Whenever the subject of health eating arises or more pertinently any discussion that turns to losing weight there seems to always be only one enemy….FAT! However, this is misguided and I do find it a little frustrating. There seems to be very little knowledge of why fat is much maligned; and any level of understanding of the different types of fat and how the body uses them. Not all fats are to be avoided; the bottom line is that the body needs dietary fat. Fat is a source of energy, it allows the proper function of cells and the
nervous system, and fat is required for the proper absorption of certain vitamins. Fat also helps us maintain healthy hair and skin, and helps us insulate from the cold. A little recognition that a high intake of carbohydrates, which tend to replace saturated fats in people’s diets, are a factor in rising obesity rates and associated health problems would help improve body composition the world over. As an anecdote to this I know a female bodybuilder, who aside from not winning any competitions, was constantly ill until she significantly increased the level of unsaturated fat in her diet…she also now has a medal or two on the mantel piece! Renowned trainer of Olympians and US athlete’s Charles Poloquin believes most people could triple if not quadruple their Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) consumption resulting in more muscle and less excess stored fat. As a brief caveat, there are what’s now being described as the really bad fats: trans fats, also known as hydrogenated fats. Trans fats are created during a hydrogenation process, where liquid vegetable oils are converted in to solid fats. Trans fats are thought to be worse for us than saturated fats because they not only raise total and LDL (bad) cholesterol; they also lower HDL (good) cholesterol. These fats should be avoided.
There are two distinct groups of fats to consider beyond this: saturated and unsaturated. Unsaturated fat falls in to two categories: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Conventional advice has been to avoid saturated fat as much as possible. However, a meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2010 found no link between saturated fat intake and increased risk of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease. Still, with that said, the world-renowned Harvard School of Public Health, in a study published in the same year, found that replacing saturated fats with an equal amount of polyunsaturated fats did indeed reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 19 percent. The message is clear here, fat is good as long as you consume the right types.
Monounsaturated fats lower cholesterol that may increase the threats of possible heart disease (amongst others). These fats help the body produce essential fatty acids that promote healthy skin and assists in the development of body cells. Significantly, monounsaturated fats have been proven to protect the body against several forms of cancer, including colon and breast cancers, which are two of the most fatal forms of cancer. Sources of monounsaturated fats include olive oil, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, sesame seeds, avocado and pumpkin seeds. Polyunsaturated fats compared to saturated forms of fats, are much healthier. Belonging in the family of polyunsaturated fats are the well publicised omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, which are known to be excellent for the health of the heart. Like the monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats help regulate the human bodies overall cholesterol level. In contrast to trans fats they effectively counter and offset LDL levels. Food sources include corn, soybean, sunflower and safflower.
In conclusion, you really don’t need to be as wary of fat as modern society will ignorantly lead you to believe. In fact, being more aware of your daily sugar intake especially in its simplest form would be a more fruitful (excuse the pun) exercise (excuse the pun!). Focuses on unsaturated fats, use liquid oils over solid fats in cooking, choose low-fat dairy products where possible, and the leanest cuts of meat and poultry. We should all eat fish (including fatty fish such as Salmon) at least once a week and cut out all processed foods especially fast food. Nonetheless, we should probably limit our fat intake to no more than 30% of daily calories and anything lower [remember the female bodybuilder anecdote here] than 20% may be unhealthy. Everything in moderation is fine. As the great Winston Churchill said: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen”. Now, go and eat some more….healthy….fats!
Thanks for reading
Ross is a personal trainer, nutritionist and founder of ProFitnessUK. You can contact Ross directly through his website www.profitnessuk.co.uk