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Get your fats straight

For a considerable amount of time, fats were demonised and became the macronutrient people feared and avoided like the plague. Because fats make you fat and therefore should be avoided at all costs? WRONG.

It is of pivotal importance we consume the correct types of fats in order to function optimally.

Why are fats important?

Fat is an integral component of the human body and our diet, without which we wouldn’t be able to survive or function. Fat provides us with insulation, helping us to keep warm and provides cushioning which protects out vital organs. Fat is also an integral component of every cell membrane: it helps keep rigidity and maintains cell structure.

The brain is composed of 60 percent fat!

Our bodies store fat as a long-term energy reserve. Glycogen is a short-term energy reserve and so by storing some fat our bodies are ensuring that you have reserves, should you need it.

Fats also aid the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, without fat we are unable to absorb these vitamins (A, D, E + K). Fat soluble vitamins require the co consumption of dietary fats in order to be efficiently absorbed into our bodies. E.g., studies show that without fat, only 50 percent of beta carotene (vitamin A) from cooked carrots is bio-available, yet when you co-consume fats with carrots i.e., roasted in olive oil, about 80 percent of the vitamin A is absorbed.

What types of fat should we be consuming?

Presently, the most up to date scientific evidence suggests that unsaturated fats are favourable in terms of health outcomes: monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats (MUFA’s + PUFA’s for ease). Epidemiological evidence shows that people who consume these fats have a much lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD). Several high-quality scientific studies show that these fats can improve our lipid (fat circulating in the blood) profile: by elevating our good cholesterol (HDL) whilst also decreasing our ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL).

You can find these fats in abundance in the following foods:

Olive oil, rapeseed oil, avocados, nuts (such as walnuts), seeds (flax, chia, sesame seeds) and oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, trout and salmon.

What fats should I avoid/reduce?

Evidence suggests that no more than 10 percent of your daily calories should come from saturated fats.

Saturated fats have long been associated with increasing bad (LDL) cholesterol and CHD. Taking steps to reduce foods in your diet that contain saturated fats, along with a balanced diet and regular exercise would be beneficial to overall health + longevity.

Studies show that replacing saturated fats with MUFA’s and PUFA’s improve lipid (fat) profiles and in turn can help reduce CHD. Some evidence does suggest that the fats must be replaced by unsaturated ones to reap the benefits- so in essence, swapping the types of fat within the diet will provide the most benefits. Unsaturated fats are found in plants i.e., nuts, seeds, avocados etc.

Trans Fats:

A lot of the time, within nutrition, nothing is clear cut or ‘black and white’. However, one thing we know for sure is that trans fats should be avoided. Although some trans fats occur naturally in some foods, such as those found in butter- the majority are man-made, industrially produced and added to processed foods such as cakes, biscuits, pastries etc.

Trans fats are vegetable oils that have been through a process known as ‘hydrogenation’. This means adding hydrogen molecules to make the fats more saturated (more solid at room temperature), it turns the liquid oils into a solid/semi solid at room temperature. They are favoured within the food industry because they increase shelf life of foods and decrease perishability.

Epidemiological studies (the study of how diet is related to disease outcomes) consistently link trans-fat consumption with increased CVD risk (increased LDL and decreased HDL). As of 2013, trans fats were no longer recognised as safe.

We should all be actively decreasing our consumption of foods that contain trans fats.

When looking at ingredient lists, companies are not required to state the amount of trans fats on the nutritional information unless it exceeds 2 percent of fat. This means that products with low levels of man-made trans fats, will just say ‘partially hydrogenated oils’. Do not be fooled by this terminology.

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