Fat…Friend or Foe? Is fat good or bad for you, if so…what type? Why we MUST have it for optimal health!
Of all the nutrients that new or potential clients ask me about, it’s fat! Is it good for me? Will it kill me? Will fat make me fat? Will it raise my cholesterol? Is saturated fat the enemy? Just a few of many questions about fat that I hear every week. The media, pharmaceutical companies and the medical profession have whipped up quite a frenzy in recent years creating an almost “Fat-Phobia”, whereby people are afraid to eat what we’ve literally been consuming in abundance for around the last 200,000 years.
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But what about cholesterol? That much demonised lipid molecule that kills thousands of people every year…right…well yes and no. Cholesterol is often wrongly blamed for being the substance that clogs heart arteries. In reality cholesterol is only 1 of many substances found in “Arterial Plaque” which is a hard substance that clogs the arteries. Cholesterol however, is a hugely important substance, required by the body for many functions including creating steroid hormones. In fact, cholesterol is so important that a large amount of blood cholesterol is actually produced in the Liver, not ingested through our food. Cholesterol is complicated even further when you consider there is several types, often referred to as good and bad cholesterol.
There is also growing evidence to suggest that if we don’t eat enough cholesterol, the Liver automatically churns out more to cope with our demand, lowering this production if we eat a cholesterol rich diet. Cholesterol is also a vital ingredient required for the integrity and strength of our cell walls. There’s no way around it…we need the stuff!
So what are bad fats?
Many processed foods, even those touted as healthy contain trans-fatty acids (TFA’s). TFA consumption has been linked directly to heart disease and increased bad cholesterol levels.
When Dr’s find bad cholesterol levels are high in patients they often recommend a switch from cheese, eggs and other animal fats in favour of low fat foods and switching from butter to margarine. Unfortunately this often makes the problem worse. The high level’s of TFA’s in margarine was linked to heart disease in a Harvard Medical School study of 85,000 women.
Hydrogenation of oils is a process whereby oil is solidified to make it usable at room temperature for spreading, baking etc. The process of adding hydrogen however is far from safe, often containing a host of genetically modified ingredients (GMO’s). So when margarine is created by hydrogenation process’s and touted as healthy, even containing plant sterols – be wary! Hydrogenated oils have been found to have more in common with plastics than with food!
Grass fed organic butter would be a much healthier tastier and more natural choice, however due to it’s calorie density, it should still be enjoyed as part of a nutritionally balanced diet.
The most important point to remember is balance. In one of my previous blog’s I included a whole section on getting your macro nutrient ratio’s correct for your body/eating type, your lifestyle and your goals. Fat shouldn’t be avoided and should be enjoyed alongside other aspects that make up optimal nutritional balance.
Depending on your body type/eating type, fat should make up 20-40% of your total diet, unless you are following a ketogenic diet which can see followers consuming up to 85% of their daily calorie intake from fat.
Omega 3’s and 6’s
Many people get very hung up on the saturated vs monounsaturated vs polyunsaturated fat debate. Now we have identified that trans-hydrogenated fats are the ones to avoid, we should perhaps pay a little more attention to the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 oil ratio’s in our diet.
Omega 3’s and 6’s are essential fatty acids (EFA’s). Omega 6’s are found in grain products, meats and many commonly used cooking oils. Omega 3’s are found in green leafy vegetables, eggs (organic, free range), and oily fish. Ideally the ratio of Omega 3 to 6 in our diet should be 1:4, sadly in the UK and US, it’s much closer to 1:20 which sadly promotes inflammation – a precursor to many debilitating and life shortening diseases.
Organic Fats…why the necessity?
Where possible always eat organic foods…especially animal fats!
Why you may ask? Mammals store toxins within their fat cells. If an animal has been raised eating a diet rich in GMO’s that have been treated with herbicides, pesticides and fungicides, with chemical fertilisers used to grow them, then these chemicals are ingested by the animal and stored in their fat cells. If you then eat the fat from these animals then you may be consuming more than you bargained for.
Conversely, if you eat organic meats from animals raised eating as they would in nature eg grass fed beef, then what you are getting is a whole host of vitamins A,D,E and K, without the toxicity. A cows stomach is pretty much like a fermentation tank where they extract so many vital vitamins from grass. These vitamins are absorbed by the animals which are then consumed by humans.
It is for this reason that I also recommend organic full fat products over reduced fat. Take milk for example, reduced fat is also reduced vitamin. Full fat also tastes better and is how we used to drink it. Also, when choosing milk, try to go for non homogenised. Homogenisation has been shown to be pro inflammatory.
So How Can Fat Make Me Slim?
Eating fat will only make you gain weight if it is totally out of balance, ie you are consuming too many calories from fat for your lifestyle.
Whilst it’s true that fat contains more than twice the number of calories as protein and carbohydrate (Fat = 9kcal/g, Protein/Carbohydrate = 4Kcal/g) there are slimming benefits to eating fat and reducing carbohydrates (especially sugar).
Eating fat helps to absorb protein. So many people choose lean cuts of meat, consuming less tasty “lean protein” that their body will struggle to absorb without the presence of fats.
The mid morning coffee loaded with syrup and muffin that so many people subscribe to…this actually causes a huge insulin spike sending many calories to your fat cells, leaving you more hungry than before the muffin, craving more sugar and having poor concentration levels. This blood sugar crash which leaves you hungry causes you to search for more food, more stimulants to raise your energy levels, meaning that more calories are consumed. This sugar/crash cyclicity is sadly part of many peoples lives and is a huge contributing factor towards our nations now estimated 25% obesity problem. This in turn leaves our nation more prone to heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and a whole host of major health concerns.
Consuming fat with protein however certainly keeps you fuller for longer, meaning your total daily calorie total can be much lower, resulting in weight loss. No macro nutrient is our enemy. The enemy to our health and body composition goals is living out of balance.
Furthermore, a huge factor that people fail to realise is that at low intensity exercise, the human body burns predominantly fats for fuel. Carbohydrates are predominantly burnt during high intensity exercise. As we spend most of our lives standing, sitting, walking at low intensity, eating too many carbohydrate rich fuels may be the wrong fuel for your body. Whilst our bodies always use a mix of fuels, we need to consider our activity and lifestyle factors when considering the perfect balance for each of us as individuals.
So, your takeaway from this article is to reduce your number of takeaways (riddled with trans/hydrogenated fats) and enjoy a full and varied diet, rich in animal and plant fats, observing a healthy omega 3/ omega 6 ratio.
Fat adds a tasty and nutritious element to our food, furthermore its needed in abundance for a whole host of life supporting functions. Find out your goals, look to create the perfect balance for you…and stick to it.
Enjoy your life, enjoy your food!
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