Heal.thy Fear of Fat Part I
Say it with me people. “Fat is my friend”.
Long been cast as the villain in the nutrition world. Fat is back baby and is doing some seriously super-hero stuff for our bods.
All those years ago, the anti-fat movement began following a hypotheses put forward by a researcher named Ancel Keys, and most notably that saturated fat and cholesterol was the answer to our cardiovascular woes.
And boy, did we get it wrong.
Margarine & vegetable oils replaced butter. Skim products replaced full-fat.
These dietary shifts not only affected what was on our plate, but also our health.
Increasingly, research is demonstrating the far reaching benefits that fat (some types of fat, not all) has for our health and clarifying that those we originally believed to be the worst may not be so bad after all.
Types of fats:
Below you’ll learn about the different kinds of fats we have as part of our diet. We classify them according to their chemical structure, and it’s their particular biochemical make-up that gives it different functions within our body and can either work for or against us.
Mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs)
Important to support cardiovascular health by reducing inflammation & helping to manage blood cholesterol levels by increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL) your “good cholesterol” and lowering low-density lipoproteins (LDL).
These are one of the most commonly found fats in the Mediterranean diet, which is arguably the most established health promoting diet. Really any diet that includes a glass of red, encourages relaxation and enjoying food with friends gets a big tick from me.
Sources of MUFAs:
Nuts & nut butters
Nut oils- macadamia, almond etc.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil- Always opt for extra-virgin olive oil as this type of processing allows the oil to retain all its beautiful antioxidant rich polyphenols. It’s best to use this oil un-cooked or for low-temperature cooking, as unsaturated fats are more easily oxidised and damaged (which makes it damaging for us when we eat them).
Vegetable oils eg. canola, sunflower, soybean, corn, cottonseed- These are often used for frying and in processed foods, but heating them changes these fats from MUFA to trans-fats which are highly damaging to the body (keep reading to find out why).
Poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFA)
These are essential fatty acids. Why are they essential? Because they can’t be made in the body so we need to get them from dietary sources.
The most common are known as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Our diet contains a much high proportion of omega-6 which can lend itself to greater inflammation in the body, and while inflammation in its initial stages is helpful, we know chronic inflammation is pretty much the main factor in all modern health conditions.
Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation, pain and helps to form our cellular membranes!
The most important of the omega-3 fatty acids (or most active) are Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA), Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) and following this is Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA).
ALA is a plant-based omega-3 fatty acids (so vegos and vegans this is the essential fatty acid you consume) whereas EPA and DHA are mostly found in fish/seafood. ALA is more of a precursor to EPA/DHA so we need to convert this in our body. But the conversion is somewhat inefficient, so even if you’re getting plenty of plant-based sources of this you can still be at risk of essential fatty acid deficiency.
If it’s something that sits with your values/ethos then I would recommend 2-3 serves of fish/seafood per week. And if not, make sure you’re getting plenty of foods rich in ALA.
Sources of Omega 3 fatty acids EPA/DHA:
Fish eg. Salmond, anchovies, sardines
Shellfish eg. Scallop, oyster,
Sources of ALA:
Flaxseed oil- Again it’s best to use this uncooked/un-heated as it’s more easily damaged than saturated and monounsaturated fats. Also, once the bottle is open best to chuck it in the fridge and consume within 6-8 weeks, because once air gets in it can go rancid quite quickly.
Saturated fats differ from the PUFA and MUFA’s because they don’t contain any carbon double bonds, which is why they are found in a solid form rather than liquid.
We still need to be mindful of how much we consume these fats and what we consume them with, but it’s not something that needs to in-still fear in you anymore.
A Cochrane review (considered the gold standard in research) found that cutting down saturated fats and increasing your intake of PUFAs can help reduce cardiovascular disease risk. However, a number of studies have found that altering intake of saturated fats has minimal effect on the risk of cardiovascular function.
So in light of this, what’s important is to consider the total nutritional quality of the food containing saturated fat (eating a deep fried dim sim and coconut oil are not the same thing), as well as the totality of your diet.
Someone who eats foods containing saturated fat but also eats nutrient dense, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory foods is a going to have a VERY different risk profile than someone who eats saturated fats PLUS refined carbs, high sugar and no fibre to speak of.
Saturated fats are a great choice for cooking with as they aren’t easily damaged when heated.
Coconut oil – This is rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) which is easily digested and is allowed direct entry into our cells. This which means they’re used as fuel to produce energy rather than stored as fat which is beneficial for a number of systems in our body.
Coconut products –cream, milk, cacao butter
Animal products- all meat products
Dairy foods- butter, cream, ghee, milk, cheese
Processed foods eg. Biscuits, cakes, deep fried foods
Trans Fatty Acids (Trans Fats)
Nope. Just no.
These are found naturally occurring in meat and dairy products, although these are not thought to be damaging like the industrially-produced trans-fats found in processed and fried foods.
Trans fats are derived from the hydrogenation of vegetable oils.
Hydrogenation is a chemical process that treats the fat with heat and chemicals which changes the chemical structure of it. This changes it from liquid to semi-solid, which is exactly how they create margarine.
This process damages and oxidises the fats chemical structure which creates a highly damaging and inflammatory food. These fats which have been linked with increased cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity, reproductive and metabolic conditions (just to name a few).
Baked goods- biscuits, cakes, pastries
Deep fried foods
Tune in next month for Heal Thy Fear of Fat Part II, where we look at the different roles that fat plays in the body.
Love Rom & Ali,