For many years, FAT was almost a swear word… with fitness guru’s and food companies telling us that low-fat was the way forward. But the truth is that the shift didn't make us healthier, probably because we cut back on healthy fats as well as harmful ones.
There are many different types of fat, so saying stick to low-fat gives off the wrong message… we need to be more aware of the fats we should eat and those we should avoid.
Fat is a major source of energy. It helps you absorb some vitamins and minerals. Fat is needed to build cell membranes, the vital exterior of each cell, and the sheaths surrounding nerves. It is essential for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation.
However, when it comes to long-term health, some fats are better than others. Good fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, industrial-made trans fats should be avoided, and saturated fats fall somewhere in the middle.
All fats have a similar chemical structure: a chain of carbon atoms bonded to hydrogen atoms. What makes one fat different from another is the length and shape of the carbon chain and the number of hydrogen atoms connected to the carbon atoms. This slight difference in structure translates into crucial differences in form and function.
The UK Government has urged food companies to cut down on the levels of trans fats in products but an outright ban has yet to be enforced, while Denmark, Switzerland, Austria, and certain US states have banned trans fats due to the risk to health.
Eating foods rich in trans fats increases the amount of harmful LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream and reduces the amount of beneficial HDL cholesterol. Trans fats create inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. They contribute to insulin resistance, which increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Please avoid, or at least limit your intake of trans fats where possible.
The easiest way to differentiate between saturated and unsaturated fat is that saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Common sources of saturated fat include red meat and processed meat products, whole milk and other whole-milk dairy foods, cheese, cakes, biscuits, and other baked goods.
Is saturated fat bad for you? A diet rich in saturated fats can drive up total cholesterol, and tip the balance toward more harmful LDL cholesterol, which prompts blockages to form in arteries in the heart and elsewhere in the body. For that reason, most nutrition experts recommend limiting saturated fat to under 10% of calories a day.
Good fats come mainly from vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish. Healthy fats are liquid at room temperature, not solid. There are two broad categories of beneficial fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
When you dip your bread in olive oil at an Italian restaurant, you're getting mostly monounsaturated fat. Good sources of monounsaturated fats are olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, and most nuts, as well as high-oleic safflower and sunflower oils.
When you pour liquid cooking oil into a pan, there's a good chance you're using polyunsaturated fat. Polyunsaturated fats are essential fats. That means they're required for normal body functions but your body can't make them. So, you must get them from food. Polyunsaturated fats are used to build cell membranes and the covering of nerves.
There are two main types of polyunsaturated fats:
Omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. The numbers refer to the distance between the beginning of the carbon chain and the first double bond. Both types offer health benefits.
Eating polyunsaturated fats in place of saturated fats or highly refined carbohydrates reduces harmful LDL cholesterol and improves the cholesterol profile. It also lowers triglycerides.
So don’t go on low-fat diets, as your body needs a certain amount of fat to function… However, where possible remove trans fats from your diet, limit saturated fats and use unsaturated fats to get your daily intake of good fats.