To understand fat, we need to know about the ‘right’ kinds of fat, and how much to eat. Get this right, and you’ll discover the incredible benefits that healthy fats have to offer, including better energy, increased nutrients, improved fat loss and enhanced flavour to your meals. But before you go off and start smothering all your meals with extra cheese and a side of peanut butter, let me give you a word of warning...
With fats, moderation is key, as a little goes a long way. Fat is the most concentrated source of energy, and 1 gram of fat provides around 9 calories (compared to 4 calories per gram for protein and carbohydrates). That’s why understanding portion size is so important, as calories from fats (even “healthy fats”) can quickly add up!
There are three major types of fat: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. The difference lies in the structure of the fatty acids they are made of. Examples of foods containing a high proportion of saturated fat include animal fat products such as cream, cheese, butter, ghee, and fatty meats. Certain vegetable products have high saturated fat content, such as coconut oil, palm oil and even cocoa.
Many prepared foods are high in saturated fat content, such as pizza, processed dairy, bacon and sausages. Yep - most of the tasty stuff! Poor old saturated fat has been at the forefront of the attack on fat, with the World Health Organization and National Health Service all advising that we avoid this type of fat.
However, if we actually look at recent research, we’ll find nothing to support fears that saturated fat contributes to cardiovascular diseases or increased obesity risk. It appears it’s not so bad after all.
Next, we have a family of unsaturated fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated), typically known as ‘less stable’ than saturated fats, due to their chemical structure. That doesn’t mean they are more likely to harm you, but it does mean they shouldn’t be used for cooking at high temperatures. Always use saturated fats for cooking.
There are two types of polyunsaturated fatty acids, linolenic acid (omega 3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (omega 6 fatty acid) in foods. We call these essential fatty acids because they must be obtained from our diets.
There’s also a lot of research to support the health benefits of a balanced omega 3 to 6 fat ratio, and you’ll often see people use omega supplements.
Omega fatty acids are rich in foods such as walnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and natural oils like flaxseed and linseed.
Last but by no means least is monounsaturated fat. This has a higher melting point than polyunsaturated fat and a lower melting point than saturated fat. It is liquid at room temperature and semi-solid or solid when cold. Monounsaturated fats are found in natural foods such as red meat, whole milk products, nuts and high-fat fruits such as olives and avocados. Olive oil is about 75% monounsaturated fat.
It’s also important to mention that fat products should come from high-quality sources. Ideally, buy meats classified as ‘organic/grass-fed/wild’, and oils labelled ‘extra virgin’. Potentially harmful toxins can be stored in the bodyfat of animals fed a poor diet or kept in less than ideal environments. As the saying goes, you are what you eat!