Do you know your fats? What was considered bad fat may now not be bad for you.

By Amanda Whitford

For years dietary fat has been painted as an evil weight gain causing enemy of the human race. For this reason, low fat alternatives to food products as part of a low fat (and often high carbohydrate) diet were seen as the way forward. Thankfully, many scientists have continued their research in this area and have found that there is much more to it.

Fats can be a very valuable source of energy and nutrients for us, and because fat exits the stomach more slowly than protein and carbohydrates, it helps to keep us full for longer. Dietary fat also allows the absorption of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, all of which are essential to our health and well being.

If we consume energy through any source, be it carbohydrate, protein, fat or alcohol, in excess to what our body needs and can utilise, then this is stored as fat. Sometimes this fat is stored just under our skin and called subcutaneous fat and other times it is stored around our vital organs. Small amounts of fat serve a cushioning and protective function but too much can cause health problems, particularly fat stored around our vital organs.

The reason fat cells are our main energy store is because fat is stored without water (unlike carbohydrate) and because fat provides much greater energy per gram, making it a more efficient energy store.  As I have said – an excess of any of the macronutrients listed above will be converted to and stored as fat, NOT just dietary fat. So why did fat get the blame for so long? Probably because of its energy content and due to the fact that it is found in many of the foods making people fat – the high carb, high fat, highly processed and packaged rubbish that lines so many of our supermarket shelves.

Let’s take a look at the types of dietary fat we can consume and learn a little bit more about them. There are 4 main categories:

1) Monounsaturated fat (MUFA)

Monounsaturated fat is labelled as one of the ‘good’ fats, as consumption has been linked to reduced risk of heart disease, insulin resistance and diabetes, along with other health benefits. Good sources of this type of fat include avocado, olive oil, almonds, cashews, and macadamias.

2) Polyunsaturated fat (PUFA)

Polyunsaturated fats are also known as ‘good’ fats. When people talk about these they quite often refer to two types of PUFA called omega 3 and omega 6.   You have probably heard of them. So while polyunsaturated fats can be beneficial to our health, this is in part dependant on the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 as these compete for absorption.  Currently the Western diet contains far too many omega 6’s in comparison to omega 3’s. An ideal ratio for omega 6 to omega 3 would be 1:1 or 2:1 but many people consume in excess of 15:1. This high ratio has been associated with many health problems including heart disease, cancer and inflammation in the body. The increase in omega 6 fats in the diet comes from the use of processed vegetable oils such as sunflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, etc that are often used in processed foods. Another source is through farmed animals being fed on grains instead of grass which changes the type of fats that are in the meat and animal products that we consume. Simple suggestions to reduce these fats from the diet is to limit processed and commercially prepared foods that use these oils, and to choose grass fed animal products where possible.

Omega 3 fats on the other hand have been shown to be protective against many things including heart disease, some cancers, mental decline, and inflammation. Good sources of these fats are walnuts, flaxseed and flaxseed oil, and fatty fish.

3) Saturated fat

Saturated fat has previously been labelled as a ‘bad’ fat due to its believed association with heart disease, but recent research is starting to change this view as evidence has failed to support the link. Saturated fats come from animal products including meat and dairy, along with coconut products such as coconut oil. They can tolerate high heat without forming toxic compounds, unlike many of the other fat types and when consumed from minimally processed, grass fed, and wholefood sources they provide valuable nutrients to the diet. One thing to note is that hormones and toxins that animals intake are often stored in fat if the liver can’t deal with them, so if not buying organic products it may be beneficial to remove as much fat as possible from meat products. As with all food, moderation is the key and enjoying saturated fat along with your MUFA’s and PUFA’s is not a bad thing.

4) Trans fat

Most definitely the fat to avoid if you want to protect your heart and arteries. This fat is naturally found in some animal products but in very small amounts that are not deemed detrimental to our health. It is also formed in the process of converting liquid oils to hard oils, although New Zealand uses techniques that keep this quite low. Deep fried, and highly processed fatty foods are the ones to avoid to keep your trans fat intake low.

The bottom line – we need dietary fat. It helps with appetite control and provides essential nutrients for brain and cell function and is essential for optimal metabolic function which in turn helps with weight loss. Fat is not the enemy, it is the types of foods that we are getting fat from and the other components of our diet that determine whether weight gain and poor health occurs. Be aware of where your animals products come from, choose cold pressed oils, raw nuts and seeds, and enjoy a variety of fats with as little processing as possible.

If you want personal help with your nutritional plan, contact Lynda now.