FAT: THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY...
Let’s talk fat...the stuff that makes your food taste good. Good Fats and Bad Fats seem to be ‘buzzwords’ that a lot of people talk about, but do you actually know why some fats are good, and why some fats are seen as bad? Maybe it confuses the hell out of you, or maybe you just don’t care. But if you don’t care, I guess this isn’t really the blog post for you!?
The word ‘fat’ has become a “bad” word - Our misconceptions about this basic nutrient are sabotaging our ability to eat well and feel our best. What we need to remember, is that your own body makes its own fat from taking in excess calories, not just calories from fat. Too many calories from any source can end up as stored fat.
Fat is not an “F word” you should fear or avoid. Certain bodily functions actually rely on the presence of fat. For example, some vitamins require fat to dissolve into your bloodstream and provide nutrients. If you follow a very low-fat diet, vitamin absorption may be limited, resulting in impaired functioning.
If you don’t understand the differences in the types of fat, it would be easy to think that you should just avoid fats altogether, and start looking for “Low-fat” or “fat-free” foods. These terms have dominated marketing campaigns for at least the last two decades, and for those who are trying to lose weight, low fat or fat-free would seem to be a good idea. However, little to no fat sometimes means little to no flavour so sweeteners and sugars are quite often added instead, so it’s always best to read the label. I’m not saying that these ingredients are any worse for you than fat, it might just be that to help keep the calories down but still get a taste of the fat your body craves, you reduce the portion size of the foods with the higher fat. The increased fat content may compensate for the smaller portion, and your body will feel fuller and more satisfied with less. In general, I would say low/reduced/zero fat dairy products like milk or plain/greek yoghurt are truly what they say they are, but make sure to check labels on your products if you are choosing low fat to reduce your calories as it’s not always the case.
And this might be going off subject a little, but should we be labeling anything good or bad when it comes to food? I’m not even a fan of healthy/unhealthy to be honest, and prefer to use the terms more or less nutritionally dense. Because no food is ‘bad’ for you. A quick search on google brings up the following article headlines…
20 Foods That Are Bad for Your Health
10 'Healthy' Foods That Are Actually Bad For You
But as with everything in life – context matters. Yes, some foods have a better nutritional profile than others, but context matters immensely. Kale may easily win a “good” label, but if all you have eaten all day is kale, another serving of it may be the last thing you need. Pizza is often demonised as ‘bad’. But if that pizza isn’t an everyday meal and you enjoyed it with loved ones, the otherwise ‘bad’ food becomes something that creates happy memories. Food inherently is not good or bad. Also, labeling foods “bad” can make them even more desirable. But I think I’m going to need to write another blog post on this subject as you’re here to read about fats!
So let's get back on subject...Fats can be very beneficial to your health—if you pick the right types.
Fat is incredibly important within the human body. They are essential to give your body energy and to support cell growth. They also help protect your organs and help keep your body warm, while helping to absorb some vital vitamins. Your body definitely needs fat. Fat also takes longer to digest, meaning it’s satiating and keeps you feeling fuller for longer...a big plus when you are trying to reduce your calorie intake.
There are four major dietary fats:
‘THE GOOD’ Monounsaturated fats and Polyunsaturated fats
‘THE BAD’ Saturated fats
‘THE UGLY’ Trans fats
All fats have the same number of calories, and they are more calorie-dense (providing nine calories per gram) than carbs or protein (which provide four calories per gram).
Trans fats Although some traces of trans fat occur naturally in meat and dairy, most trans fat can be found in processed or fried foods. They are the worst type of fat for the heart and blood vessels, because they can raise bad LDL and lower good HDL cholesterol levels. They’ve also been linked to inflammation in the body, which can increase risks of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other chronic conditions. Trans fats are produced during food processing. This is because trans fats keep food shelf-stable. Any processed foods made with "partially hydrogenated oil" contain trans-fatty acids, which raise cholesterol levels.
Saturated fats are primarily found in animal products, including fatty meats, poultry skin, cheeses, butter, coconut oil, coconut oil, chocolate and coconut. A diet rich in saturated fats can raise bad cholesterol levels and some recent reports note a link between consumption of saturated fats and heart disease. People are often terrified of saturated fat, but when it is obtained from healthy sources, in moderation, like grass-fed butter and coconut oil, it provides the body much-needed fuel. While it shouldn’t be avoided all-together, this type of fat shouldn’t be the main point of your diet if you’re watching your heart health.
The two fats best for health are polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. These aren’t just “less bad” than other types of fats—when consumed in moderation, as a part of a healthy diet, these fats offer a variety of health benefits.
When it comes to polyunsaturated fats, look for:
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fats that are found in both plant and animal foods. They can slightly lower blood pressure, slow the buildup of plaque in the arteries and reduce the risk of developing an irregular heartbeat.
Omega-6 fatty acids appear in high concentrations in a number of foods, such as vegetable oil, dairy, eggs, chicken, pork, beef, some fast food items and many baked goods. These polyunsaturated fats are often used to help lower the risk of heart disease by decreasing “bad” cholesterol and increasing “good” cholesterol.
Other foods rich in polyunsaturated fats include fish like salmon or tuna, walnuts, canola and other plant oils, ground flaxseed and eggs from chickens fed a diet high in omega-3s.
Monounsaturated fats can improve blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease your risk of heart disease. These can also improve the function of your blood vessels. Foods to eat include olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, nuts (including almonds, macadamias, pecans, pistachios, peanuts), avocado and peanut butter.
THE TAKE HOME’S:
Everyone’s dietary needs are different, based on many factors. And it is simply not enough to add foods rich in unsaturated fats into a diet overflowing with less nutritionally dense foods and fats. Making healthful swaps like baked potatoes instead of chips or avocado for creamy salad dressings, will help you add more healthy fats into your diet.
Knowing how to decipher the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to fats is a powerful tool for creating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are considered more “heart-healthy” good fats, which you should include in your diet in moderation.
These fats can have a beneficial effect on your heart when eaten in moderation and when used to replace saturated fat and trans fat in your diet. Oils that contain monounsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature but start to turn solid when chilled. Olive oil is an example of a type of oil that contains monounsaturated fats. Other sources include avocados, peanut butter, and many nuts and seeds. Tofu and soybeans are examples of foods that contain polyunsaturated fats.
Saturated fats raise levels of cholesterol in your blood, which clogs your arteries over time, increasing your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Plus, many foods high in saturated fats also are high in dietary cholesterol, which raises levels of artery-clogging cholesterol even higher.
Saturated fat is solid at room temperature. It’s found mainly in meat and dairy products. Examples include fatty beef, lamb, pork, chicken with skin, whole milk, cream, butter, cheese and ice cream. Additionally, baked goods and fried foods can be high in saturated fat because they are made with ingredients loaded with butter, cream and lard.
Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. Eating trans fats increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. It’s also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The primary dietary source for trans fats in processed food is “partially hydrogenated oils." Trans fats can be found in many foods, including fried foods like doughnuts, and baked goods including cakes, pie crusts, biscuits, frozen pizza and cookies. Small amounts of trans fats occur naturally in some meat and dairy products, including beef. To reduce your intake of these fats, look for processed foods made with unhydrogenated oil rather than partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated vegetable oils or saturated fat.
If you aim to eat a dietary pattern that emphasises your intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, legumes, vegetable oils and nuts; and limit your intake of salt, processed sweets, sugar sweetened beverages and red meats, it will mean that your diet will be low in both saturated fats and trans fats. And note I say limit…..not stop eating! Just be mindful of the type of fat, and reduce the portion sizes or the frequency of the ‘so called’ bad and ugly!
Part of the reason people get confused and think that the fat they eat makes their body store fat is because we use them interchangeably to describe both body fat and dietary fat. And if you have weight loss goals, focus on building a diet that you actually want to eat, keep it within a reasonable number of calories, add in more physical activity, and you’ll be closer to your weight loss goals than if you simply just reach for packaging that promises “low fat” or “reduced fat” foods. By understanding what you need to reduce, you will be able to enjoy all your food (fats included!) a lot more.