbean heat). Saturated fats are found mostly in animal products such as meat, cheese, milk, butter, cream and eggs, but also in some tropical plants such as coconut and palm oils and avocado.
Saturated fat was the original enemy, blamed for high cholesterol and heart disease. Fortunately, that has changed as benefits such as strengthening the immune system, supporting cell structure and integrity, protecting the liver and assisting in the metabolism of the essential fatty acids have been recognised. The real shocker though: saturated fats can actually have cholesterol lowering properties and help improve heart health!
Our ancient ancestors thrived on diets which included saturated fats and they didn’t suffer from obesity or heart disease – interesting.
These should, however, still be consumed in moderation (especially the animal-based kinds of saturated fats).
Fats that give fat a bad name
Trans fats are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil, changing it from a liquid into a more solid form. Trans fats lower HDL levels and raise LDL; they are artery cloggers and heart stoppers, as they lead to plaque buildup in arteries, hence the increased risk of heart disease
Do not eat trans fats, ever – not even in moderation.
These evil fats are generally found in margarine, commercially prepared baked goods, snacks and processed foods.
So let me sum this up for you:
- Don’t worry so much about fat; it’s not what’s actually making you gain weight (refined carbohydrates and sugar are the culprits there).
- Stay away from processed foods with the ingredients, hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated anything listed on the back. Even if it has big flashy letters saying “No Trans Fats!” (in fact, even more reason to not trust them and read the nutritional facts).
- Include high quality, cold-pressed and extra virgin oils in your diet as well as a low intake of animal based fats (vegans – make sure you’re consuming walnuts and flax).
- Talk about fat with joy and appreciation!