Fats have been getting a bad rap for decades. Government dietary guidelines and mainstream media have convinced us that we should be afraid of eating fat because it will make us overweight, it will put our heart health at risk and it will promote a negative state of general health which will open ourselves up to a range of potential diseases and conditions. We have been taught that fat is bad. So, we have our fat free, reduced fat, lite, skim and trim foods where the fat has been removed but replaced with sugar to maintain great taste. From everything we have been told, reducing the fat in our diet (like we have been) should put us on the path to optimal health and wellness. This isn’t exactly the case though is it..? Western society is currently at the peak of epidemics of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and a number of other chronic health conditions. By eliminating fat, we have been starving our bodies of this essential macronutrient and the impact of this can be seen all around us in the increasingly poor health of our family, friends, colleagues and children. Our diets are filled with processed foods rich in refined sugar and refined carbohydrates and this is placing a massive load on our bodies that we just cannot cope with. There are so many diet trends and products that are marketed as healthy that it’s hard for most people to know what information to listen to and what advice to follow. Many of the ‘healthy’ options in our grocery stores are in fact not as great as they make out to be and are often even detrimental to our health. The truth is, processed foods filled with refined sugar and carbohydrates are the real culprit when it comes to ill effects on our health and not poor fat which has been copping the blame for so many years.
Now it is important to note that not all fat is equal and trans fats are the sorts of ‘bad fats’ that should be avoided. Trans fats do occur naturally in some meat and dairy products that we eat but of greater concern is the artificial trans fats which are found in foods that use partially hydrogenated vegetable fats, like deep-fried foods and baked foods like biscuits, cakes, pastries and buns. Trans fat increases our risk of heart disease by increasing the bad (LDL) cholesterol and lowering the good (HDL) cholesterol in our blood. Good fats however, play a pivotal role in just about every aspect of our health, right down to the very cells that make up our bodies. Good fats are essential to our body’s ability to function and are involved in temperature, weight management, immunity, hormone balance, heart health, feelings of satiety, blood sugar regulation, optimal brain health, decreasing inflammation and improved mood just to name a few. So, it is no wonder that so many different health conditions are on the rise when we aren’t providing our bodies with the nutrients they need to function properly. Sources of good fats include nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, macadamia oil, avocado oil, avocado, fish, good quality dairy, eggs, and coconut to name a few.
When we eat fat, it is broken down in the body to glycerol and fatty acids. There are many different types of fatty acids, all varying by the number of carbon atoms and hydrogen bonds that they contain. Your body needs these different types of fatty acids to provide energy, make up the membranes of your cells, produce important hormones and help absorb certain vitamins and minerals (like vitamin A, D, E & K). Your body has the ability to make most of the fatty acids it needs, however there are two types of fatty acids that your body is unable to make. These are therefore termed essential fatty acids as we need to obtain them from the diet but you most likely know them as omega-6 and omega-3. Although they are both considered essential, the ratio between omega-6 to omega-3 is very important and should be about 2:1. Unfortunately, omega-6 is found in many fried and processed foods and the balance between these essential fatty acids is completely off for the majority of people as they follow a standard Western diet. The overabundance of omega-6 causes inflammation within the body and it has been suggested that this is one of the leading drivers of a wide range of different health issues such as arthritis and joint pain, digestive disorders, allergies, cognitive decline, hormone imbalances, autoimmune conditions and mood disorders such as depression. Omega-3 on the other hand is anti-inflammatory, but unfortunately it is largely under consumed in the standard Western diet. There is therefore an even greater need to make a conscious effort to include fats rich in omega-3 in our diet to reduce inflammation, balance the omega-6 and attempt to reclaim our health. Good sources of omega-3 include fish and fish oil, flaxseed and flaxseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds and egg yolks.
Reintroducing fat into the diet can require a major shift in mindset for many people as they struggle with the concept that fat is in fact good for them and necessary. Additional benefits of including adequate healthy fat in the diet is that it keeps you feeling fuller for longer, helps to balance your sugar levels so you avoid those energy crashes and also promotes fat burning within the body so can actually assist you with weight loss. Obtaining your fats from a variety of different whole food sources (such as those mentioned) will ensure that you are eating good quality fats as well as obtaining a wide variety of other vitamins and minerals to further support your health.
And that’s the skinny on fat! Please comment below with any thoughts or questions you may have – I would love to hear them. And remember, this is general dietary advice and will not meet the individual needs of everyone. Make an appointment over Skype, phone or face to face in Brisbane with Katalyst Nutrition for an individualised nutrition plan that meets all of your macro and micronutrient requirements and helps you to achieve optimal health.