The big FAT debate

August 23, 2017

healthy fats

One of the exciting things about food, nutrition and health, is that it is forever changing and evolving. One example of this is the research around fat and its relation to heart disease and weight loss. For the past 20 years, we’ve been following a “low fat” food trend stemming from the belief that fats make you fat.

Recently, however, the trend has changed to “pro fat” and we are seeing consumers switching from low fat to full cream, adding butter, cream and coconut oil to their diets.

The question is you’re likely wondering: “Is fat healthy or not?”

Firstly, let’s just point out that fat is incredibly essential in a healthy balanced diet, as it has a wide array of functions in the body:

  • fat contains energy, therefore is used as fuel by the body
  • fat helps the body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, D, E and K which are essential for functioning
  • fat is stored as adipose tissue, which acts as an energy reservoir in the body
  • stored fat helps maintain normal body temperature by acting as an insulator
  • stored fat protects your organs and tissues
  • fat keeps our cells healthy as it forms part of cell membranes
  • fat is essential for nerve function and normal brain development
  • fat forms structural components of various cell membranes found in the brain, as well as surrounds nerve fibres in the brain which ensures messages are carried quickly and efficiently
  • fat is responsible for making hormones, which are essentially chemical messages in the body that control most major bodily functions, from simple basic needs like hunger to complex systems like reproduction, and even the emotions and mood.
  • Fat maintains healthy hair and skin

However, importantly, not all fat is the same. There are several types of fats:

  • Saturated fat: animal fats; fats from full cream dairy, butter, cream, cheese, fat on meats, skin on chicken, sausages, salami, cold meats, pies, chocolate, baked goods
  • Trans fat: used in commercial bakeries, restaurants and fast food chains, in biscuits, crackers, cakes, pastries, pies, chips, donuts
  • Monounsaturated fats: olive oil, olives, peanuts, canola oils, avocados, nuts
  • Polyunsaturated fats, which can be divided into:
  • Omega 3s: found in oil fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, trout, pilchards, anchovies, sardines, also plant sources such as flax seeds, walnuts, canola oil, soya beans
  • Omega 6s: sunflower oil, safflower oil, soya bean oil, corn oil, grape seed oil and sesame oil

Now back to the question of what is healthy? As you have probably heard, fat increases cholesterol levels, but there is a lot of confusion as to which type of fat increases cholesterol levels. The concept of “good” (known as HDL) and “bad” (known as LDL) cholesterol has been re-questioned, as there has been a great debate as to whether an elevated LDL level can, in fact, lead to cardiovascular disease.

Considering we are sceptical of trends and advise against fad diets, we felt it necessary to draw on the opinions of some of the most renowned experts in the field to get the best answer. In the most recent American Heart Association paper, published in July 2017 and reviewed by over 100 scientific papers, the evidence was very clear; “saturated fat increases LDL”, and is still believed to be a cause of atherosclerosis (plaque in the arteries which can lead to a heart attack or stroke). It is recommended that one “replace saturated fats with monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats”. Furthermore, the paper “advised against reducing total fat intake” and for optimal cardiovascular health, a Mediterranean diet is recommended (ie: include olive oil, fish, nuts and avocados).

In a more practical sense of the advice, switch butter on your (wholegrain) toast for avo, fatty lamb chops for salmon and shortbread biscuits for cashew bliss balls. Sounds manageable right? If not, don’t worry, Daily Dietitian can feed you the perfect Mediterranean diet meals.

This being said, we do feel it necessary to add that diet and nutrition is not a “one size fits all approach” and as with all things in life, this is a general guideline which should be altered depending on the individual.

Furthermore, it is important not to view fat in isolation from other factors which can cause increased risk of cardiovascular disease, such as sugar, refined carbohydrates, excessive alcohol consumption and lack of physical activity. After all, one cannot point fingers at one culprit without looking at the whole picture.

At Daily Dietitian we believe that balance is key. Food is there to be enjoyed and should be a sociable experience. As long as there is more “good” than there is “bad” you’re on the right track to maintaining a healthy body and mind.

x DD