Good fats, bad fats and old chestnuts
While it’s true that we need some fats in our food, the type and the quantity are the most important factors
Jack Rogers of Newgrange Gold, one of Ireland’s largest seed oil producers, with last summer’s crop of rapeseed
There is a lot of confusion about the various fats out there and how much we need. It now seems clear that even certain fat types like “saturated fat” may have different health effects depending on the food source. For example a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a higher intake of meat saturated fat was associated with greater cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, whereas a higher intake of dairy saturated fat was associated with lower CVD risk.
One thing is certain, however – we all need some dietary fat. Fat is essential for helping the body to absorb and transport fat soluble vitamins. It supplies us with essential fatty acids that the body can’t make. Fat is also a structural component of the brain, supplies energy for body cells, produces hormones and protects and cushions our internal organs.
It’s the quality (or type) and quantity of fat in our diet that’s important and the subject of on-going research.
Fat and weight gain
Fat, no matter what the type, contains twice the amount of calories as carbohydrate or protein, so it’s easy to eat a lot of calories in high-fat foods. It doesn’t provide the same satiety as protein. One gram of fat has 9kcals, and one gram of carbohydrate or protein has 4kcals. Alcohol provides 7kcals per gram.
Eating too many fats, or carbs or proteins means excess calories. Eating more calories than you burn increases your weight and susceptibility to other disease. Eating excessive amounts of trans fats, for example, increases your risk factors of CVD through inflammatory processes.
It is important to get the balance of your dietary fats right. This means replacing trans fats and certain saturated fats with healthier polyunsaturated (omega 3 and 6) and monounsaturated fats (omega 9).
Simply cutting out all saturated fats and replacing them with processed and refined carbohydrates, seems in fact, to be as bad if not worse, for health. This is the reason why low-fat diets seemed to be more harmful than healthful for many. Simply choosing refined carbohydrates to replace the lost calories from fat is not the right strategy.
Also called unsaturated fats, “good fats” are better for your heart than trans or certain saturated fats. Unsaturated fats usually come from vegetable or seafood sources and are divided into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These include foods such as olive oil; rapeseed oil; sunflower and sesame oils and spread made from these oils; walnuts; Brazil nuts; almonds; hazelnuts; avocados; sunflower seeds; sesame seeds; pumpkin seeds and chia seeds.
Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat. They are a type of beneficial fat that can help lower triglycerides and help protect your heart and joints. Oily fish is the best natural source of omega 3 fatty acids. Types of oily fish include salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, kippers, fresh tuna. Fresh, frozen and tinned varieties can be enjoyed although the canning process can almost halve the omega 3 levels, so check the label. Aim to eat two portions of fish every week and try to make at least one of these oily.