Did you know that our brains are composed of 60% fat? And our lovely cells’ membranes are rich in fats called Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)? Did you know that our cells regenerate all the time, so we need a constant supply of EFA’s to rebuild these cells?
We see low-fat yogurt, milk, cheese, meals everywhere, I reckon soon I’ll see a low-fat air sign somewhere, that’s how the low-fat marketing has engulfed everything. This low-fat fashion started back in the 50’s when some US studies linked the fat consumption to coronary disease, high blood sugar, raised cholesterol and strokes. The problem with these studies is that they contained multiple research errors and the conclusions were seriously misleading. When these studies have been replicated almost 50 years later, guess what? They’ve actually found that fats aren't bad at all.
The technical name for fats is lipids and they play many important roles in the body:
They are the building blocks of the cell membranes.
Because lipids provide a larger amount of energy per gram than carbohydrates and proteins, they are an efficient energy storage system.
They play a role in improving the digestion and metabolism of certain nutrients and in the absorption and transport of others, including fat-soluble vitamins.
They have protective abilities for organs and provide insulation for the body.
Aren’t they just fabulous?
Because I know just how confusing the different types of fats can be, here’s an overview of them:
Are found in dairy products (milk, cheese, cream, yogurt, butter), meat (poultry, beef, pork), coconut oil.
There are ongoing debates about their health benefits but they are not as bad as one might think. You wouldn't want to eat a lot of them but it's good to have them in the diet. The recommended daily intake for an average man is 30 grams and for an average woman is 20 grams.
Monounsaturated (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated (PUFAs) fats are the two unsaturated fats.
Monounsaturated fats (also known as Omega 9) can be found in: avocados, olives, olive oil, nuts such as almonds and cashews.
Polyunsaturated fats: some of them are the highly known Essential Fatty Acids: Omega 3 and Omega 6. They are found in oils (sesame, evening primrose, hemps seed oil), oily fish, nuts and seeds (walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds).
These healthy fats are so important for our health; they can influence the immune functions, inflammatory responses, the supply of blood to the brain, positively affect the heart, they can be beneficial to cognitive function, mood, learning and development, joint health and so much more.
An easy way to tell the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats: fats that contain mostly unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature (olive oil, flaxseed oil), whereas saturated fats (butter, lard) are solid at room temperature.
They are a no-no; we don’t need them in our diet as they are damaged fats and have been linked to cardiovascular health problems and a possible involvement in some cancers. They occur when any unsaturated fat is heated for a long period, e.g. sunflower oil used in deep frying. They are also formed by the partial hydrogenation process of PUFAs used to make products such as spreads.
Often labelled as hydrogenated fats, these fats can be found in processed foods (e.g. crisps, doughnuts), margarines and spreads, fast foods (e.g. potato chips, chicken nuggets, battered fish).
There are currently no legal requirements for food manufacturers to label trans fats so if a food label does not list them, add up listed fats (saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated) and subtract from the total fats. Ideally, you wouldn’t want any tans-fats in your food.
Mostly it’s made in our bodies but it can also come from foods such as meat, eggs, dairy products and shellfish.
Though it has a bad reputation (another post to debunk this myth, soon) cholesterol is vital to the healthy function of our body: for example, steroid hormones are made from cholesterol which is also used to make vitamin D and bile acids (needed for fat digestion).
In conclusion, try to stay away from trans fats (hydrogenated fats) and don't be afraid to eat healthy fats such as Essential Fatty acids, and even saturated ones (but not in excess). Our cells need these fats so eat your nuts, seeds, olive oil, coconut oil, oily fish, avocados.