Don’t Be Fat Phobic: A Nutritional Guide
Fat! A very loaded word. What does the word conjure up for you? Greasy food? Something that you fear and avoid eating? For a long time we were very fat phobic. In the 80’s low fat and fat free was all the rage, which led to a huge increase in low fat ready meals, diet yogurts and people being afraid to enjoy foods like avocado and eggs!
Fast forward 30 plus years later and we’re on track to become one of the fattest nations in Europe which alarming increases in Type 2 diabetes in adults and children. So much for low fat being the answer to our problems! There’s confusion though... there any many different types of fat and many conflicting messages out there on this subject.
Here is my brief guide to the different types of fats, the major sources of fats in our diet and those you should be eating and those that should be avoided. Bearing in mind that some foods contain more than one type of fat, eggs and olive being two examples.
Fats to Avoid
Hydrogenated or Trans Fats The chemically altered fats such as vegetable oils, sunflower and safflower oils and margarine. These oils go through an industrial hydrogenation process where they are turned from a liquid to a solid or semi-solid fat for use by the food manufacturing industry, mainly as a way of increasing the shelf life of foods. This hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil is a plastic like substance which the body isn’t designed to absorb. Detrimental to health in many ways and to be avoided at all costs.
Fats to Have in Moderation
Saturated Fats Meats, coconut oil, flesh and milk, dairy products, eggs. The likes of red meat and butter are still thought of as ‘bad’ by some people but more and more research is coming out to support the evidence that they are healthier than originally thought. Organic or pastured raised eggs from hens fed on a natural diet are a wonderful addition to your diet and are a brilliantly convenient and versatile food.
Fats to Include Regularly in your Diet
Unsaturated Fats Oily fish, such as wild salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines and anchovies. Avocados, seeds and nuts (ideally they should be soaked or sprouted for maximum nutrient absorption), coconut, olive oil, eggs, nut and seeds oils such as flaxseed and hemp oil (these should be unrefined and never to be heated, best used cold in salad dressings or drizzled over cooked vegetables). Of these, particular kudos must go to the omega 3 rich oily fish, flax and avocados which are so important for the following:
- Managing inflammation
- Healthy, flexible cell membranes to allow nutrients into cells.
- Needed to build ‘docking ports’ in the brain cells so that neurotransmitters such as serotonin can work more efficiently.
- They have a natural antidepressant effect.
- Very important for optimal hormonal function.
- Help absorption of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
- Contribute to healthy, glowing skin, strong hair and nails.
Can we eat too much fat, even the healthy fat?
As with everything, there is context. Fats are calorific and it’s easy to overeat them. Yes, butter is better than margarine; but that doesn’t give free reign to slather huge amounts of it on toast everyday (as tempting as that sounds): Try a small knob of butter on your vegetables instead. Nuts are a great snack option, but keep to a palmful, and make sure they’re unroasted and unsalted. Red meat is fine in moderation, opt for the best quality you can afford and work on increasing fish in your diet, in particular the oily fish, as mentioned above.
Fat is satiating, it keeps us fuller for longer. A small bowl of deliciously creamy Greek yogurt with some berries or stewed fruit and a sprinkling of seeds is much more nourishing and satisfying that any low fat, artificially flavoured and sweetened yogurt will ever be. If I was to choose between a breakfast of wholegrain toast, spread with mashed avocado and topped with couple of poached eggs or a bowl of low fat cereal with fat free milk I’d go with the former every time.