Facts on fats
7 February, 2020
Fat is no longer a nutritional no-no! Here is why a healthy body needs healthy fats
For years, it was believed that eating fat would make you fat. These days, we have a much better understanding of what makes us gain weight and why, and it turns out that eating fats as part of a healthy diet can actually help you to lose weight.
But it’s not just about weight gain or loss. Dietary fats also provide our bodies with countless benefits and are essential for keeping us alive, healthy and functioning at our peak. Here, we explain why you need them in your life, which fats you should be including in your diet and how much you should be eating to get the best results.
Why fats are important
Fats form part of every cell in the body, and they’re especially important for nerve cells, brain function and the production of hormones. The body also uses stored fat as a source of energy, and also protects our organs. Fat is needed to help our bodies fight inflammation, and used to maintain healthy skin, hair and nails. Fats also help our bodies transport and absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, which are essential for everything from healthy eyes and blood clotting to strong bones and a healthy immune system.
But aren’t fats really high in calories?
It’s true that fat is more calorie-dense than other macronutrients – 9 calories per gram compared to 4 calories per gram for carbs and protein and 7 calories per gram for alcohol – but if you eat healthy fats in reasonable quantities, they can actually help you eat less. This is because fat is digested more slowly than other nutrients, so can help you to feel full for longer. But the keywords here are “healthy fats”. So, what’s a healthy fat, and which fats should you avoid?
There are four main types of fat:
- Trans fats
The bad guys
Saturated or “bad” fats are primarily found in meat, dairy foods, fried and processed foods. They can increase the bad cholesterol (LDL) levels in your blood. Then there are trans fats, which are found in processed food like deep-fried and baked goods. These are particularly “bad”, as they also increase your LDL cholesterol, and can increase your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Ideally, you should only eat a very small amount of saturated and trans fats.
The good guys
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated or “good” fats – found in grains, seeds, nuts, avocado and plant oils – can help to protect your heart and reduce your risk of stroke by lowering your LDL cholesterol levels.
Two main types of polyunsaturated fats that are especially important for health are essential fatty acids (EFAs) – types of unsaturated fats known as omega-3 and omega-6. They’re essential for the healthy development of the brain and eyes as well as forming a structural part of every cell in the body. The main sources of omega-3 include cold-water fish (like salmon and sardines) and flaxseeds and walnuts, while omega-6 is found in seeds, nuts and their oils.
So, how much fat do I need?
The average adult needs to least 40-60g of fats – approximately 30% of your overall calorie intake – every day. You should try to get the majority of your daily fat intake from fish, nuts and seeds, rather than from dairy or meat. Here are some suggestions to help you get the right fats into your diet every day.
Many people avoid nuts as they fear their high-calorie content, but whole nuts are a fantastic source of healthy fats and fibre. They’re also conveniently delicious.
Focus on fish
While all types of fish and seafood are good for you, salmon and sardines are particularly high in omega-3 fats. Tuna is also a good choice, but canned tuna has often had some omega-3 fats removed, so fresh tuna is a better choice.
Switch to healthier oils and spreads
When making salad dressings, go for extra-virgin olive oil or flaxseed oil. For cooking, choose canola, peanut, safflower or sesame oil. And instead of margarine, opt for nut and seed spreads, which are rich plant sources of omega-3s.
Chia seeds and flaxseeds are rich plant sources of omega-3 fats which can easily be added to smoothies or yoghurt. Sunflower seeds are also great for sprinkling on salads and are a top source of unsaturated fat.
People often think that eggs are bad for them, but as well as being an incredible source of protein and other key nutrients, eggs only contain a small amount of saturated fat, with most of the fat being monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.