In many of my consultations I find myself explaining why FAT is important for our bodies, explaining about different types of fat and convincing clients that eating fat as part of a balanced dietary intake will not make them fat. So, I thought I would write a short article to dispel any myths that still abound regarding dietary fat.
What functions does fat have in our bodies?
Fat is a concentrated source of energy for our body (twice that of protein and carbohydrate) and should be eaten at every meal & snack. Fat is also stored and used in our body when our energy reserves are low and we need fuelling. When it is used in this way, i.e. as a primary energy source it helps preserve muscle tissue and leanness.
Fats are essential for our brain function supporting focus, memory, concentration, and our mood. Most significantly the 2 primary Essential Fats, Omega 3 & Omega 6 (which can only be obtained from our diet,) are linked with the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s.
Fat plays a significant role in downregulating inflammatory responses in our bodies. By lowering inflammation, fat supports joint health, heart health (maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels) and prevention of other inflammatory conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
Metabolism / Hormone Synthesis
Fats are the building blocks of all our hormones. Fat speeds up our metabolism by stimulating fat burning (as well as increasing satiety) and a diet of healthy fats, in the right ratio has been linked with improvements in body composition (ratio of fat to lean tissue) and enhanced athletic performance.
Stress / Healthy Nerves
Fats are important in helping us manage and improve our stress response by ensuring healthy nerves. This is because fat forms part of the outer layer of our nerve cells that are constantly sending messages around our body.
Skin and Hair
Fats are required for glowing healthy skin and glossy, healthy hair. I can often tell if a client consumes a diet low in fat by the appearance of their skin!
What are the different types of fat?
There are 3 main types of dietary fat: saturated fats, unsaturated fats (monounsaturated & polyunsaturated) and trans fats.
These tend to be solid at room temperature and include Meat, Full-Fat Dairy, & Coconut oil.
These tend to be liquid at room temperature and there are 2 types of unsaturated fats:
Mono-unsaturated fats which include Olive oil, Avocados, Nuts and Seeds.
Polyunsaturated fats which are further are broken down into:
- Omega 6 and include Sunflower oil, Rapeseed oil, Soya bean oil.
- Omega 3 which include Oily fish, Flaxseed, Walnuts, Chia seeds.
These are created by artificially hardening unsaturated fats to improve the texture and prolong the shelf life of processed foods and include biscuits, sweets, margarines, pies and pastries and fried foods.
How to ensure that you eat the correct ratio of health fats
UK guidelines state that fat should be no more than 35% of your total daily calorie intake and saturated fat no more than 11% but don’t get hung up on percentages and grams. Instead ensure that you have a source of healthy fats at every meal & snack which will also help you absorb all the nutrients from the rest of your plate. ((A rough guide for oils and butter is a thumb-size full.)
Get most of your daily fat intake from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated sources such as:
- Olive oil (only buy in dark glass bottles & store away from day light to preserve quality of oil).
- Oily fish such as wild salmon, mackerel, sardines & fresh tuna.
- Nuts and seeds including their Butters (e.g. almond butter), Milks e.g. Hemp milk and Oils e.g. Flaxseed oil
Focus on increasing your Omega 3 sources of fat.
Although Omega 6 is an essential fat helping us fight infection and inflammation, UK diets typically have a higher Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio. This is largely due to the fact that Omega 6 oils are used in most processed foods as they are cheap to produce but as they are unstable at high temperatures they can leave us in an inflamed state. So, eat more of the foods that are higher in Omega 3 which include:
Eggs, mackerel, wild salmon, sardines, anchovies, flaxseeds, chia seeds, algae (e.g. seaweed flakes, spirulina).
- Always choose full-fat products e.g. full fat yoghurt, as low- fat products have all the best nutrients sucked out of them and are higher in sugar, sweeteners and additives.
- Enjoy small amounts of good quality real cheese (not the processed kind that’s rubbery and shiny) and eat alongside vegetables, fruits, oils and herbs so that absorb all of the nutrients from each of the different types of food (fat helps absorption).
- Eat only organic grass-fed meat which is hormone and anti-biotic free (as well as higher in Omega 3) so enjoy a good quality steak but avoid processed red meats such as sausages, bacon, salami which are known to have a negative impact on our health.
Avoid industrially processed and artificially created trans fats which are found in baked goods, convenience and packaged foods, snacks and desserts and are linked with inflammation and impaired health. Replace with natural, whole and pure fat foods which are full of flavour and fill you up – a handful of nuts is far more satiating than a bag of crisps!