In the 1960s and ‘70s, we were taught that all fat was bad and that fat actually makes you fat. Consequently, we went on a mission to eat products either low in fat or without any fat at all, a trend that continues to this day. The truth is that we need certain fats. Essential fatty acids are a large part of the building blocks for the body’s functions, including hormone production, and it’s only now that we’re starting to learn more about which fats are suitable. However, while certain new outlets have been reporting that we should eat fats, there needs to be some guidance, and we need to proceed with caution.
All fats have the same calorific value per gram (9Kcal/g) and, as with anything, if you eat an excess amount of calories compared to your expenditure, you will gain weight. Excess weight overtime can lead to other health problems, such as diabetes and heart issues. However, the fat is not causing the person to be fat, it is the excess in calories that have created the increment in waist size.
Fats are split into simple classifications – saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. They are classified depending upon the chemical construction of the fat molecule. They are all utilised differently by the body.
The department of health recommends that our daily intake of fat should not exceed 35% of our calorie intake. Apps such as My Fitness Pal can help you to monitor this if you are unsure. It is suggested that men should only intake 95g (total fat), women 70g, but it is recommended this should only consist of 30g saturated fats (men) and 20g (women).
Effectively, saturated fats are found in cakes, biscuits and pastries. These can be consumed, but it is advisable to keep this source to a minimum. They also tend to be combined with higher levels of processed sugars, which are advisable to avoid if you want to get leaner. People that are over weight may consider reducing the saturated fat content in their diet as part of their meal plan.
I also suggest trying to stick to naturally sourced fats, which are essential as an energy source. They can be more easily processed and utilised for essential functions. Man-made fat sources, such as margarine, are not so easily processed and are less useful. Trans fats are produced when partially hydrogenated vegetable fats are manufactured in high amounts. These have been shown to be potentially more detrimental than saturated fats, once considered to be the bad guys. In fact, fatty meats, full-fat dairy and coconut oil contain some essential fats that we now know may have beneficial uses. CLA, for example, is naturally occurring in grass-fed cattle. Research suggests that it is in fact probably an essential fatty acid that we are naturally becoming deficient in, as most of our consumable meat is no longer grass fed. I personally take a supplement of CLA, as there have been some interesting studies showing a possible correlation between a lack of it and female cancers. As a general rule, unsaturated fats tend to remain as a liquid at room temperature. They contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated versions and can be found in oily fish, flax seed, linseed, avocados, nuts, olive oils and walnuts. Omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish can help maintain heart health, assist the body to reduce inflammation and pain, and consequently it is advisable to eat at least one portion of oily fish a week, if not more.
There is a lot of love in the nutrition world for the Mediterranean diet, which contains less saturated fat but is a strong source of unsaturated fats. Cholesterol is a further sub group commonly quoted, but is actually further split into high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) molecules within the body. When you are tested by your GP for your cholesterol level it is not differentiated, however, it is useful to have a higher blood abundance of HDL, as this mops up circulating, unusable fats in the body and is a general good guy. LDL doesn’t have a use in the body, so if this is found in the blood in high amounts it could be detrimental. The most common source of dietary cholesterol is in eggs; you do need cholesterol and as long as you are not eating an extremely high quantity you should not worry about including eggs in your diet.
Stick to avocados, nuts, olive oils as dressings, and eat a lot of salmon. I don’t cook with olive oils, though, as the high temperatures can change the molecular structure to an undesirable fat source.
I don’t eat full-fat dairy due to an allergy, but I do eat some fatty meat. I eat a lot of salmon, mackerel, fresh crab and tuna. I don’t eat pastries or cakes unless I make them myself, in which case they’re free from dairy, sugar, grain, gluten, soy and wheat, and made with coconut oil instead of butter. I take a CLA and Omega 3,6,9 supplement daily.
Margarines made from olive oils are a good choice. Man-made are not. If you try and stick to naturally sourced fats as opposed to manufactured and processed fats, this is a good rule of thumb.
If you are unsure in any particular situation, seek advice from a professional nutritionist or dietician who will be qualified to guide you through it.