Dietary fat is without a doubt the most widely misunderstood of the macronutrients our body requires. These days fats are a controversial topic in the realm of public health, nutrition and wellness. But, whatever your views on them, they are an ‘essential’ nutrient, meaning the body can’t make essential fatty acids on its own, we have to get them from our food.
"Dietary fat is without a doubt the most widely misunderstood of the macronutrients our body requires."
In this blog post we'll be looking at why fats are essential to every whole food diet, how to tell 'good' fats from the 'bad' ones and showing you which fats to use in your cooking to retains the highest nutrient density.
Why we love fats
Fats contain many fat-soluble vitamins, such as A, D, E, and K, and they are used for hormone synthesis and are an integral part of cell walls. Saturated fats are not the devil they were made out to be in the 80s and 90s, so you shouldn’t fear them.
In this video I explain why eating fats won't make you fat and why our body actually needs them.
If your macronutrient profile tolerates fats and protein well, you don’t need to trim the fat off your steak, drain your mince, or skin your chicken breast. You can even choose cheaper cuts of meat (like normal beef mince, and chicken legs) and eat them without fear. In the context of a whole food diet, saturated fats are generally nothing to worry about.
"In the context of a whole food diet, saturated fats are generally nothing to worry about."
Fats provide long-term structural energy to compliment the quick burst, or rocket fuel, provided by carbohydrates. They are the precursors to our hormones - the biochemicals that determine how we feel and act.
The prevailing thinking used to be that dietary fat was simply used to store energy - that it didn’t have a biological role to play. In recent years we have learned that this is not the case. You may have heard of ‘essential fatty acids’? This refers to fats that our bodies needs but can’t manufacture themselves, for example Omega 3. This is why it’s essential that we include them as part of our diet.
"Fats provide long-term structural energy, help to stabilise blood sugar levels and reduces the glycemic load of a food."
Fats also help to stabilise blood sugar levels. You may have heard about the glycemic index of food, which tells you how quickly a food will be turned into energy once it gets into your body. Eating fat reduces the glycemic load of a food.
We need fats to regulate our metabolism and to keep things moving smoothly. Without them our bodies go into peaks and troughs, provoked by the short term immediate energy provided by carbohydrates.
Not all fats are equal
In terms of sources of dietary fat, there are different kinds. It’s definitely true that some fats are better than others. So let’s have a look…
Monounsaturated fats are the least controversial of fats in the media, so for people transitioning from a low-fat diet this is a good place to start. Monounsaturated fats can be found in olive oil, avocado, and nuts and seeds.
Highly processed unsaturated fats
You want to stay away from industrially produced seed oils. These are highly processed unsaturated fats and oxidise easily. Some commonly used culprits that you want to avoid are:
- Rice bran
They’re pro-inflammatory, oxidize easily when exposed to heat and light, and can form carcinogenic trans fats. If you avoid these fats 90% of the time, you’ll be doing your body a big favour.
"Industrially produced seed oils are pro-inflammatory, oxidize easily when exposed to heat and light, and can form carcinogenic trans fats."
It is hard to avoid these types of fat 100% of the time as most food that you haven’t prepared in your own home - restaurants, cafes and takeaway stores - will use vegetable oils.
Trans fats have been hydrogenated – a process that changes a liquid fat or oil into a solid fat, known as a hydrogenated or trans fat. Trans fats and oils are often used in processed, packaged foods or as the oil needed to deep fry foods. You want to stay away from trans fats 100% of the time. Anything that contains an ingredient that’s either ‘hydrogenated’ or ‘partially hydrogenated,' contains trans fats. Personally, I don’t believe man-made trans-fats like margarine and butter-like spreads should be eaten, ever.
Good fat sources
It's important to note that when it comes to fats most of them degrade and get damaged when cooked at high temperatures. So it’s reasonably easy to lower the quality, and therefore decrease the nutritional value, of the fat you put into your body.
"Most fats degrade and get damaged when cooked at high temperatures."
Once you know which fats to use for which types of cooking this is an easy issue to avoid.
For hot use
- Saturated animal fat, eg butter, lard, ghee
- Saturated non-animal fat, eg coconut oil
For cold use
- Olive oil
- Sesame oil
- Nut oils
- Nuts and seeds
- Nut and seed butters
What's the right amount of fat to be eating?
While fat definitely isn’t bad for us, there is a sweet spot for most people. Recently mainstream media and nutrition advice has moved to embrace healthy fats. This definitely isn’t a bad thing, however it's important to stay informed on how much is the optimum amount of fat your body needs. If your macronutrient type is well suited to fat you will feel full and satisfied which means you'll consume less overall.
"If your macronutrient type is well suited to fat you will feel full and satisfied for longer which means you'll consume less overall."
Fat is the most calorically dense macronutrient of fats, proteins and carbs. While eating fat is critical for our health, like everything it's best when consumed in moderation. Overconsumption of anything – even healthy fats – is still an overconsumption. Pay attention to how you feel after eating a high-fat meal. Do you stay full and energised until your next meal or do you feel slow and lethargic? Paying attention to how the food you eat makes you feel will help you establish whether you're eating right for you.
"Knowing what your body needs every day for energy and health is key."
We all run a little bit differently eating fats. I always say during my BePure seminars that I have a masters degree in nutrition yet I still can’t tell a group of people one definite way to eat. That's because we are all different. For example, when eating a whole food diet I function best on protein and fats while my wife does really well on a diet that is comprised mostly of complex carbohydrates.
One of the key elements of the BePure Programme is that it helps you to identify where your unique genetics, metabolism and needs, place you on the spectrum of fats and proteins and carbohydrates. If you want to know more about this watch my macronutrient profile video. It’s the most important thing you can learn about yourself to implement healthy changes in your diet.
Knowing what your body needs every day for energy and health is key. Ultimately we want everyone to have stable blood sugar levels, moods and energy throughout the day. Eating the right foods for you is the only way to do this.