The Truth About Dietary Fats
Each day we hear conflicting information on the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ fats to eat. Media stories make generalisations about fats, and fat is spoken about as if it were all the same. But, in reality, there are dozens of common fats in our diet, with each one having a different effect on the body, positive and negative, and on our health.
‘Good’ fats themselves are an essential component of health. They are major source of energy and helps us absorb other vitamins and minerals. These good fats build cell membranes and are essential for blood clotting, muscle movement and trauma recovery, amongst other functions.
But, there are better fats than others.
Below, I break down the most common fat groups, so you can make informed choices on the right kinds of fats for you.
This is the worst type of dietary fat. It is a byproduct of a process called hydrogenation, where healthy oils are turned into solids to prevent them from going rancid. Eating foods that contain trans fats increases the amount of harmful cholesterol in the bloodstream and reduces the amount of beneficial cholesterol. Trans fats cause inflammation and cause blockages in the arteries, and are linked to heart disease, strokes and other chronic illnesses. They also affect insulin resistance, increasing the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. No level of trans fat is considered safe to consume, and, where available, it’s important to read the nutrition table and ingredients listed on the following trans-fat’s containing foods:
- Commercially-available pastries, cakes, biscuits and pizza dough
- Packaged, processed snacks
- Margarine and vegetable shortening
- Fried foods, such as chips, fried chicken and fried fish
This fat is found mostly in animal and animal by-product foods, such as red meat, poultry and whole-fat dairy products. Like trans fats, saturated fats increase bad cholesterol levels, but they also have a positive effect on good cholesterol. For this reason, it is recommended to limit your intake of saturated fats, but it is not necessary to cut them completely (especially if they are coming from wholefood products).
Primary sources of saturated fat include:
- Pasture raised, antibiotic and hormone free red meat, such as beef, lamb, pork
- Pasture raised, antibiotic and hormone free chicken
- Full-fat milk, cream, and cheese
- Ice cream
- Tropical oils, such as coconut and palm oil
Saturated fat doesn’t increase the risk of heart disease in the same way trans fats do, but where plausible, saturated fats can be replaced with even-healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats
These fats are a type of unsaturated fat, which is a heart-healthy fat option that should be incorporated into the diet as much as possible. Found in a variety of foods and oils, both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats improve blood cholesterol and decrease the risk of heart disease, when consumed instead of saturated fats.
Good sources of monounsaturated fats include:
- Olives and olive oil
- Peanuts and peanut oil
- Sunflower seeds and sunflower oil
Good sources of polyunsaturated fats include:
- Wildcaught fish and salmon
- Sesame oil
- Chia seeds
- Pine nuts
Omega-3 is a type of polyunsaturated fat and is especially beneficial to our health. There are different types of omega-3s: those found in fish have the most health benefits, while those found in plants are slightly less potent. A diet rich in omega-3’s benefits your blood pressure, memory and mood, reduces the risk of blood clotting, heart disease and stroke, eases joint pain and inflammation, and fights fatigue.
Omega -3’s from the following food sources should be included in a healthy diet:
- Brussel sprouts
- Kidney beans
It’s important to focus on replacing bad fats with good fats. Eating a diet with a variety of vegetables, fruit, nuts and beans, with at least a serving of fatty fish, red meat and dairy a week, and limiting processed, packaged or takeaway meals, are excellent habits to get into.