Why are people so frightened of fat in their food?
Because between the 1970’s and 1990’s there was a ‘fad’ for fat free diets, and we have been conditioned to believe that fat in our food equals being fat, right?
No! and I’m going to put that record straight.
Why we need fat:
Insulation. We have a layer of subcutaneous fat underneath our skin which is important in the maintenance of body temperature. Internal (visceral) fat covers and protects our internal organs, like the kidneys and spleen.
Energy. Triglycerides (fat/lipids) act as a long-term fuel reserve for energy. These triglycerides are stored in the adipose tissue, in adipocytes (fat cells). When dietary energy is limited the fatty acids from triglycerides are mobilised into circulation, giving the body energy that it requires.
Cholesterol. We need cholesterol for many metabolic functions. These include producing steroid hormones in the adrenal glands, and forming bile acids in the liver to digest food.
One of the most important uses is for helping the body to synthesise Vitamins including Vitamin D from the sun, A, E and K.
Vitamin D is vital for bone and skin health, immune support, maintaining nerve and brain function, reducing risks of various diseases, maintaining a healthy body weight, protection from radiation and increases cardiovascular health.
Fat-deficient diets can result in stunted growth, reproductive failure, skin lesions, kidney and liver disorders, vision problems, neurological problems, and chronic intestinal disease.
The Excesses of Fat:
Following a meal, ingested fats which are not required by tissues (overeating), is taken up by the adipose tissue.
This can lead to an accumulation of excessive visceral fat (abdominal obesity), which is a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, and is linked to insulin resistance.
This ‘beer belly’ can often lead to a lack of confidence loss of vitality in general and sexual drive. This endemic fear of fat has probably stemmed from the rising obesity rates and cardiovascular problems our society suffers from.
It is true that dietary fat has more calories per gram (9 calories per gram) than either protein or carbohydrates (4 calories per
gram), but it’s the total calories we eat that lead to weight gain.
Too often we try to avoid fat but end up replacing those lost calories with sugar. When excess sugar is not burned off, it is stored as body fat.
Eating fats slows down our digestion and helps us feel fuller longer, which can actually help with weight loss.
Many reduced-fat foods have as many or even more calories than their traditional alternatives, this is done by adding sugars to enhance their taste.
Some fats can actually help you lower your risk of heart disease, high cholesterol and improve your lipid levels.
What type should we eat and how much?
According to WHO (World Health Organisation), the recommended intake of fat is 15-30% of dietary energy. The majority of those fats being from PUFA (Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids) and MUFA (Monounsaturated Fatty Acids). These include:
PUFA – Safflower oil, sunflower seeds (oil), plants and vegetable oils, evening primrose oil, blackcurrant seed, hemp, borage oils
(these are Omega 6) Also oily fish, algae and human breast milk, flaxseed, hemp, canola seed, soybean, walnut oils and dark green leafy vegetables (Omega 3).
MUFA – olive oil, nuts and avocado. It is also present in most seeds, cereal and other vegetable oil. MUFA, when substituted for saturated fats, has the ability to lower cholesterol.
Saturated fat raises LDL’s (Low-density lipoprotein), which is the ‘bad fat’ if eaten in excess.
The recommended intake is 7% of your total energy intake. Saturated fats are in animal fat like dairy, beef, lamb, chicken and particularly high in products such as ham, cheese, full fat milk, sausages and pork products.
Trans fat should be avoided. This fat is a denatured fat that the body can not digest, therefore will go straight to stored fat.
Trans fats raise LDL and lower the good fat HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein). This is usually found in pastries, cakes and margarine. If the label says hydrogenated fat, walk away.
Omega 6 and Omega 3. The ratio should be 3:1. Unfortunately in this day and age, the ratio is more like 15:1.
The two Omegas use the same essential fatty acid chain in the body which, when taken in excess, results in more inflammation and an increase in eicosanoids which are basically the pain receptors in the body.
Adding more Omega 3 products (see above) like oily fish 3-4 times a week can reduce inflammation in the body considerably.
So, don’t be misguided by those labels that say fat-free, as this does not mean calorie-free. Choose whole food products with good fats.
Fats found in oily fish, olives, nuts, seeds, some vegetable oils and avocados will help to decrease inflammation and increase good cholesterol levels.