It’s no longer seen as the bad guy, but not all fat is created equal. Find out what you should be cutting down on – and what you need more of…
For a long time, fat was seen as the enemy – whether you wanted to lose weight or just get healthier, fat was something to cut out of your diet. But in recent years the pendulum’s swung back in favour of fatty foods, with bloggers, personal trainers and nutritionists singing the praises of red meat, cream, cheese, avocados, nuts and coconut oil. Many claim these foods are high in nutrients and keep you feeling fuller for longer. But are they right? ‘Fat has an important role in the diet, making you feel fuller and helping you enjoy the feel of food in your mouth,’ says dietician Helen Bond.
‘Fatty foods also provide important vitamins A, D, E and K.’ But, she says, that doesn’t mean you should be loading up on all types of fatty food.
Did you know?
Fatty foods contain a mixture of fats. For example, olive oil and salmon still have small amounts of saturated fat.
The fat we do need more of
‘Most of us don’t get enough omega-3 in our diet,’ says Helen. This type of fat has been linked with a range of health benefits, including reducing the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s and rheumatoid arthritis. ‘The problem is that the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats in our diet is too low,’ says Helen. ‘Omega-6 – found in lots of foods from nuts, avocados and seeds to cooking oils – is a nutrient we need, but when we have too much of it in relation to omega-3, it
can raise risk of inflammation, which is connected with various health problems. Rather than trying to cut down on omega-6, you should try to increase your omega-3 intake.’ It’s found mainly in oily fish but shellfish like musselsand crab contain some omega-3, as do certain seeds. If you might have a baby one day, you shouldn’t eat more than two portions of oily fish a week (mercury in oily fish can affect a growing baby’s nervous system) – but one portion gives you your weekly quota of omega-3.
Try these easy ways to get more of this healthy fat into your diet:
>> Chuck some flaxseeds into a smoothie or on to porridge
>> Eat chia pudding when you need a sweet treat – we love Chia Pods, £2
>> For a speedy meal, have smoked mackerel with salad, beetroot and a baked sweet potato
>> Swap chicken in curries for salmon – it doesn’t take as long to cook, so simply add chunks to the simmering sauce.
KNOW YOUR FATS
Found in plant foods and oils. ‘The two types of unsaturated fat have been linked with health benefits, while saturated fat has been shown to raise cholesterol,’ says Helen.
These include hard fats like lard, butter, coconut oil, ghee and the fats found on meat. Cakes, biscuits and chocolate contain saturated fats.
These are found mainly in plant foods and oils. Omega-3 oils, found in oily fish like mackerel and salmon, are a family of polyunsaturated fats.
Fact or fiction?
Saturated fat is actually good for you Some experts are now saying saturated fat doesn’t raise cholesterol and isn’t linked to heart disease. One study found eating fullfat dairy products might even help protect against type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. However, says Helen, ‘Evidence still points towards the fact that saturated fat pushes up cholesterol. That doesn’t mean you need to cut it out completely, though – women can have up to 20g a day.’
COCO OR NO-NO?
Coconut oil is having a moment. All the cutting-edge diets advocate cooking with it, and it’s been credited with actively helping weight loss. The claims? While coconut oil is packed with more saturated fat than butter, about half of this is made up of lauric acid, a triglyceride that may help lower unhealthy LDL cholesterol and doesn’t get stored as fat. ‘But there’s not enough evidence to support these claims,’ says Helen. ‘And the fact remains that coconut oil is
very high in saturated fat, which we know is bad for heart health.’ One to enjoy in moderation only.