Good fat? Bad fat? Feeling fat confused?
No other food has caused so much controversy as the subject of fat.
From the secret obsessions of stick thin models, to the curiosity around heart disease, or the marketing lure of “no fat’ advertising?
There is as much confusion as there is fat phobia, so let’s keep this simple.
But first the FAT Facts and what is its functions:
- Our brain is made up of 60% fat.
- Our skin relies on fat for protection against dry, scaling, and premature ageing.
- Our myelin sheath that protects around our nerves and assists with nerve conduction is made from fat
- Our hormones rely on fat for production.
- Our bodies rely on fat for regulating our body temperature.
- Without fat we cannot absorb and transport Vitamin A, D, E and K .
- Fat forms adenosine triphosphate ( ATP) a form of energy for your body.
- Fat gives flavor to food, fullness to a meal, and can actually help you take off weight.
So the issues of fat is not whether or not we need it, but what type of fat, where it comes from and how much of it we should have.
When health researchers turned their attention to the Mediterranean diet having lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis the world was curious as to what was causing this health benefits? Traditional Mediterranean diets contain high amounts of monounsaturated foods like olive oil, avocados, almonds, brazil nuts, cashew, macadamia nuts and pecans. Research continues to support the theory that diets high in monounsaturated fats are health promoting; however there is even greater attention around polyunsaturated fats like omega 3 fatty acids.
Sources of polyunsaturated fats are omega 3 rich such as fish oil, chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, salmon, cold water fish, and green leafy vegetables. Diets low in omega 3 may be associated with health diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, behavioral syndromes like ADHD and unhealthy inflammatory responses.
Unsaturated fats can move through your body and are easier to eliminate than saturated fats. They provide flexibility to your cell membrane and allow your cells to communicate with each other, which is an important part of good health. The omega 3 and omega 6 oils are called ‘essential fatty acids’ because our bodies cannot produce these and therefore we must consume in our diet.
Butter, dairy, rendered and processed meats, commercial baked goods and other saturated fats received a bad rap 50 years ago when there was data linking this type of fat to elevated blood cholesterol levels. No fat, low fat and foods with fat substitutes appeared on the grocery shelves as a result of this media hype. Fat went out and the amount of sugar we were consuming increased exponentially. Interestingly, sugar has no fat, but turns to fat with excessive consumption, and this allowed high sugar products to be marketed as ‘no fat.’ Some nutritional medicine researchers believe that is now sugar that drives cholesterol issues, far more than saturated fats ever did.
Saturated fats still remain controversial. For example extra virgin coconut oil and coconut is a saturated fat yet has many health promoting properties and can even be used as energy much the same way as glucose due to the structure of the fatty acids. Whilst butter is a saturated fat, it remains the far better choice than its counterpart margarine which is made from chemicals and hydrogenated oils.
One area that researcher is very clean on is trans fats. The message is it is bad for you. Not only do you run the risk of elevated low density lipoproteins (LDL) but we also know trans fat affects your insulin sensitivity, and even lead to insulin resistance and diabetes. Trans fat likes to hide in many processed foods like premade salad dressings, snack foods such as biscuits, crackers, chips, commercially baked goods and lollies. Read the labels and beware of hydrogenated oils and deep fried foods.
Completing the Picture
The controversy around fat even went as far as the White House and the Obama’s. Michelle Obama’s USDA Choose MyPlate.gov was rolled out last year to educate the public on the most healthful dietary requirements. Harvard University quickly trumped Obama’s plate with their own Harvard University Healthy Eating plate – one that included healthy fats. Researchers say that when you compare the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate to with USDA my Plate, the shortcomings are evident and Mrs. Obama forgot about the importance of healthy fats. Mrs. Obama’s plate placed more importance on dairy than the evidence based research on fat and Harvard Nutritionists felt the public needed healthy fat awareness and to include it on their “Healthy Eating Plate.”
In closing, no more fat phobia please. The message is a small amount of quality fats in your diet, and ideally at each meal, can assist you in a more youthful complexion, balance your hormones, and increase your immunity and your vitamin D status, and keep hunger and sugar cravings at bay.