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Get your fats right

We take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly of dietary fats

Fat is an essential part of a healthy diet, but in recent years it has acquired something of a bad reputation. As a result, low fat diets and low fat food products grew in popularity. “Historically there has been some confusion over the effect dietary fat has on our bodies,” says Helen Roach, a nutritionist and founder of Revive Therapeutics ( “However, we now know that both quality and quantity count.”

“Fat is a necessary element in our diets, as the body can’t process some vitamins without the fat’s help in dissolving them into your system,” adds Frida Harju, the in-house nutritionist at leading health and fitness app, Lifesum ( “Therefore, it is important not to cut out all fats from your diet, but instead, know the difference between the healthy and unhealthy varieties.” So, what are the different types of fat?

The Good

“There are two types of ‘good’ fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated,” explains Frida. “The mono fats can be found in oils and plants, such as olive oil, sunflower oil, nuts, avocados and olives, to name a few. This fat helps the body decrease its levels of cholesterol and then to keep these levels balanced, stabilising your heart rhythm and preventing cardiovascular disease.

“Polyunsaturated fat is often found in various vegetable oils, like sunflower, sesame and soy. Omega-3 and omega-6 are the two sub-sections of polyunsaturated fat and these can be found in seafood like salmon, sardines, herring and oysters. Both omega-3 and omega-6 are essential as they are important for normal inflammation operation, nerve and brain function, blood viscosity, coagulation and pain signalling.

“Omega-3 is especially beneficial as it can help to prevent cardiovascular disease, decrease the risk of diabetes and even improve cognitive function, which some studies claim is a factor in decreasing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The ideal ratio of these fats is 1:1 to 1:4 (omega-3 to omega-6). Most of us have a much wider imbalance, closer to 1:40. The reason for this is that we get more than enough omega-6 from ready meals and fried foods, which leaves our intake of omega-3 low. So make sure to eat salmon, game meat, fatty fish, avocado and walnuts to get enough good fat into your diet. Failing to achieve a healthy balance can cause inflammation and other health issues.”

The Bad

“Saturated fats have had a bad press over the years with mixed evidence to suggest that, in excess, they contribute to a number of physiological diseases,” says Helen. They are found in butter, cheese, red meat and other animal-based foods as well as many baked goods and fried foods. “The big disadvantage of saturated fats is that they can raise the levels of cholesterol in the body, which has been linked to cardiovascular disease,” says Frida.

“However, the saturated fat in coconut doesn’t react in the same way as fat in butter and meat in the body. Research has proven that coconut increases fat burn, instead of filling up the fat stores. It is advised to have less than 10 per cent of your daily calories from saturated fats and, while cutting back on saturated fats can be beneficial, it can only work if they are replaced with healthy, unsaturated fats, which will lower the levels of cholesterol in your body. The connection between cardiovascular diseases and saturated fat intake is still under debate so it is advised to stick to the recommendation of less than 10 per cent.”

The Ugly

“Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat that occur naturally in the flesh and milk of cattle in small quantities,” says Helen. “During food production, unsaturated plant-based fats can undergo a process called hydrogenation. This is carried out to increase shelf life and decrease refrigeration requirements. Partially hydrogenated fats or trans fats are linked to an increased risk of heart disease, raising triglycerides in the bloodstream and causing systemic inflammation. Furthermore, raised LDL and lowered HDL cholesterol levels prove further concern for dietary consumption. They are typically found in man-made processed foods such as cakes, biscuits and margarine. A variety of studies suggest these should be avoided to prevent a number of health problems throughout life.”

“In conclusion, most of us don’t tend to eat enough unsaturated fats, thinking all fats to be damaging to our health,” says Frida. “However, it is suggested that eight to 10 per cent of our daily calories should come from these fats, with OmniHeart research showing that replacing a carb-rich diet with one richer in unsaturated fats can reduce blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease.”

Top swaps

Laura Wilson gives an overview of some everyday foods and how to make sure you’re eating good fat, in moderate proportions, rather than the artery-clogging type.

The oil in cakes can often be saturated animal fat butter or hydrogenated vegetable fat, which hangs around in your arteries for years as your body can’t break it down. A great alternative that you can use in cakes, muffins and pastries is coconut oil, which is pretty good for you and will not increase your LDL cholesterol levels.

Potatoes and chips
If you buy chips from a takeaway restaurant, you can bet that they’ve been deep fried in vegetable oil, which turns the oil into dangerous hydrogenated fat. A much healthier way to enjoy chips or potatoes is to either shallow fry or roast them in a tablespoon of coconut oil which, although is a saturated fat, is actually very good for you and stable when heated.

Ice cream
Dairy ice cream is full of fattening and cholesterol-raising dairy fats. A wonderful alternative is to make your own ice cream. Blend frozen, over-ripe bananas at a high speed to create a deliciously creamy but fat-free and low calorie alternative.

Creamy dips and desserts
Instead of using cream cheese or full-fat dairy cream in dips and mousses, substitute the dairy for a ripe avocado, which gives an equally creamy and dense texture but swaps the unhealthy fat for much healthier monounsaturated fat.

Laura Wilson is the author of The Alkaline 5 Diet. Visit her website for a free PDF guide: The 7 Ways to Alkalise Your Body.

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