Low fat, high fat, full of fat…no fat…not forgetting the balanced approach!
There are so many conflicting messages out there about fat, whether or not it’s good for us, which types we should be consuming and the extent to which some forms of it are bad for us.
Having met with quite a few different people at the Health Exhibition last weekend I discovered just how world’s apart some people’s views are!
One couple I met were convinced that saturated fat wasn’t bad for you, they had lost weight consuming high levels of it, their cholesterol was fine and that was all they were concerned with. I suppose this sort of stance is quite superficial in my mind as they’re not considering the other potential damages saturated fat can have on the body and the direct correlations between it’s consumption and coronary heart disease.
There is certainly some current controversy/debate over whether or not saturated fat is directly correlated or not to heart disease and high cholesterol. Some are now suggesting that it has more do with refined carbohydrates and sugar. That said one has to question whether or not we should consume saturated fats seen as for the most part they are merely empty calories which could be put to much better use! I’ll discuss this further below as there are some exceptions!
Of course most of us I’m sure have heard of the Atkins Diet … a diet designed, marketed and sold to billions by an obese man with heart disease and high blood pressure…summed up perfectly by Dr. T. Colin Campbell! One of my favourite quotes from his book in relation to the Atkins Diet is “You can lose weight by undergoing chemotherapy or starting a heroin addiction, but I wouldn’t recommend those either!”
We go from one extreme to the other. At the opposite end of the spectrum are those people who battle each day to limit their fat in take, choosing low fat products where ever possible which for the most part are actually just as if not far unhealthier than their full fat counterparts. Laden with extra sugar and additives , you always have to question what fills that missing fat void! If they take something out they have to put something back in it’s place. As well as giving themselves additional problems associated with increased sugar and sweetener intake, those that choose unnaturally low fat alternatives and avoid fat are likely to be deficient in the fatty acids that our body needs to function properly.
I would have most definitely been a fat avoider for the greater part of my existence; suffering from eating disorders for the best part of 10 years, it came with the territory. Even during my recovery I always sought out low fat options as they offered a sort of psychological reassurance that I was following a healthy diet. I was definitely someone who feared fat, an element of the disorder which I most definitely put down to the influence of the media.
It’s only been over the past year, or perhaps even less that I’ve begun to re-embrace fat in various different forms and have achieved what I believe to be a balanced healthy approach. Of course it makes logical sense for a person trying to loose weight to reduce their fat intake; foods that are higher in fat are much more calorie dense so avoiding it altogether is in some ways the easy option, but it’s by no means a long term or idealistic solution.
There are three types of fat and each type, I believe, can be incorporated in to a healthy wholefood diet to help you achieve optimum nutrition (fantastic book)!
Polyunsaturated fats contain essential fatty acids, those that the body can’t provide; commonly known as Omega 3 & 6. They promote healthy skin and hair, support proper thyroid and adrenal activity, boosting immunity, are required for growth and energy, and are crucial in the transport and breakdown of cholesterol!
Found in vegetable oils which are widely consumed, they are more often than not damaged; used in cooking, the high temperatures cause them to oxidise, so instead of being good for you, they release harmful free radicals. Those which are hydrogenated, for example to make margarine, an alternative to butter which people for years have deemed a healthier option, can’t be used by the body and actually block the bodies ability to use the healthy polyunsaturated fats available.
The best and most ideal way to consume polyunsaturated fats is through wholefoods. As a vegan my main sources are flaxseed (which should be milled so they can be more readily digested), cold pressed flaxseed oil, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed butter, soya beans, sesame seeds and tahini.
There are no official recommendations for Omega 3 & 6 intake but 100mg of the latter and approximately 400mg of Omega 3 are commonly cited as a good benchmark. A tablespoon of both pumpkin seeds or pumpkin nut butter, as well as a tablespoon of flaxseed (about 15g milled) should keep you well topped up!
These fall somewhere between saturated and polyunsaturated fats….they don’t easily become rancid when used for cooking and they don’t cause cholesterol to accumulate as do saturated fats (though as mentioned the extent to which this is true is under scrutiny!)
Olive oil is is abundant in monounsaturated fat which is why it is promoted as the most ideal oil to use when cooking. Sunflower oil is also predominately made up of monounsaturated fat as is canola (rapeseed) oil; the fat found in avocados and almonds is also largely monounsaturated.
There have been some studies done which suggest that diets with healthy amounts of monounsaturated fat contribute to a reduced risk of breast cancer, lower risk of heart disease and potentially assist in weight loss.
I consume them as part of a wholefood diet in the form of nuts, nut butter and avocados. Aside from the potential benefits I now choose these foods as part of a balanced diet for their other beneficial properties namely their mineral and vitamin content and also the fact that they leave me feeling more satisfied! Ideally it’s thought they should make up about 7% of your total calorie intake; about 1/3 of your total fat intake.
In the past all we have tended to hear is the bad about saturated fat and really the overwhelming message is to strictly limit them. The problem I feel exists with the foods being consumed that are high in saturated fat, such as refined carbohydrates and animal protein as opposed to the actual saturated fat itself as an isolated substance.
As already cited above saturated fat has been linked to raised levels of cholesterol as well as it being thought to be a contributing factor in the likelihood of the development of some cancers and a direct cause of heart disease. There is quite a few conflicting messages being communicated and with such disparity I feel ill qualified to even muster up a valid opinion!
I lean towards limiting saturated fat intake. Any research that has been done with regard to it’s damaging effects have been link to animal food sources and the same negative effects have not been proven with regard to the saturated fat found in plant sources. The only notable forms of saturated fat I readily consume are in the form of nuts, seeds and their associate butters, as well as coconut butter and oil. The health benefits of these foods completely overshadow any potential concern over their saturated fat content.
Coconut oil is a fantastic example of a substance which although largely made up of saturated fat, has far reaching benefits and can be put to much better use by the body than some of it’s longer chain saturated fat siblings! Coconut oil is made up of smaller molecules meaning they can be readily digested and utilised for energy, much like carbohydrates but without the blood sugar rush. It has also been found to increase metabolism, support the immune system and improve heart health!
In conclusion, once more, a wholefood, ideally plant based, if not predominantly so, can include all types of fat and should be sought out particularly from food sources as opposed to oils which have been largely stripped of their potential nutritional rewards!