The truth behind fats and why low-fat diets are making us fat

What is the truth behind fats? Are they harmful or beneficial for our health? What about quantities?

Our body needs a lot more fat than most people think. Fats assist the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals and eventually the production of energy. 

A good example is “light”/low-fat dairy products. We cannot absorb vitamin D, A and calcium from low-fat/skimmed dairy products. In addition, such products have added sugars or salts in order to replace the loss of taste that results from the removal of fats. We are also more prone to add more sugars, in the form of honey or dried fruits to low-fat yoghurt as it is more sour.

Another thing that we tend to not think about is the chemical process that foods go through for fat removal. If you find full-fat dairy difficult to digest, choose naturally lower fat products. For example, goat’s yoghurt is naturally lower in fat than sheep’s yoghurt.

Fat is essential for the structure, maintenance and repair of cellular membranes and the surrounding of nerves. Myelin, the tissue that surrounds nerve cells and is destroyed in multiple sclerosis, is made of fat. Fat is also essential for blood coagulation, for muscle movement and for fighting inflammation. Consuming more good fats is linked to better brain functioning, dementia prevention and reversal of type 2 diabetes.  

Fats and oils can be divided into three main categories: the good ones (polyunsaturated, monounsaturated), the bad ones (trans, hydrogenated) and the one ones we should have in moderation (saturated). More precisely: 

Bad fats 

Trans fats (also known as hydrogenated fats). Trans fats are artificial and man-made. Trans fats increase our “bad cholesterol” that is LDL, and decrease our “good cholesterol” (HDL).

Where do we find them? 

  • margarine (yes butter is a far better option, especially when coming from grass-fed animals!)
  • crips and all packaged and processed foods, like croissants, biscuits, crackers, breads, cakes, muffins, donuts and so on (it is very important to learn to read labels!)

Healthy fats

Mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats. Good fats (Ω3, Ω6, Ω7, Ω9), help our body to produce energy, assist cellular regeneration, muscles, nerves and brain function. 

Where do we find them? 

  • cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil 
  • olives (in brine), olive tapenade 
  • avocado, avocado oil  
  • flaxseed oil
  • grape-seed oil 
  • unsalted, raw nuts and seeds (almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, walnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, macadamia, pistachios, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, freshly-ground flaxseeds) *Should be preferably stored in the fridge, especially during warmer months. 
  • nut and seed butters, like almond butter and whole-seed tahini (limit consumption of peanut butter, it’s practically a legume!) 
  • oily fish - remember SMASH! (sardines, mackerel, anchovies, wild salmon, herring) also trout, perch, sole 
  • grass-fed/pasture-raised eggs (yes, they do contain omega-3 if raised in a healthy environment) 
  • grass-fed meats (if raised sustainably and are not grain-fed they contain anti-inflammatory omega 3’s!) 

*Polyunsaturated oils are healthy oils, but very unstable so should not be used for cooking. Flaxseed oil is the most polyunsaturated (most unstable) so it should be kept in a very cold environment (like fridge or freezer) and only be used raw. This is also one of the reasons nuts and seeds should be mainly consumed raw. Avocado and olive oil are mainly mono-unsaturated oils, meaning less unstable than poly-unsaturated ones. Hence, they can be used for mild-cooking. All other oils should only be used raw. 

*Vegetable oils, like peanut, corn, soy, sunflower, safflower are also polyunsaturated, but should be avoided as they contain pro-inflammatory omega-6 oils, and should never be used for cooking. 

Fats we should be consuming in moderation

Saturated fats. 

Where do we find them? 

  • meat (grass-fed meat also contains poly-unsaturated omega 3 fats): chicken, turkey, wild-game, buffalo, venison, lamb, goat, mutton etc. 
  • bacon (grass-fed turkey or other bacon can be consumed in moderation)
  • dairy (goat/sheep and grass-fed, organic cheese and yoghurt)
  • coconut butter and oil 
  • coconut flesh, flakes, shredded, coconut milk, cream, flour and yoghurt  
  • grass-fed and goat’s/sheep’s butter; Ghee (clarified butter – does not contain lactose or casein) 
  • dark chocolate, cocoa powder, cocoa butter 
  • animal fat (not visible), lard, tallow, goose fat 
  • red palm oil (fruit not kernel) 

 *Ghee, followed by butter and coconut oil is the safest oil to fry in (very stable).

Tips

  • No other fats or oils should be used. 
  • Choose organic cold-pressed or expeller-pressed oils (read the label), that are stored in dark bottles (except for saturated fats). A real extra-virgin olive oil will usually cost more than £10/L and will solidify and become cloudy in the fridge.

Fats in a nutshell 

Not all calories are created equal. What we eat and the quality of our food is much more important than how much or how many calories we consume. 

Healthy fats are helpful when one wants to lose weight. The quantity of healthy fats one should consume for optimal health and a healthy weight is multifactorial and should be highly individualised. 

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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London NW8 & NW1

Written by Olianna Gourli

London NW8 & NW1

Olianna Gourli is a Naturopath, Nutritional Therapist & Functional Medicine Practitioner, with a background in science and research (UCL, IFM-USA). She has great expertise in weight management, gastrointestinal issues&IBS, hormonal imbalances & women's health, stress, sleep issues and chronic fatigue. She sees clients in London, Athens and online.

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