For the last 50+ years, the nutrition and health industry has preached about the need to cut fat out of our diet and how fat is the leading cause of weight gain and heart disease. Nowadays though, we are a little more nutritionally savvy and have realised that not only do ‘good fats’ not deserve to be the health pariah they have been labelled as, they actually provide numerous health benefits (including supporting a healthy heart and maintaining a healthy weight!).
So let’s cut the fat, so to speak, on the stigma surrounding fats in the diet and look at why they are something to be appreciated, not avoided.
The role fats play in your nutrition:
Fats are one of the three main macronutrients in the diet, along side protein and carbohydrates. Simply put, they are an integral part of your daily nutrition. They have numerous roles in the functioning and maintenance of your body, including:
- Playing a key role in the absorption and transport of specific nutrients, including vitamin A, D, E and K.
- Supporting the nerve cells so that your brain can send messages out to the rest of your body.
- Are essential in the growth, development and function of cells, especially the cell membrane.
- Play an important role in hormone production to help regulate the many functions of your body.
- Maintaining strong, durable and healthy hair, skin and nails
- Provide an excellent source of energy
Then there is the added benefit that fats fill you up, so you require less food to feel full and satisfied, yet you still get that long-lasting energy. Plus good fats usually taste good!
Understanding the different fats:
It is important to point out that when I praise fats, I am not praising all fats, or recommending that fats be consumed in large quantities. There are 4 main categories of fats and these can be broken down into two main groups. However, I prefer to break them down into three groups: good, not so good and bad fats.
Good Fats - As a general rule these fats are liquid at room temperature and often come from plants or fish. When consumed in moderation they can actually help lower your body’s LDL cholesterol levels (this is the bad cholesterol that clogs your arteries!). The good fats are monounsaturated (such as olive oil, sesame oil, canola oil) and polyunsaturated fats (such as sunflower oil, fish oil, walnut oil)
Not-So-Good Fats - Foods that are high in saturated fats, can raise your LDL cholesterol levels, especially when consumed in large quantities. They are typically found in all animal products, however, they are also present in some plant products too. This type of fat is noticeable as it turns solid at room temperature. Even though foods that are high in saturated fats (such as fatty meats, deep-fried foods and foods laden with cheese), are best eaten sparingly or avoided altogether, there are some other foods that contain saturated fats that are considered healthy (such as eggs, avocado and coconut) when eaten in moderation.
Bad fats - Though many people include saturated fats in this category, I don’t like to group the good foods such as lean meats, eggs and avocados, in with these bad guys. Trans fats, or ‘trans fatty acids’, are highly processed fats formed when vegetable fats are put through a process called ‘hydrogenation’. This is a heating process that hardens the oils and makes them more heat resilient and increases their shelf life. It is believed that trans fats not only raise your LDL cholesterol, they also reduce your HDL cholesterol, which is the good cholesterol in your body that works to keep your arteries clear! Though unfortunately, trans fats are used in loads of different processed foods these days, they are used most common as imitation butter spreads, such as margarine.
So not all fats are bad, in fact, some of them are not only good, they are essential to a healthy diet and will help you maintain a healthy body and weight!