Like carbohydrates, there is a lot of confusion & misinformation around what fats are good for you & how much of them you should incorporate them into your diet. And like carbs, there are a few different types. Some fats are better for you than others.
Lets get started:
Do we even need fat?
Short answer, yes.
Fats do a number of things which are really important for our health. Visceral fats cushion our internal organs protecting them from injury.
Vitamins A, D, E & K are also stored in our body fat. Fat is also used to move these nutrients through the blood stream.
Fat is involved in hormone production too which is why too much body fat can lead to hormone imbalances (more on that in another post).
So what’s the problem?
The problem comes when people are eating too much fat, &/or too much of the wrong fats.
At 37kJ/9cal per gram fat contains around double the energy of carbohydrates & protein, both 17kJ/4cal per gram.
This makes them much easier to over-consume & over-consumption leads to weight gain & obesity, the effects of which can damage your internal organs.
Fats should only make up 30% of your daily energy intake however many people eat much more than that.
There are two types, monounsaturated & polyunsaturated. These are fats that are liquid at room temperature.
Together, these should make up the majority of your fat intake (around 90%).
While polyunsaturated fats have a greater impact, both lower cholesterol. This decreases your risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).
Monounsaturated fats are found in oily plant foods such as avocados, nuts & nut butters, plant spreads & some oils such as olive & peanut oils.
Polyunsaturated fats can be found in seafood, polyunsaturated margarines, vegetable oils, some nuts such as walnuts & brazil nuts, & seeds.
Omegas 3 & 6 are found in unsaturated oils & are very beneficial for health.
Both Omega 3 & 6 support brain function & Omega 3 supports good cardiovascular health & functioning, decreases inflammation & supports immune function. It may even prevent or decrease depression.
Omega 3 can be found in plant oils & oily fish such as Atlantic Salmon while Omega 6 is found in nuts, seeds & plant oils.
Saturated & Trans fats can be very harmful for health if they are over-consumed. Saturated fats should only make up a small proportion of your daily fat intake (at most 10%).
Saturated fats are easily identified as they are solid at room temperature.
These little guys increase cholesterol levels, , body fat, visceral fat etc. leading to an increased risk in CVD, hormonal imbalance, Obesity & the many conditions associated with obesity (again, more on that in a future post).
Saturated fats are found in fatty cuts of meat, palm oil, coconut & oil/cream based coconut products & in discretionary foods such as bakery items, biscuits, most fast foods, fried foods & crisps etc.
Trans fats are treated by the body just as saturated fats are, however they are even more harmful when over-consumed. Saturated fats only act to increase ‘bad’ cholesterol whereas trans fats decrease ‘good’ cholesterol as well.
These fats are only naturally present in milk, cheese, beef & lamb. These trans fats aren’t really the ones you need to worry about as they are only present in relatively small amounts. It’s the ones that are created during food production processes that are present in large enough quantities to be concerning. These can be found in bakery products such as biscuits, cakes & pastry items as well as some crunchy discretionary foods.
So how much should you be eating?
According to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, it’s advisable to avoid foods rich in saturated fats as much as possible. This can be achieved by opting for low-fat dairy items & swapping other items out for foods containing unsaturated fats instead. For instance, swap out butter for margarine.
You can also cut down saturated fat intake by reducing the amount of discretionary foods you eat or making healthier versions at home. There is a big difference in the fat content of a commercial pizza & a homemade vegetable pizza with lean or no meat & a sprinkle of low-fat cheese on an oil-free base.
Take home message
You don’t need to be on a low-fat diet to have a healthy fat intake, just ensure you are consuming unsaturated over saturated. If you stick to the recommended amounts you’ll reap the rewards rather than suffer the consequences.
Always remember though, this only works if you don’t over-consume fat & energy in general. Keep your energy intake appropriate for your age, height, weight & level of activity.
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