What Fats are Good For You?

by | Jul 1, 2021 | Blog, Food | 0 comments

How many of us look for low fat, reduced fat or no fat food when we’re shopping? Do you reduce your fat intake if you want to lose a little bit of weight? Are you worried that the increasing wobbly bits are because you’re eating too much fat? Do you think that you need to reduce your fat intake to protect you from heart disease and high cholesterol?

We’ve been told for years that fat is bad for us, so it’s completely understandable that we worry about how much fat we eat. But I want you to dismiss the idea that fat is bad. It is not. In fact, most of us aren’t eating enough of it. Fat can help you lose weight, protect against heart disease, absorb vitamins and boost your immune system. Fat is what makes food taste nice and helps keep us fuller for longer, and so when food manufacturers remove fat from food they have to replace it with something that gives food it’s flavour – and usually that’s sugar. Sugar is the problem, not fat.

But do you know which fats to eat and which to avoid?

Saturated fat

These are the fats that have the worst reputation, and they’re found in animal fats and coconut oil.

Here’s the controversial bit because it goes entirely against what we have been told for decades (and we are still being told by government agencies) … these saturated fats that you eat – the dietary saturated fats – don’t raise cholesterol. They are, in fact, good to have in small quantities

The fats that are ‘bad’ are the trans fats, which cause cell membranes to become stiff and hard, and they no longer function correctly. Trans fats are harmful to cardiovascular health. Some transfats are contained naturally in dairy products, but particularly in processed foods (i.e. hydrogenated oils, margarine).

What Fats are Good For You?

Monounsaturated fats

These are the kinds of fats associated with the Mediterranean diet – particularly olive oil – and populations that eat a lot of these fats, like the people of Greece and Italy, have some of the lowest rates of heart disease in the world. Many cardiologists advocate the Mediterranean diet, as higher intakes of this kind of fat are linked to lower cholesterol.

What Fats are Good For You?

Polyunsaturated fats

You will probably know these as omega-3 and omega-6 – the essential fatty acids. ‘Essential’ relates to the fact that the body cannot make this kind of fat; you need to eat it as part of your diet or take it as a supplement.

They fulfill many roles in the body, and sufficient levels have implications for cell membranes, hormones (they regulate insulin function), managing inflammation and immunity, mood and memory.

As a rule, omega-6 fats are not as good for you as the omega-3 fats, which are all anti-inflammatory. It’s not that omega-6 fats are inherently bad, just that it’s less good when the balance between the omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids gets disturbed.

Historically, humans ate a good ratio of omega-6 to 3. The modern Western diet has changed things for the worse, and the ratio is now poor thanks to processed foods, vegetable oils and conventionally raised (rather than grass-fed) meat.

This imbalance means:

  •   Increase in inflammatory conditions/ autoimmune disease
  •   Obesity
  •   Heart disease
  •   Diabetes
  •   High cholesterol
  • Cancer
What Fats are Good For You?

Here’s why fat is essential in the body…

  • It’s a concentrated energy source.   Gram for gram, fat is twice as efficient as carbohydrates in energy production.
  • Fat can be an energy store. Excess fat is stored for future energy production.
  • Protection – internal (visceral) fat protects your internal organs, like the kidneys and spleen.
  • ‘Subcutaneous adipose tissue’ (that’s code for the fat that you can feel by pinching your skin) helps to maintain normal body temperature and provides padding.
  • Many hormones are made from fat. These are known as steroid hormones and they govern stress, sex, and immune function.  
  • Fats regulate inflammation, mood and nerve function.
  • Every cell membrane in our body is made of fat – the brain is 60% fat.
  • Fats are actually essential for survival (experiments on rats in the 1920s showed that, then fat was removed from the diet they died).
  • Fat is the preferred fuel for muscles and the heart. The brain can also burn fat for fuel.
  • Essential fatty acids are required for healthy skin, healthy cell membranes, healthy nerves, healthy joints and to help with absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.

How did fat get such a bad name?

Over the last 70 years low-fat products have been marketed as the saviour of our health. And the message from governments and the media was – and largely still is – that, when eaten, fat gets stored as fat in the body and puts us at greater risk of heart disease.

Part of the problem, of course, is that we use the same word for the fat we DON’T want (on the hips, around the middle and so on) and the fat we eat.

The demonisation of fat began when an American scientist called Ancel Keys produced the first ‘evidence’ linking saturated fat to heart disease in 1953. He based his scientific opinion on observational data of heart disease, death rates and fat consumption in six countries (ignoring statistics from a further 16 countries because they contradicted his hypothesis) and assumed a correlation between heart disease and eating fat. (As an aside, when another scientist looked at the same research, this time considering ALL 22 countries’ data, no correlation was found).

Although there might have been correlation (there was a relationship), it was not causal (didn’t actually cause the situation).

Despite this, Governments across the world believed this flawed research, and began advocating a low fat diet.  They told us to fill up on bread, rice, cereals and pasta, and opt for low-fat or no-fat alternatives wherever we could.

What Fats are Good For You?

Soon, the food industry jumped on board to create products that better satisfied this new advice. They replaced saturated fats with ‘healthier’ vegetable oils, like margarine and shortening – ironically trans fats are now one of the few fats research shows ARE linked to heart disease. The biggest problem is that, when you remove the fat from foods, you need to replace it with something else to make those foods palatable – and this replacement is sugar. This was a REALLY bad move.

My favourite fats

What Fats are Good For You?

AVOCADOS They go with practically anything and are high in both vitamin E and in healthy monounsaturated fats.

COCONUT OIL There’s so much to like. Apart from helping reduce bad cholesterol and blood pressure, coconut oil is an anti-fungal (caprylic acid) when used both externally or internally. The ideal replacement for butter in baking and as your oil of choice when frying.

NUTS Packed with nutrients like magnesium and vitamin E, nuts bring plenty of essential fats to the table. They make the perfect snack – eat a handful (preferably raw) with a small piece of fruit or spread a little nut butter on an oatcake (peanut butter is just for starters – try almond for a change).

OILY FISH are full of omega 3 fatty acids, which are the building blocks of your sex hormones, so are essential for hormone balance.

OLIVE OIL Use cold pressed organic oil as a dressing on salads rather than to cook with as the high temperatures reached when roasting or frying can turn the oil rancid. 

Cooking with fats

What Fats are Good For You?

How the fat is used (through cooking and processing) is a big deciding factor whether it is healthy or unhealthy. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) become free radicals in the presence of light, oxygen and heat.

Frying with oils like olive oil at high temperature leads to oxidation and the production of free radicals – highly inflammatory for the body and may increase the risk of heart disease or cancer.

Use these oils for cooking:

Coconut oil, rapeseed (vegetable) oil, avocado oil, butter or ghee, or goose fat (clarified butter).

Welcome

I specialise in helping women sort out their hormones, fatigue, brain fog, digestive bloating or discomfort, weight or mood problems. My mission, whether working with clients on a 1:1 or in group sessions, is that everyone enjoys the journey.