For years we were told by health experts that a low-fat diet was the gateway to health. They proclaimed fats as the enemy, linking them to cardiovascular and other diseases. The food industry cashed in on this “theory” and bombarded us with fat-free and low-fat “food” options. You only have to walk down the supermarket aisle to confirm our obsession with fat-free foods.
But here’s the problem with low-fat foods. When you remove fat from food it generally tastes dreadful, so in order to make it palatable the food industry had to add things to the food. In many cases, to ensure that flavour wasn’t compromised, sugars are added in as well as other often unpronounceable ingredients.
So while our low-fat options have increased, so have the obesity rates as well as other related illnesses. Clearly, low-fat did not deliver the promised results. We now know that healthy fats DO NOT make us fat. In fact, they are one of the three macronutrients, along with carbohydrates and protein, that your body NEEDS to function at optimal levels. And, truth be told, some fats even help us to stay slim, bonus!!
So why do we need fats in our diets, how much is enough, and what kind of fats should we incorporate into a balance eating plan?
The role of fats
Fats provide essential fatty acids (see below), protect your heart, keep your skin and hair soft and supple, lubricate your joints, protect your nervous system, and protect cell membranes from inflammation. Fats deliver vitamins A, D, E, and K to your cells and are also a great source of energising fuel. Cholesterol also plays a vital role in hormone production. So, you can see that your body really can’t function without them!
Let’s take a closer look at the different types of fats. The western diet consists mainly of artery-clogging trans fats and inflammatory vegetable oils. Why? Because they taste so good and are widely available in our food supply. Fats, together with sodium and sugars, enhance the flavours of foods which makes them highly palatable and keeps you coming back for more.
“Bad” saturated fats
Most of us have heard about ‘bad’ saturated fats. Usually solid at room temperature, these are found in animal products such as meat and diary. These have also been over vilified – in moderation they shouldn’t cause an issue. New research also shows that some saturated fats, such as coconut oil, can be metabolised by the body faster than others, hence they are rarely stored as fat and coconut oil itself has numerous health benefits. Trans fats are unsaturated fats that have been altered though the process of hydrogenation to extend their shelf life. These should be avoided at all costs, as they are associated with heart disease and related illnesses. These are found in most processed foods like biscuits, pastries, muffins, chocolate bars and cakes. You also want to ditch the margarine, this is also a pro-inflammatory fat, because to turn a vegetable oil into a solid, spreadable margarine, it has to go through a process of hydrogenation.
Good/healthy unsaturated fats: polyunsaturated and monounsaturated
Healthy unsaturated fats play a huge role in your overall health and well-being. They are either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats and are considered good fats because they help reduce inflammation.
Polyunsaturated fats provide us with essential fatty acids, ‘essential’ meaning we must get them from our diet as our body does not manufacture them. These fatty acids keep your brain functioning well and aid in the healthy growth and development of your body.
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines, as well as flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts, are central to reducing inflammation and heart disease. It’s often difficult to get enough of these in our diet so adding a high quality, molecularly distilled omega-3 supplement that has a good balance of EPA and DHA is beneficial.
Omega-6 fatty acids are important to our health but most people get way too many omega-6 fatty acids from vegetable oils and margarine and it’s creating an inflammatory time bomb! Our ideal ratio of omega 6 to 3 should be 1:1 but in the UK the ratio is more like 12:1.
Monounsaturated fats are found in peanut butter, nuts, olive oil, sesame oil, and avocado.
For good health and a balanced diet, it is important to get fats from both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated sources. Keep in mind, though, that even the good fats should be eaten in moderation. All fats are calorie dense at 9 calories a gram, so expert guidelines suggest that 20-35% of your daily calories come from fat, with no more that 10% coming from saturated fats. And remember, the next time you are in the supermarket and spot a fat-free or low-fat label on a food item, take that as a red flag and your cue to put it back on the shelf and head to the fresh produce section instead!
Prabha Shiyani is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, specialising in genomics, and an EFT Practitioner. She finds genomics a fascinating subject and uses genetic testing to tailor people’s lifestyles and diets to their genes. Prabha’s passion is to help busy women find balance so that they can be the absolute best version of themselves. To read more about Prabha click here
If you want to add healthy fats to your diet, take a look at our organic coconut products and omega-3 boosting organic chia seeds in our natural health shop
What did you think of this post? If you liked it please SHARE the love.