For a long time, fats have been demonised, as previously it was believed foods containing saturated fat, like eggs and red meat, were linked to coronary heart disease. Numerous studies have since disproved this. In fact, fat is essential to good health, especially unsaturated ‘healthy’ fats, such as avocado, olive oil, oily fish, nuts and seeds. Think Mediterranean diet, now recognised to be one of the healthiest in the world, contains many of these foods. Both saturated (dairy, chicken, beef, coconut oil and butter - organic where possible), and unsaturated fat offer a unique set of benefits and can be included in moderation as part of a well-balanced and healthy diet. It’s generally recommended that unsaturated fatty acids should make up the majority of your fat intake.
‘Healthy fats’ help the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins, keep hair and skin healthy, improve blood cholesterol, help form cell membranes and supply energy. Many of them e.g. oily fish, nuts and seeds contain Omega 3’s which is known to be anti-inflammatory. Healthy fats can even aid weight loss, fat is digested more slowly than carbohydrates and protein to promote satiety and helps improve the flavour of foods. They are also needed to make hormones (like testosterone and oestrogen) and immune cells, and to regulate inflammation. We need fats because 60% of our brains are fat!
However, not all fats are created equally, and there are the more damaging ones, ‘trans fats’ which are typically found in highly processed fatty foods such as crackers, refined vegetable oils, processed meats, margarine, cakes, doughnuts and pastries. Studies show that eating this type of fat can have detrimental effects on health; by increasing inflammation and also the risk of coronary heart disease.
Avoid opting for the low-fat version of a food, as it will likely be packed with sugar or artificial sweeteners to help enhance the flavour. Sugar causes weight gain and other health related issues such as increasing blood glucose and insulin levels. Switch to the full fat variety and aim to eat a quality ‘healthy’ fat at every meal - this will also keep you fuller for longer than a low fat option. Sprinkle nuts and seeds onto your porridge, salads and smoothies, and drizzle olive oil over roasted veggies and side dishes for an added dose of healthy fats.
Ultimately, focus on which fat you are eating, not just how much and ensure balance - it’s not all or nothing.
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