30th January 2019
In the 1970's there was a huge shift in our eating habits. Research by the American physiologist Ancel Keys pointed towards diets higher in saturated fats leading to an increase in the prevalence of coronary heart disease. Cue the demonising of fats and the birth of the low-fat dogma. Fortunately people are starting to seeing sense and realise fats are essential for human health...
What are fats anyway?
Fat is a calorie dense energy source found in both animal and plant foods. Dietary fat comes in two forms;
Unsaturated fats tend to be liquid at room temperature due to their loosely packed cell structure. They are mainly found in vegetables, nuts and seeds, and some fish. They can be further broken down into;
Mono-unsaturated fats help improve cholesterol levels whilst lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. They may also help control your levels of insulin and blood sugar.
Foods rich in mono-unsaturated fats include;
- Olive oil
Polyunsaturated fats help with many functions within your body, like muscular contractions and blood clotting. The Essential fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6 cannot be synthesized in the body so need to be obtained through your diet. The proven health benefits of omega-3’s are substantial. They can help improve brain function, decrease the risk of heart disease, and aid those struggling with anxiety and depression.
Foods rich in polyunsaturated fats include;
- Fatty fish (sardines, salmon, mackerel, herring, anchovies)
- Sunflower seeds
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature due to their tightly packed cell structure and are mainly found in animal products. Eat free range and organic animal produce – the balance of fats is more beneficial for your health. There found in;
- Red meats
- Offal – liver, kidneys, etc
- Pork – sausages, bacon, etc
- Dairy – butter, ghee, cheese and milk
- Coconut oil
- Dark chocolate
Recent research has shown that there is not enough evidence to link saturated fats with a higher risk of heart disease. Replacing some saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats could reduce the risk of heart disease, but conversely filling the void with refined carbohydrates may increase the risk.
Why do we need them?
We need fat for numerous processes within the body;
- It’s a vital energy source.
- They help develop new cells within the body – like neurons within your brain, which is 60% fat.
- Essential for healthy soft smooth skin and shiny thick hair.
- Transports and stores the fat soluble vitamins A, D and E.
- They’re the precursor to many hormones developed within your body. Recent studies discovered that adipose tissue (body fat) is an important and active endocrine organ. Body fat also plays a role in the regulation of glucose, cholesterol and the metabolism of sex hormones.
How much should I eat?
Look for roughly a third split from poly and mono-unsaturated and saturated fats by eating a variety of sources. But, as with most things relating to nutrition, the answer to overall volume is “it depends”. You have to factor in;
- Body weight
- Body type
- Activity levels
- Desired outcome
Firstly, fat is calorie dense (9 per gram), so a free for all at the peanut butter jar isn’t advisable for weight loss, as scrumptious and nutritious as it is. Use your thumb as a guide (see below)
- Wanting to loose weight? Try taking away a serving of fat from one meal.
- Looking to add bulk? Add an extra serving of fat to one meal.
In both instances give it a couple of weeks in accordance with other nutritional changes in regards to your carbohydrate and protein intake, along with your physical activity levels.
Fats to avoid
Trans fats in processed foods such as cakes, pastries, breads, margarines and cooking oils should be avoided because of their association with numerous health problems. I’d also recommend to avoid cheap animal produce, especially pork and chicken raised in confined spaces. Their poorly fed and pumped with antibiotics which in turn gets passed into the human food chain.
Yours in health,