Learn to love fats
Fat; a word many people are afraid of, and avoid eating, even the ‘good fats’ are looked down upon. Why is this? Well it all started in the 80’s and 90’s, where fats were labelled in the media as bad for our health as they were found to be the major contributor towards heart disease and stroke. This led to many food company’s and manufacturers removing fat from products and labelling them ‘fat free’, resulting in low-fat, high carbohydrate diets being recommended and consumed. The removal of fat from these products meant the replacement of another ingredient to make the products palatable, and in this case it was, and still is sugar. In fact, it could be argued that sugar is more damaging to our health, contributing to conditions such as type 2 diabetes, obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (1). The focus on reducing total fat intake led to an increase in the consumption of refined carbohydrates and added sugars, and a decrease in nutrient dense rich foods and healthy unsaturated fats like nuts and seeds (1). To an extent, yes some fats are not good for our health, but not all fats should be seen as bad.
So, what fats should we be avoiding, and which fats should we be including daily as part of a well-balanced diet?
Trans-unsaturated fatty acids
Trans fats have been found to raise low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and other triglycerides, whilst lowering high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels, posing a risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes (2). They are primarily found in baked and fried foods, margarine and many processed and packaged products.
Saturated fats are not as damaging to our health as trans fats, however this type of fat still needs to be consumed in moderation as saturated fats can have a negative impact on our health. Foods that are high in saturated fats include red meat, cheese, butter, ice cream and coconut oil. Replacing some saturated fat in the diet with polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA’s) such as oily fish, nuts and seeds is associated with improved cardiovascular health.
The good guys:
Poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFA’s)
There are 2 major classes of PUFA’s; omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids and these are essential nutrients, which means these fats are required for the body to function normally and cannot be made by the body so we must get these fats from the diet (3). Omega-3 fatty acids can be further divided into alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is found in plant oils such as flaxseed, and DHA is found in oily fish like salmon (3). The two main omega-6 fatty acids are linoleic acid and arachidonic acid (4). Omega-6 PUFA’s are considered pro-inflammatory and are associated with increases in inflammatory disease such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis (4).
Benefits of omega-3 fats:
- Support healthy vision as DHA is found in high levels in the cell membrane of the retina (3).
- Help to support healthy brain function and can reduce the risk of cognitive decline an ALZHEIMER'S disease (3).
- Improved cardiovascular health (3).
- Reduce levels of inflammation in the body and may help those who suffer from inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, neurological disorders and skin conditions (3).
- Healthy hair, skin and nails
- Male and female fertility
Food sources of omega-3 fatty acids: flaxseeds/flaxseed oil, walnuts, chia seeds, firm tofu, salmon, tuna and sardines.
Food sources of omega-6 fatty acids: sunflower seeds, pine nuts, sesame oil.
Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA’s)
The Mediterranean diet consists largely of MUFA’s as they incorporate lots of olive oil, nuts and seeds into their diet (5). A diet rich in MUFA’s, along with PUFA’s reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic diseases, and improves cognitive function and longevity (5).
Sources of MUFA’s: olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds such as almonds and peanuts.
1. Aim to include good fats with each meal, this will make you feel more satisfied and prevent any cravings.
2. Swap red meat for oily fish 1-2 times per week.
3. Alternate between cooking with olive oil and butter.
4. Use flaxseed oil or olive oil as a dressing for salads.
5. Sprinkle seeds on top of yoghurt, oats or chia puddings.
6. Use avocado in place of butter
1. Liu AG, Ford NA, Hu FB, Zelman KM, Mozaffarian D, Kris-Etherton PM. A healthy approach to dietary fats: understanding the science and taking action to reduce consumer confusion. Nutr J. 2017 Aug 30;16(1):53.
2. Forouhi NG, Krauss RM, Taubes G, Willett W. Dietary fat and cardiometabolic health: evidence, controversies, and consensus for guidance. BMJ. 2018 Jun 13;361:k2139–k2139.
3. Swanson D, Block R, Mousa SA. Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA: health benefits throughout life. Adv Nutr Bethesda Md. 2012 Jan 5;3(1):1–7.
4. Patterson E, Wall R, Fitzgerald GF, Ross RP, Stanton C. Health implications of high dietary omega-6 polyunsaturated Fatty acids. J Nutr Metab. 2012;2012:539426–539426.
5. Altomare R, Cacciabaudo F, Damiano G, Palumbo VD, Gioviale MC, Bellavia M, et al. The mediterranean diet: a history of health. Iran J Public Health. 2013 May 1;42(5):449–57.