Dietary fat is without 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 their own, we have to get them from our food.
Fats contain many fat soluble vitamins, such as A, D, E, and K, and are also used for hormone synthesis and are 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. 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.
Fats also 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. That’s all changed in recent years.You may have heard of ‘essential fatty acids’? This refers to fats, for example Omega 3, that our bodies need but can’t manufacture themselves. It’s essential that we include them as part of our diet.
Fats also help to stablise 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.
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.
Stay away from industrially produced seed oils like canola, sunflower, rice bran, grapeseed, safflower, soy, or corn. 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. 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.
Stay away from trans fats 100% of the time. Anything that contains an ingredient that’s either ‘hydrogenated’ or ‘partially hydrogenated’ - such as margarine - contains trans fats. Personally I don’t believe these should be eaten, ever.
One point that’s important to note about fats: most of them degrade - get damaged - by cooking at very 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. Once you know this it’s easy to avoid.
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 fat. This definitely isn’t a bad thing, although the acceptance of fat has potentially seen an overconsumption of this macronutrient in some people.
Fat is the most calorically dense macronutrient of Fats, Proteins and Carbs. While eating fat is critical for our health, fat has gotten a bad rap because a diet higher in fat will naturally be higher in calories if nothing else changes. However, if your macronutrient type is well suited to fat you will feel full and satisfied which means you may eat less over all.
Good fat sources:
For hot use: • Saturated animal fat, eg butter, lard, ghee. • Saturated non-animal fat, eg coconut oil, palm oil.
For cold use: • Olive oil, sesame oil, nut oils, avocado, nuts and seeds (including nut and seed butters).
Fat sources to avoid:
Man-made saturated fats and trans-fats, eg margarine and buttery spreads like ‘Can’t believe it’s not butter’.
We all run a little bit differently on Fats. I always say at my seminars that I have a masters degree in nutrition and I still can’t tell a group of people one definite way to eat that will be right for everybody. We are all different. What this means practically when eating a real food diet is that some of us, like me, function best on protein and fats while others, like my wife, do 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 on the spectrum between fats and proteins and carbohydrates you are based because of your unique genetics, metabolism and needs. We call this your macronutrient profile. 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.
We’ll be talking more about macronutrient profiling this month, so keep an eye on our facebook page, blog and instagram feed.
We’re also giving away FREE access to our BePure Programme during September. The BePure Programme will guide you through how to determine your macronutrient profile and what foods work best for you.