Fats often get a bad rap. In fact, during the 80’s and 90’s, fat was literally ostracised from the diet. However, fats are essential for good health and have many important functions in the body. These include being an essential component of our cell walls, assisting brain and nerve function, helping to deliver fat soluble vitamins around our body, not to mention that they taste good and play an important role in satiety (feeling full) so can help weight management. What is important, is to understand that there are different types, and like most things, not all fats were created equal.
Dietary fats and oils can be found in many protein products such as meat and dairy, eggs, butter and cream as well as vegetable products such as avocado, seeds, nuts, seed and their oils. Fats and oils can also be broadly classified into 2 categories, unsaturated fats and saturated fats. Interestingly, the fats found in food always contain a combination of both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, but in differing ratios.
Unsaturated fats are known as the ‘good’ fats as they help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by lowering LDL cholesterol in your blood, and there are two types of unsaturated fats.
1 Monounsaturated fats
Found in olive oil, avocado, canola oil and some nuts (such as almonds and cashews)
2 Polyunsaturated fats, which can be further broken down into
Omega 3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fats are associated with a plethora of health benefits such as decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia and even depression. Omega 3’s are also one of nature’s most powerful anti-inflammatories. Most of us know that oily fish such as salmon and mackerel are excellent sources, but there are also several plant-based sources of omega-3 such as walnuts, chia, hemp, edamame and flaxseed. Some eggs also contain omega-3 fats.
Omega 6 fatty acids
found in some oils such as safflower, sunflower, some nuts, seeds and meat
AND THE BAD….?
Saturated fats are a continual topic of great debate (and often disagreement!). Traditionally, they are associated with a host of negative effects on health, such as an increased risk of heart disease. BUT evidence suggests the real issue is not so much the type of fat, but where it is coming from.
Saturated fats are found naturally in animal products such as meat and dairy products, as well as some oils such as coconut oil. It is important to note that animal products still contain a combination of saturated fats and unsaturated fats, likewise animal fats are not the main source of saturated fats in our diet.
On the other hand, highly processed foods such as cakes, biscuits, confectionary, potato crisps and processed meats are by far the BIGGEST contributors. Unlike the saturated fat in dairy products, there is no argument that a diet high in processed foods is detrimental to health, and their intake should be reduced as much as possible.
Very low levels of trans fats also occur naturally in dairy products and animal products such as beef, veal and lamb. Once again, the main source of trans fats in our diet is in highly processed foods and these are the most concerning. They are created artificially through a process called ‘partial hydrogenation’, which is widely used in the food industry to convert cheap liquid vegetable oils into solid fats as a cost saving mechanism and to produce a consistent product and mouth feel.
So, what should our intake be?
Dietary guidelines in Australia make the following recommendations regarding fat intake.
Total fat – should be around 30% total energy intake (about 70g)
Saturated fat < 10% total energy (about 24g/day)
And what is a serve?
One serve is 2 teaspoons (fat or oil) and a serve of nuts & seeds is 30g (about one handful).
The Heart Foundation also recommends we include 2-3 serves of fish and seafood (including oily fish) per week to reach our omega 3 fatty acid requirements with one serve of fish being 115g (uncooked) or 1 small tin. If you are follow a plant-based diet, you can still meet your omega 3 recommendation by regularly consuming omega-3 rich foods such as walnuts, chia, hemp, flaxseeds, brassicas and edamame.
What does all this actually mean?
Fats occur naturally and can be found in many processed foods. Depending upon which type and how much, fats can affect your health in different ways (positive and negative!). Choose healthy, unprocessed fats over high fat processed foods and refined oils. Good sources are extra-virgin olive oil, oily fish, avocado (and its oil), nuts (and their unrefined oils such as macadamia oil) and seeds. Likewise, aim for one serve of good fats at each meal. This could be a sprinkle of seeds over your morning porridge, ¼ of an avocado added to your lunchtime salad, or a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil over your steamed veggies at dinner time.
Article formulated for HUSTL. HEALTH.
Created by ®Chrissy Freer