'Body fat' and dietary fat are very different things.
Does eating fat not make us fat?
Eating "fat" does not equate to making us fat. Any excess energy we consume, regardless of fat, carbohydrate or protein, does get converted to an energy store in the body (which is body fat tissue, or adipose tissue). Yes, we can get more kcal energy per gram of dietary fat (9kcal), compared to protein or carbs (4kcal), but dietary 'fats' in themselves are not all bad.
Including good, healthy dietary fats as part of a balanced "real food" diet is important to help our body to function properly. Fats (lipids) are
- essential components of every cell in the body
- vital to help us absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K
- important for making hormones
- useful to keep us feeling fuller for longer, keeping hunger at bay
What is a "real food" diet?
Real food is food as nature intended. Real food contains great vitamins, minerals, naturally occurring fats that nourish and sustain our bodies, allowing us to grow, repair and provide energy. They are foods that have not been processed, such as ultra processed carbohydrates, "trans fats" and unhealthy vegetable oils, often found in fast food or pre-prepared foods in supermarkets. These latter foods are known to contribute to inflammation and cardiovascular disease.
What about "low fat" options?
Many food products, sold as "low fat", suggest they will be healthier for us. Unfortunately, when the fat content is reduced, the sugar content is often increased. Take a look next time you are in the supermarket at the sugar content of low fat products! This is especially imortant to know if you are diabetic/pre-diabetic.
So what fats should we eat?
After years of thinking we should reduce all fat in our diets, it is difficult to change the focus and know what to eat. Here are some simple thoughts. Some people think of these fats as those found often in a 'Mediterranean style diet'. If you are moving to a more lower carbohydrate diet, you will likely find that your diet consists of more protein and healthy fats.
- Meat, oily fish, cheese, eggs, full fat yoghurt, nuts, olive oil, coconut oil, avocados are full of natural healthy fats
- Saturated (stable) fats for cooking such as coconut oil, butter, lard means they are less likely to be oxidised (which can be inflammatory/damaging).
- Monounsaturated fats e.g. avocados, nuts, olive oils (note olive oil also has polyunsaturated fats and saturated fats). Olive oil or nut oil are great on salads.
- Omega 3 - found in oily fish such as salmon, mackeral, tuna, sardines, herring. (Caution, certain fish are high in mercury and need to be avoided during or before pregnancy). If you don't like seafood, try nuts and seeds (flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts) or beans (edemame beans, kidney beans). Grass fed meat is another good source. If you might struggle to get a diet rich in Omega 3s, supplementation is an option.
- "Real food"!
- Avoid Trans Fats: These are not natural fats but they make food stable to keep around longer - found in processed vegetable oils, seed oils, margarine or fast food, baked processed food - ingredients include "hydrogenated"
- Avoid highly refined vegetable oils: These are highly processed with lots of chemicals - this isn't "real food". They contain both omega 3 but also omega 6 - which has an ongoing debate as to whether this is damaging. The problem is, when cooked with, these highly refined vegetable oils are easily oxidised (which can be inflammatory and damaging).
Watch this video discussing re-thinking how we think about fats!
Not all fats are created equal! This video discusses which fats are pro-inflammatory and which are anti-inflammatory
A fat is not a fat, is not a fat! Click on this link to the video. Dr Sarah Halberg helps us understand saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Confused? Just eat real food!
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Dr Rangan Chaterjee (GP) talks about why eating healthy fats can help us feel better and be healthier
Saturated fats? Shift in focus... Check out this recent paper from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology discussing that saturated fats aren't necessarily bad for our cardiovascular health.