Remember when all fats were considered the baddies of the food world?  A time when ‘low fat’ meant healthy? After the Second World War studies suggested a link between saturated fats and heart disease. Unfortunately, the message that the public received was ‘all fats are bad’ and so people started replacing fats with high sugar/refined carbohydrates. Unfortunately they also stopped eating the healthy fats and this trend remained for decades. However low-fat diets haven’t made us healthier and in fact, obesity and heart disease have steadily risen.

We’ve come a long way in our understanding of fats in the last decade. Fat can be healthy! Our bodies need some fat for energy production and to better absorb fat soluble vitamins. Fats are also vital for regulating the production of sex hormones therefore lack of dietary fats can lead to hormone imbalances. Fat forms an important part of our cell membrane structure, and did you know our brains are made up of 60% fat? without it our cells simply wouldn’t function.

Let’s have a closer look at the different types of fats and their effects on our bodies.

Solid at room temperature saturated fats including butter, palm oil and those found in red meat are the most controversial. Most agree it can form part of a healthy diet but should be consumed in moderation. High intakes of saturated fats are linked to increased heart disease risk factors such as high LDL cholesterol and increased inflammation. However the link to whether a diet high in saturated fat increases the chance of heart disease is disputed. In truth it’s not simple. Nutritional therapists will look at the individual’s diet and health as a whole taking into account other risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure and obesity. 

Trans fats or hydrogenated fats, now these really are the bad guys! Made during food processing,- when hydrogen is added to a usually healthy fat to solidify them such as the processing of an oil into margarine. Trans fats have been linked to cancer, high bad cholesterol, low good cholesterol and they increase inflammation. These fats are often added to processed foods to improve shelf life and should be avoided completely.

Now for the good guys;

Omega oils. You may have heard about the health benefits of omega oils. Omega 6 is one of the essential omega oils.  tThis means that our bodies need it to function properly, but we have to consume it from food as our bodies are unable to produce it. Omega 6 provide the essential fatty acid GLA, which plays an important role in hormone balance by production of prostaglandins - chemical messengers with hormone-like activity. Good sources of omega 6 include starflower oil, peanut butter, pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds, brazil nuts and walnuts.

Possibly the most well researched omega oil is omega 3. Many of us are deficient in this essential oil as its best food source is from oily fish as nowadays, we are not eating the recommended 1-2 portions of oily fish weekly. Good sources include sardines, mackerel and salmon. Essential for eye, heart and brain functions, fish oil is high in the omega 3 fats EPA and DHA these are associated with improving health conditions such as arthritis. The omega 3 fat DHA is also needed for normal brain function and vision. Vegetarians can obtain alpha linolenic acid (ALA) a plant omega 3 from flax seed oils. ALA can be converted in the body into EPA and DHA. Flax seed oil is used cold on foods such as salads or can be taken straight from the spoon. ALA fatty acids contribute to the maintenance of blood cholesterol levels.

Omega 9 is found in olive oil, avocados, almonds and cashews. The benefits of regular intake of omega 9 are well studied and accepted (think Mediterranean diet) and is linked to improved heart health. Olive oil has shown to protect blood fats from oxidative stress (an excess of those damaging free radicals). Olive oil is also the only omega oil suitable for heating and cooking. Just keep it below the point when it starts to smoke.

You’d be forgiven if you’ve never heard of omega 7 oils however the benefits are wide-ranging and well recognised. The richest source of omega 7 is sea buckthorne oil however there is a good amount found in macadamia nuts and a small amount in cheddar cheese, eggs and avocados. Omega 7 is particularly helpful for mucous membranes, and is known for its helps with dry eyes.

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