Does it matter which fats I eat?
Knowing about the different types of fats and how they behave in your body is one of the keys to understanding weight gain and how to keep your heart and arteries healthy. So in answer to the question - Does it matter which fats I eat? is YES
What are Fats?
Fat is an energy food - 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories. Our bodies put them to use in many areas such as: insulation, storage of fat soluble vitamins, production of hormones and in the making of cells. Fats are found in all the oils we cook with, dairy produce, animals fats, nuts and seeds.
Scientists suggest that 35% of our diet should be fat. However, there are fats that are good for us and those that are bad. There are three main types of fat - saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Most fats contain all three types of fat, but in varying quantities.
Fat is an essential component of our diet and it is therefore important that you understand what the different types of fat are and how they are used in the body.
Types of fats
Saturated fats are generally solid at room temperature and are mostly found in animal foods:
They are also in milk chocolate and manufactured baked goods such as cakes, biscuits and pies.
Saturated fats are the first to end up on the hips! They are also the ones that liver uses to make cholesterol. There are two types of cholesterol, one that is helpful in the body and one that is harmful. Saturated fat raises the level of the wrong type of cholesterol which makes the blood sticky and ‘furs up’ the arteries. This is why medical research has linked saturated fats to heart disease and obesity. So saturated fats are the ‘bad guys’ of the fat family and should be the ones you eat least of.
This type of fat is the one that is often linked with the typical ‘Mediterranean’ diet
They are beneficial to health as they not only lower bad cholesterol levels in the blood, but can increase the good cholesterol. They have also been linked with lower levels of obesity and are often a rich source of Vitamin E, which is a powerful antioxidant.
These are found in largest amounts in fats that are liquid at room temperature:
evening primrose oil
Polyunsaturated fats actually lower bad cholesterol levels, however care must be taken when using them as they are very easily oxidised and damaged during cooking. If this happens then they can damage cells and even increase the risk of disease.
It is important to include polyunsaturated fats in your diet as they contain essential fatty acids that the body needs for normal health.
· Essential fatty acids
These are called essential as the body cannot make them so they must be obtained from our food. They are only needed in very small amounts, but they can help and control many different conditions such as PMS, heart disease, skin complaints and many more.
There are two groups of essential fatty acids, omega 3 and omega 6.
o Omega 3 fats
These are found in
oily fish - mackerel, herring, salmon, tuna and trout
linseed oil (flax seed oil)
Omega 3 fats are particularly beneficial in reducing ‘stickiness’ of the blood and helping with joint complaints.
o Omega 6 fats
These are found in:
Evening primrose oil
Evening primrose oil is easily used by the body to produce hormone like substances which are particularly helpful to women with PMS.
· Trans fats
These are usually unsaturated fats that have been changed during food processing or cooking. Food processing hydrogenates them and makes them hard at room temperature, as in margarines. Hydrogenation makes them more like saturated fats in the way they are used in the body. However, where saturated fats raise both bad cholesterol levels and good cholesterol levels, trans fats raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol levels. They also alter the way the body cells are made and they consequently function less efficiently.
They are found in:
Hydrogenated margarine Biscuits
Puddings Other manufactured baked goods
· Try to eat as few trans fats as you can. This means cutting down on mass-produced baked goods and reading the labels. Butter, although it is a saturated fat is preferable to margarine, but should be used in moderation.
· Keep the saturated fats in your diet to a minimum and replace them with monounsaturates. Eating more plant based and less animal based (this includes dairy) will help with this.
· If you cook with fat use monounsaturated fat such as olive oil, not a polyunsaturate like sunflower oil as you turn them into trans fats when you heat them.
· When you cook vegetables, gently steam them and then add a polyunsaturated oil afterwards.
· Buy oil in small quantities and ensure that it is pure, cold pressed oil and if possible in a dark glass bottle. This ensures that the oil hasn’t been damaged during processing. Store in the fridge.
· Try to incorporate both omega 3 and omega 6 oils in your diet by using flax seed oil and sunflower oil.
Fats are quite possibly the key to weight problems. As a rule of thumb, aim to eat less than 10% of your total calories as saturates and more than 12% as monounsaturates. Trans fats should be no more than 2%.