In the pursuit of better health and weight management, dietary fats have been at the forefront of numerous nutrition debates. Often surrounded by myths and misconceptions, they have been unfairly portrayed as the villains of our diet. However, it is important to recognize that not all fats are created equal, and this understanding is essential for a healthy lifestyle.
Despite their relatively high-calorie content, fats play a crucial role in a healthy diet and are necessary for a multitude of biological processes. They contribute to feelings of satiety, brain function, the production of essential hormones, and the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, making them an indispensable part of our daily intake. Instead of excluding fats altogether, the key lies in selecting the right types and amounts. Research suggests that it is the quality of fats consumed, rather than just the quantity, that has an impact on our health outcomes.
Furthermore, it is important to note that not all fats are linked to heart disease. Most fats, when consumed in appropriate quantities, are required for normal bodily functions, particularly brain function. Additionally, certain fats can even decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
The human body can produce all the fats it requires, except Essential Fatty Acids. As the name suggests, these fats must be obtained through our diet. Among these essential fats are omega-3 fats, which are often lacking in modern diets due to their susceptibility to damage during food processing.
Types of Fats
Type Of Fat
Animal products like meat, eggs and dairy
Vital for optimal nutrient absorption and cell membrane integrity. Excessive intake is linked to cardiovascular risk
Monosaturated fatty acids
Olive oil, avocado
Can help lower LDL cholesterol and
reduce the risk of heart disease
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (Essential Fatty Acids – EFA’s)
Omega 3: flaxseed, walnuts, oily fish (salmon, mackerel, trout, herring), seaweed, pumpkin seed
Omega 6: meat, dairy, sunflower, blackcurrant seed, almonds, peanuts, cashew, sesame seed
Play a key role in brain function and growth, can lower triglycerides, reduce blood pressure, reduce inflammation, improve blood vessel function, and delay the build-up of plaque in coronary arteries.
Processed foods including baked goods, cookies, and pastries) hydrogenated fats and oil (e.g. margarine)
Linked to an increased risk of heart disease & stroke and to a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes
Total Daily Fat Intake
For a balanced macronutrient diet, it is advisable to include healthy fats as 15-30% of daily calorie intake.
• 5-10% of monounsaturated fat
• 5-12% of polyunsaturated fat (omega 3 & 6)
• 5-7% of saturated fat
• Max 1% of trans fats (ideally zero!)
Eliminating fats completely can lead to deficiencies and health complications. Here's why:
Fats play a crucial role in maintaining the structural integrity of cell membranes. These biological structures act as barriers between the internal and external environments of cells, regulating the movement of molecules and ions into and out of the cell.
In addition to their structural functions, fats also serve as a source of insulation and protection for vital organs in the body. Adipose tissue, which is primarily composed of fat cells, acts as a cushion for delicate organs such as the kidneys.
Brain Health: Fats make up around 50-60% of the weight of the brain, with about 35% of them being omega-3. These essential fatty acids play a crucial role in both the structure and function of the brain. Furthermore, the brain has the highest cholesterol content among all organs.
Hormone Production: Fats are involved in producing hormones that regulate various body processes. This includes hormones such as oestrogen and testosterone, which are involved in reproductive functions, and cortisol, which helps regulate metabolism and the body's response to stress.
Weight Management: Dietary fats increase satiety, helping control appetite, which may aid weight management.
Dietary fats play a crucial role in facilitating the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). These vitamins are essential for various physiological processes, including immune health, bone health, and cell growth.
A Few Words On Low-Fat Diets For Weight Loss
Our diet consists of macronutrients like carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, each with its calorie content. Calories are the units of energy utilised by our cells. Fat is the most calorie-dense macronutrient, offering 9 calories per gram, whereas carbohydrates and proteins each provide 4 calories per gram.
If we believe that a calorie is just a calorie, it would make sense to think that diets with the same number of calories but different proportions of fat, carbohydrates, and protein would yield similar weight loss results. However, reality tells a different story. Numerous studies have shown that low-fat diets often fall short when it comes to achieving successful weight loss.
One of the issues with low-fat diets is that people tend to gravitate towards refined carbohydrates, which have been stripped of their fibre content. Additionally, when low-fat products are created, the fat is removed from the food and replaced with sugar or refined carbohydrates to compensate for flavour and texture.
Unfortunately, these carbohydrates promote weight gain and health issues, because the excess is converted into triglycerides (a form of fat) stored in fat tissue. Triglycerides often get less attention than cholesterol on the blood test, but this is a very important marker to consider.
Fat and appetite control
Carbohydrates (bread, pasta, sweets, fruits) are quickly broken down into simple sugars. These sugars enter the bloodstream, triggering the release of insulin. Insulin transports sugar from the blood into cells for energy, causing blood sugar levels to decrease and signalling the need for more food. In contrast, the digestion of fats starts in the small intestine, resulting in a slower release of energy. Insulin levels remain stable, and the impact of fat on blood sugar is less pronounced – which means sustained energy and less cravings. Another reason to keep healthy fats in your diet!
Fear of Fat - A Toxic Nutritional Belief
In my practice, I frequently observe this common phenomenon - particularly among individuals who have been dieting for extended periods. Lack of fat in the diet often causes a sense of deprivation and extreme hunger, leading to binge eating.
Common Symptoms Of Subclinical Essential Fatty Acids Deficiency
Fat avoidance is also linked to subclinical Essential Fatty Acid deficiency which in turn blocks the functioning of essential metabolic pathways. This can result in a range of health issues such as hormonal imbalances, decreased energy levels, and a weakened immune system. Below is a list of some symptoms to look out for:
Dry skin, lifeless hair, dandruff, cracked nails,
Fatigue, low mood
Tips for Balancing Fats in Your Diet
1. Choose Whole Foods: Favour whole foods like nuts, seeds, fatty fish, avocados, and olive oil for their natural, healthy fats.
2. Read Labels Carefully: Look out for trans fats or excessive saturated fats, especially in processed foods.
3. Balance is Key: Include a variety of fat types in your diet while keeping the total energy intake in check.
4. Cook Smart: Opt for healthier cooking methods — such as steaming. Use avocado oil to sauté, avoid deep frying completely. If the oil turns dark (brown or black) dispose of it as it can cause oxidative damage.
Understanding and Managing Cholesterol Workshop
Over the years, there has been a lot of information in the media regarding cholesterol. Unfortunately, some sources have oversimplified the message, leading to misunderstandings and uncertainty.
The health and wellness industry has been one of the culprits contributing to this confusion by promoting various products or diets as "cholesterol-lowering" without providing adequate information or context. As a result, people have been cutting out fats from their diets, including the essential ones, and have experienced a negative impact on their health and weight.
During my next workshop, I will explain what cholesterol is, what role it plays in our overall health, the other blood markers to consider when assessing cardiovascular risk and finally – how to eat for longevity and a healthy heart. Join me if you can!
If you are tired of the endless cycle of dieting you would like to take a different approach to your health, book a 30-minute FREE Health Review. I believe in a no-diet approach to weight loss, focusing instead on nourishment and sustainable methods that are backed by science. My goal is not just to help you lose weight but also to improve your overall health and promote food freedom. I will guide you towards a healthier and happier lifestyle. If you are ready to take the first step towards your health journey, schedule your Free Health Review today.