By Jo Guy
In Part One of the Soul Rebel Blog Series, we looked at the importance of micro-nutrients and how to get more into your diet.
This week we are talking about fats – the different types, why we need them and how you can add the right ones into your diet.
There has been a lot of controversy around dietary fats and they certainly have been demonized over the last thirty or forty years. Many people are fearful of fat, and I’m not surprised, given that it has been jammed into us to eat a low-fat diet, (particularly saturated fat), and eat more “healthy whole grains” (breads and cereals). But instead of improving the rates of lifestyle-related diseases, the rates of illnesses like obesity and heart disease have skyrocketed. Clearly we have been getting it wrong!
It turns out, fat isn’t our foe after all, but our friend. The health benefits of including natural fats into your diet are not only extremely positive, but absolutely essential.
Here are just some of the reasons why fat is so important in your diet:
- Every single cell in your body is made up of a double layer of fat. If we don’t have enough fat in our diet, the cell membranes will be affected leading to poor cell function.
- They are the building of blocks of hormones such as testosterone and serotonin
- They are important for healthy bones
- They enhance our immune system
- They are required for the absorption of key vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A, D, E and K, which our diets are often lacking in (because of low fat intakes!)
- They protect the liver from alcohol and other toxins
- 70% of your brain mass is made up of fat! We need fats for healthy brain function.
- They have anti-microbial properties and protect us from bad bacteria in the gut
Not enough fats in the diet can significantly affect our insides, but it can also affect our “beauty bits”. Have you ever been on a low fat diet and noticed your hair was brittle, skin was dull and nails were always breaking? The change in these ‘outside’ cells is simply a reflection of what is happening on the outside.
So we now know that fats are good. It is, however, important to understand THE TYPE OF FATS you should include in your diet and those to avoid, as the bad ones can be very bad!
- Trans Fats – Although trans fats are found in small amounts in natural sources like red meat, it’s the processed ones you need avoid – margarine/buttery spreads, biscuits, cakes, potato chips. These are highly inflammatory and damaging to your health.
- Refined seed (“vegetable”) oils – think soybean, sunflower, canola, corn, safflower and rice bran oil. High temperatures are used to extract these oils, resulting oxidation – meaning the fats have been damaged and are therefore damaging to our bodies. They are also high in omega 6, a fatty acid that switches ON inflammation.
Saturated Fats for hot uses
- Coconut oil
- Animal fat, such as beef tallow, lard and chicken fat – from organic and humanely raised sources. These fats are perfect for cooking at high temperatures
Unsaturated fats/oils for cold uses
- Olive oil, Flaxseed oil, macadamia oil, sesame oil
Naturally occurring fats
- Avocados, nuts and seeds, full fat dairy, eggs and oily fish
Quite often though, the thought of consuming more fat makes people squirm. The most common responses I hear are “Doesn’t fat make you fat?”
or “What about cholesterol? Won’t it clog up my arteries?”
Let’s cover both these points in a bit more detail.
Does eating fat make you fat?
Many of us grew up in the low fat, high carbohydrate era, where fat was avoided at all costs due to its high calorie density. People were led to believe that due to it’s high calorie content, eating fat was the major reason you would gain body fat, which simply isn’t true.
The truth is, fat doesn’t make you fat. It is, in fact the hormonal response, or how your body uses the energy from fat, that’s important, not the calories.
Fat is very satiating, as it triggers the release of hormones that tell your brain you are full, especially when paired with a lower-carbohydrate intake. A grass fed steak with all its fat is far more filling than some bread spread with a bit of butter. You will eat the steak and be done but you could quite possibly eat half the loaf of bread and butter and still be hungry! It’s very difficult to overeat on a higher fat, lower carbohydrate diet and it is a great way to inadvertently eat less without sacrificing satiation.
It also improves your ability to access stored body fat rather than lean mass, which is helpful for fat loss.
But what about cholesterol? Won’t it increase the risk of heart disease?
Despite what we have been told, saturated fat does NOT cause heart disease. It was believed that saturated fat increases blood cholesterol, and this leads to heart disease. I’ll save you all the science mumbo-jumbo, but it’s important to know that all the studies showing this correlation were done in rabbits – herbivores that aren’t supposed to eat saturated fats anyway.
There is also now research to confirm this is just one big nutrition myth. In 2010, twenty-one past studies were included in a meta-analysis of 347,747 individuals. The results of this study clearly state there is “no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of heart disease”. You can read the study here. If you’re wondering how we got this so wrong for so many years, this short video sums it up nicely – Big Fat Lies
Hopefully I have convinced you that eating fat won’t make you fat and they are an integral part of your healthy eating lifestyle.
We are all very unique though and this doesn’t mean everyone should follow a high fat, low carb diet. We have different requirements, and these requirements can change at certain times in our lives. The main take-away from this article is that you should not be fearful of fats from natural, unprocessed sources, like we were all once told.
Here are some practical ways to include healthful fats in your diet:
- Have an omelet for breakfast and add ½ a small avocado
- Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to your salad and some goats feta
- Add ¼ -½ an avocado or a tablespoon of coconut oil to your smoothie
- Add 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to your steamed veggies at night
- Snack on mixed nuts and seeds
- Large handful of spinach
- ½ cup of frozen blueberries
- 1 banana
- 1 tbs coconut oil
- 1 tsp chia seeds
- 1 cup coconut milk
METHOD Combine the milk, avocado, banana, cinnamon, chia and ice in a blender and blend until smooth.