Fabulous fats

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Not all fat is bad

Fat has gained a bad reputation over the years. But not all fat is bad and it’s a dietary disaster that society has glazed all fatty foods with the same bad-fat brush.

It’s actually healthy to consume good fats — fact. So here’s a little story about fat and the ones you should eat and those to  avoid.

1980s — fat free, but fatter

fat free spaghetti

Bad hair, leg warmers and fat free diets, the 80s has a lot to answer for!
Source: Jo Jo Jo Jo

It started in the 1980s when it was discovered that leaving saturated fat out of your diet was the best thing you could to improve your health and diet. Bizarrely, it was considered too much of a hassle to explain how to cut down just on saturated fat at the time, so the message became about cutting down on fat in general. A bit like firing a shotgun into a fishing lake — instead of catching the fish you require.

So everything became fat-free and the world went mad with faddish diets that disappeared as quickly as they arrived. But the reality was that many of the fat-free products had pretty much the same amount of calories substituted by carbohydrates.  So ironically the neglect of carbohydrate calories meant that many people gained excess weight in the new fat-free world. They simply believed they wouldn’t get fat eating fat-free foods. In fact obesity rates in the United States jumped from 12-14% in the early 1980s to 22-25% by the late 80s after the introduction of the fat free diets.

The point here being that many believed a low fat, carbohydrate-rich diet was healthy and wouldn’t make you fat. We now know this is untrue as calories are calories and not all fats are bad.

Bursting the low fat lie

So let’s get one thing straight quite early on — a low fat product doesn’t mean it’s the healthy option. In fact it is quite the opposite (not always, but more often than many of you would imagine). Think about it — you buy a low fat or sugar free version of a product and it pretty much tastes the same right?

Sure it has a lower fat content, but to replicate the signature taste and texture, manufacturers have to alter the oils contained in the products and sometimes add harmful trans fats and artificial flavourings.

They also have to increase the amount of sugar, or replicate the sweet taste using laboratory-engineered sweeteners such as sucralose (600X sweeter than sugar) and aspartame (200x sweeter than sugar). Many things have been written about sweeteners, but the best advice is to avoid them as a diet high in refined sugars can be just as unhealthy as a high fat diet and increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Fats — the battle between good and bad

So forget about low fat and embrace the good fat! Fats are categorized as either good or bad depending on how they affect your health. There are many benefits to eating good fats whereas the bad ones can trigger all kinds of nasty diseases. Say hello to the four major types of fat — two goodies and two baddies:

[table]
Good, Bad                                        
Monounsaturated fats, Saturated fats
Polyunsaturated fats, Trans fats
[/table]

Top tip — at room temperature good fats tend to be in liquid like olive and fish oil, whereas bad fats tend to be solid like margarine or animal fat.

Sources and benefits of good fats

Olive Oil

Image source: Dusan Zidar
Don’t underestimate the importance of fat in your diet

We all need fat in our lives and a there are many core benefits of consuming good fats including assisting our bodies absorb certain fat soluble vitamins including A, D, E and K. Good fats also provide a healthy source of energy and calories for those aiming for weight gain.

Fats found in nuts, seeds and some fish provide the essential acids like omega 3 which are important for strengthening the nervous system and maintaining healthy blood vessels. Here’s a basic breakdown of where you can find the good stuff. Most of it’s fairly easy to find and quite tasty too. Just keep an eye on your overall calorie intake.

[table]
Monounsaturated fats, Polyunsaturated fats
Peanuts, Walnuts
Sunflower oil, Soya Milk
Avocados, Salmon
Olives, Sesame seeds
[/table]

Know your enemy — recognize the bad stuff

So saturated fats are unhealthy, but a little bit isn’t so bad, so it’s really about minimizing your levels. Trans fats on the other hand should be avoided, as they tend to be in all the processed junk sources of food, which are also high in sugars and other nasty stuff.
[table]
Saturated fats, Trans fats
Butter, Fried food
Pizza, Candy
Whole fat dairy, Burgers
Fatty cuts of red meat, Nuggets
[/table]

Fat friendly tips

So it’s really about knowing what you’re eating and ensuring you’re opting for the beneficial sources rather than those which can be harmful. The following are just a few pointers to keep you on track.

—   Read the labels on the back of food products.
—   Swap fatty meat with fatty fish
—   Use olive oil instead of butter
—   Grill, bake or boil — avoid frying
—   Cut out the unhealthy trans fat snacks and replace with nuts and seeds

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