Fat - the misunderstood facts

In the last couple of weeks I came across interesting comments made by many clients as well as friends when discussing their fat intake: ”…But I tend not to eat a lot of nuts because they are fattening.”, “Isn’t avocado fattening?”, “Oh, I try to avoid fat because of my cholesterol levels!". I guess some of you who specialise in the field of nutrition; healthy eating or food science can agree with me that listening to these comments is painful and frustrating.

Personally, I believe fats and their role in the human body have been victims of misinterpretation and lack of understanding of many researchers and scientists in the last century. Wrongly accused and given a negative label more than three decades ago, fat has been only recently recovering from its damaged reputation.

In order to change the perception of fat, general public must understand its benefits and functions. So why is fat so important? Without being too technical, once ingested fat is broken down into smaller structures, it is named "fatty acids". Fatty acids play the key role in cell membrane structure and function, gene expression, brain development and function (our brain is nearly 60% fat), energy stores, and hormone production (mainly referring to sex, stress and thyroid hormones). Frankly, fatty acids are quite busy to do their jobs rather than making us fat.

Not convinced?

Think about the fact how many “fat-free” and “reduced fat” food options we have been buying and consuming in the last 20 years at least. Countless, right? Yes, the food industry has been extremely efficient in following the high carbohydrates/low fat trend preached by a number of experts and Government guidelines. Unfortunately, the obesity epidemic, increase in type 2 diabetes and other cardiovascular health concerns are the unpredicted aftermath of excluding fats from our diet and replacing it with high sugar and artificial sweeteners. It would be fair to point out here for some of you who don’t know that any excess sugar we eat and is not used by the body as instant energy, is then converted by the liver and ironically stored as fat.

A healthy and balanced diet to me means including all food groups : good quality protein, slow carbohydrates and healthy fats. If you are interested in more details on what kind of fat is healthy and beneficial, then follow the summary guideline bellow. If still in doubt it is encouraged that you to explore this fascinating area in your own time. But I hope I have made you at least curious... :)

Saturated fats

Saturated fat is solid at room temperature. Main sources are meat and diary products (animal sources). Aim for smaller amounts only (please note, real organic butter comes with health benefits - it could be an idea to add it to your shopping list while ditching other vegetable spreads and margarine).

Coconut oil, however, has been found extremely beneficial and is therefore recommended as a part of everyday diet. Coconut oil is also a preferred option for cooking/frying since it keeps its structure stable and does not turn into unhealthy trans-fats.

Monounsaturated fats

Monounsaturated fats are not essential since our body can manufacture them; however they are considered beneficial and associated with lower risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. These are found in olive oil, avocados and most nuts (macadamia, hazelnuts, pecans, almonds, cashew, and pistachios).

Polyunsaturated fats

This group of fats is called essential, simply because our body cannot produce them, therefore must be obtained from our diet. Essential fats are also known as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 sources are seeds such as sunflower, pumpkin, chia, sesame, hemp and their cold-pressed oils and butters. Also included is organic and free-range poultry. Omega-3 is also found in seeds including chia, flax, hemp, pumpkin and walnuts. However, the best source is oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies and tuna as well as marine algae and organic free-range eggs. It is important to note here that the consumption of omega-3 should be our top priority since the typical modern diet is heavily skewed towards omega-6.

Trans-fatty acids and hydrogenated fats 

This is industrially produced fat or man-made which is harmful to our health, leading to overweight, obesity, insulin resistance, increased inflammation within the body as well as causing damage to the lining of arteries. Therefore increasing risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic illnesses. These fats are mainly found in processed foods, especially margarine, baked goods such as cakes, pastries, pie crusts and crackers as well as sauces and dressing salads.

Nutritionist Resource is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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