We are all from the era of Low Fat, fats were demonised for causing obesity, increased cholesterol and health problems and I’m sure all those years have left a lasting effect on your mind about eating fats. Many of you thought and probably still think a low-fat diet is the answer for managing weight loss! The fact is, over or under eating is a cause of weight gain, not exercising, and eating a diet heavy in processed food (manmade). So, be careful when you see low fat as this usually means all the good natural vitamins have been taken out (because they are in the fat) and sugar has been put in to flavour!
The purpose of fat in the body is for growth development, vitamin absorption, protection of organs, maintaining cell membranes, healthy brain function to name a few.
So, what are the benefits of fats?
- Improves body composition – yes! I bet you didn’t expect to hear that!! By reducing cravings, speeding up metabolism and their hormone interaction, they can help your composition and appearance.
- They balance the hormonal system and responsible for hormone production.
- By eating the healthy fats, they lower the ratio of good and bad cholesterol, so LDL (bad) will be decreased and HDL (good) will be increased leading to a healthier cardiovascular system.
- Vitamin digestion and absorption. Fat-soluble vitamins like A,D,E,K can only be absorbed with the help of fat.
- They are an important source of energy during workouts. Women’s bodies are primed to using fat as fuel more so than men, but we still need carbohydrates to kickstart fat burning!
- Fats also contain active molecules that control inflammation and enable a better response of insulin (insulin opens up the cell to allow nutrients in) and is affected by inflammation as well as our hormonal decline, making us more insulin resistance, so we need all the help we can get for a better insulin response.
- The brain is very rich in fat (60%), you might of heard of DHA, this is the major brain fatty acid.
- They maintain the membrane integrity of every cell in your body! The structures of your cells are made up of fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, and so are the foods we eat every single day.
This is not a coincidence. The foods you eat have a major influence on your cellular function because they ultimately become your cells. Trans Fats & Saturated Fats cause membranes to be much more rigid than is optimal, potentially limiting the functionality of the cells. Whereas Unsaturated fats are necessary for strong cell membranes and keeps them semi-permeable. Nutritionists recommend eating all types of fats so that one type doesn’t predominate in the diet and end up altering the optimal functioning of those cells. In general, diets high in unsaturated fats will promote healthy cell membranes.
WHAT TYPE OF FAT SHOULD YOU BE EATING?
Are known as “good fats” they lower blood cholesterol levels, reduce inflammation and stabilise heart rhythms.
There are 2 types of Unsaturated Fats (Omega 6 and Omega 3):
MONOUNSATURATED FAT: These are the Omega 6 fatty acids and are in foods like walnuts, almonds, and various types of vegetable oils, including corn, soybean, safflower, cottonseed, sunflower seed, and peanut oil. These are all types of oils that are in the majority of any processed, boxed, pre-packaged foods that you probably have in your kitchen pantry. Olive Oil & Olives contains both Omega 3 & 6.
POLYUNSATURATED FAT: these are Omega 3 fatty acids which provide heart health benefits as well as brain health and muscle repair. Food sources are fatty fish like salmon, trout, catfish and mackerel but also flaxseeds and walnuts. It is better to get your Omega 3 from food sources but if you don’t eat fish then a supplement is then important. If you do eat fish, aim for at least two servings of fatty fish each week.
Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential for good health! But they play very different roles. Omega-3s have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body; whereas, the omega-6s have a pro-inflammatory effect. This may sound bad but some inflammation is actually necessary. Inflammation can help protect the body from infection and from injury. For example, if you roll your ankle, inflammation sets in to immobilize your ankle so you can begin to heal. If you get a cut, the inflammation is an immune response to help fight off any infections getting in. But, too much inflammation can lead to other things like heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, and many types of cancer. Omega-3s are known to lower the risk of these diseases by decreasing the amount of inflammation within the body.
SATURATED FATS: these can bring particular benefits such as increased liver health and improved bone structure strength. But high cholesterol levels will be generated by numerous LDL’s being produced. So more sparingly with these types of fats (they don’t need to be totally avoided just consumed in moderation). Food sources are: Dairy sources (milk, cheese, butter), red meats, poultry skin.
TRANS FATS: this type of saturated fat is made by heating liquid vegetable oils in a process called HYDROGENATOIN! You might see hydrogenated fats on food labels. This process extends the shelf life of food products. Hydrogenation turns a liquid into a solid food like margarine. Trans fats are used widely for frying, baked goods, pastries, processed snack food and margarine.
The risk of consuming excess trans fats include lowering good cholesterol and increasing bad cholesterol and promoting a higher chance of cardiovascular diseases. I’m not saying you can’t eat them but acknowledge the risks of excess amounts and consume in moderation.
The easiest way to get all of the nutrients you need into your diet is to consume foods like lean meats, eggs, dairy, colourful vegetables, whole grains, and fruits.
SNACKING ON FATS
Whilst you should snack on fat sources in moderation due to the caloric density they contain, they are the preferred snack in comparison to carbohydrates which are best timed pre/intra/post workouts for energy stores and preventing glycogen depletion. By selecting fats or proteins over carbohydrates as a snack will reduce exercise inflammation and insulin sensitivity. So, snack sources: nuts, nut butter (peanut, almond). Just remember DON’T OVERDO IT! As I mentioned in the carbohydrate post, combine them with fruit, then you get the vitamins, mineral, and fibre benefit of the front with the glucose response blunted from the fat/protein.
Hopefully this post has increased your understanding of the importance of fats and taken away some of those old demons. Everything in moderation is key!