‘Don’t eat fat, fat is bad for you’. ‘Eat lots of fat, fat is good for you’. ‘Eat only healthy fats and stay away from bad fats’.
Either heavily promoted or criticised, dietary fats are without a doubt the most widely misunderstood of the macronutrients. Today, fats are an extremely controversial topic in the realm of public health, nutrition and wellness with a reputation of being the good guy one minute and a devil the next. Whatever your view may be, they are an ‘essential’ nutrient for the body. You may have heard of the term ‘essential fatty acids’… this refers to the fats that our bodies need but cannot manufacture themselves e.g. Omega 3. This is why it is essential that we include them as part of our diet.
Why we should learn to love fats…
Fats contain many fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K and they are used for hormone synthesis. In other words, fats are the direct precursors to our hormones, the chemical messages that determine how we feel and the way we act. You need to make sure you’re getting enough fats to build hormones!
Furthermore, fat stabilises the blood sugar levels. You may have heard of the glycaemic index of fat… this tells us how quickly our food will be turned into energy once consumed. Eating fats reduces the glycaemic load of food.
We have been told for a long time to avoid fats because eating fats will make us fat. This is not how it works. EATING FATS WILL NOT MAKE YOU FAT! The hormone that makes you store fat is primarily insulin which gets released when you eat carbs. It is not the fat that makes you fat, it is the sugars in carbs that make you fat.
Fats are absolutely crucial to regulate our metabolism and keep things functioning. Without them, our bodies revert into peaks and troughs, provoked by the short term immediate energy provided by carb intake.
But not all fats are equal…
In terms of sources of dietary fats, there are many different kinds. Yes, it’s true that some fats are better than others. This is where the ‘good’ vs ‘bad’ fats come from.
These are the least controversial of fats in the media. For people transitioning from a low-fat diet, this is a good place to start. These fats can be found in foods such as: olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.
In an ideal world, we want to stay away from industrially produced seed oils. These are highly processed unsaturated fats that oxidise easily. Some commonly used culprits include canola, sunflower and soy. We want to try and avoid such foods. They are pro-inflammatory, oxidise 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. However, it’s hard to avoid them 100% of the time as the majority of foods served in restaurants, cafés and takeaway stores will be cooked used vegetable oils.
These fats have been hydrogenated, a process that changes a liquid fat or oil into a solid fat. Trans fats and oils are often used in processed, pre-packaged foods. If possible, we want to avoid trans-fat 100% of the time.
Ok! So… how much fat should I be eating?
Recently, mainstream media and the advice given from nutritional experts has moved to embrace healthy fats. However, this does not mean that you can go out and binge eat Avocados! What is important here is to know exactly how much is the optimum amount of fat that or body needs.
Fat is the most calorically dense macronutrient out of all fats, proteins and carbs. While eating fat is essential for our health, like anything else, it is best when consumed in moderation. Overconsumption of anything, yes even good fats (avocados), is still an overconsumption! Next time you eat a high-fat meal, pay attention to how you feel afterwards. Think to yourself, do I feel full and energised or slow and lethargic? Paying attention to how food makes you feel will help to establish whether you’re eating the right amount for you.
Knowing our bodies’ daily needs for energy and health is key! Ultimately, we want to have stable blood sugar levels, moods and energy throughout the day. Eating the right foods for our bodies is the only way to accomplish this.