What sort of image do you conjure in your mind if I speak of eating fat to stay healthy?Chances are that you would think I’m spouting nonsense. You would perceive fat much like a modern scourge of society, lurking in the same aisle as alcohol and tobacco, something to steer clear of as much as possible in order to stay free of disease for longer.
What’s Good Fat…and What’s Bad Fat?
Alternatively, you could be confused as to whether consuming fat is “good” or “bad” for you by the end of the day, due to an incessant bombardment of varying opinions regarding the nutritional value of fats in our diet by the mass media. This could potentially compell you to be rather careless about how you consume fat- life is meant to be enjoyed after all, “not to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d ruther not”, in the words of Mark Twain.
Albeit such an attitude would not be too helpful in the face of the fact we live in an obesogenic environment these days, especially in the light of news that New Zealand could possibly become the country with the highest rate of obesity in the world within the space of just five years. Not to mention the plethora of other conditions closely linked to obesity,- diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and the grave accumulation of fat in the liver which often culminates in liver failure, to name a few.
The Truth About Fat Doesn’t Have To Be Confusing…
The truth is, the situation with fat consumption is a great deal less complicated (and certainly much less dreadful to contemplate) than what it is often made out to be. Despite the frequent excoriation of fat we see on a daily basis, it is a vital and healthy component of our diet. However, we have to be careful with the type of fat we are considering when talking in this vein; it is monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that are advantageous to health, not saturated fats and their even more lethal cousin, trans fats.
Saturated fat consumption has been closely linked to an increased probability of cardiovascular disease. Similarly, research from the Harvard Public School of Health and other reputable sources have indicated that trans fat, comprising a seemingly negligible proportion of a person’s daily diet as 2%, can potentially increase their risk of heart disease by up to 23%.
Modifying a diet to manifest a high monounsaturated fat to saturated fat ratio is fairly straightforward to achieve: using plant-based oil in cooking such as olive oil, canola oil or sunflower oil, in conjunction with high fruit, vegetable and wholegrain consumption, moderate dairy product consumption, light consumption of meat and the incorporation of a larger amount of seafood into your diet, as well as evasion of fried takeaways and other fried food.
Perhaps the most beneficial fat of these monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats to human health is fish oil. What makes fish oil so unique is that it abounds in omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which are rudimentary components of cell membranes in our bodies that have a predominating role in the production of hormones. These are unanimously considered to be more advantageous to health than the omega-3 fatty acids found in flax oil. The sheer number of studies adumbrating the health benefits of fish oil is staggering, and for good reason too.
Could Fish Oil Be The Answer?
Fish oil has been proven to promote healthy cholesterol levels, support overall cardiovascular health, bolster the body’s main anti-inflammatory pathways, increase bone density and calcium balance (thus helping prevent osteoporosis), improve mood levels/alleviate mood disorders, and reduce vision loss. Interestingly, a wide range of studies indicate that fish oil is most effective in low fat diets. What is alarming is the prevalence of omega-3 deficiency in many developed countries, largely due to over consumption of processed foods burgeoning with unhealthy fats. Supplementing with fish oil could forestall the onset of disease for many people.
Deep sea oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna and sardines are the best food sources of these omega-3 fatty acids that comprise extracted fish oil (not to be confused with cod liver oil, which is not so rich in omega-3 fatty acids however contains more vitamins A & D),- their fillets typically contain about 30% oil. It is important to remember that some types of fish tend to contain elevated mercury levels, whereas fish oil supplements contain zero or highly trace amounts of mercury. Mercury may lead to health complications if consumed in excessive amounts, so fish oil coupled with the intermittent oily fish serving would certainly be the safest approach to increasing your omega-3 fatty acid intake. Studies indicate that while the mortality rates of people following the aforementioned diet high in healthy fat do not differ substantially in relation to those of people who follow other types of diets, there is a stark contrast in the rates of disease between the two groups.
As stated on Washington Post, following a diet with a high monounsaturated fat to saturated fat ratio significantly reduces the probability of developing cardiovascular issues, furthermore there are connections between following such a diet and a reduced risk of breast cancer and diabetes. The icing on the cake, so to speak, is that it is possible to consume quite a considerable amount of monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat regularly without placing one’s health at risk, since these healthy fats leave you more satiated than refined carbohydrates.
Indeed, the updated US Dietary Guidelines released in January 2016 have omitted their recommendation that less than 30% of daily calories should be comprised of fat; it is only stated that it is worth being cautious with saturated fat consumption, which are found predominantly in meat and dairy products. While it is not known exactly how much healthy fat is ideal for now, further research should hopefully pinpoint that quantity. There is really little reason to believe that following a diet that reduces risk of disease is a diet that is unpleasant to eat!
Although you might see confusing headlines which appear to claim that saturated fats are neither beneficial nor harmful to health overall but are worse than non-saturated fats and better than sugary processed foods such as this one on Time.com, unfortunately there is mounting evidence that saturated fats do have a profound negative impact on health, perhaps more deep-seated than many may realise.
In a recent study reported on Medical News Today where one group of rats were fed a high-fat diet of which 60% of the total energetic value was comprised of corn oil, a component largely comprised of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, a second group were fed a standard diet consisting of 16% saturated fat derived from lard, and the female offspring of both groups consumed the standard diet, it was established that the female offspring of the rats who consumed the high polyunsaturated fat diet manifested a substantial decrease in tumour growth and had a decreased tumour frequency.
Although this has not been yet confirmed through human studies, the overall implication that the type of fat a man consumes is enough to elevate or diminish his daughter’s risk for developing breast cancer is concerning, especially given how widespread diets containing significant proportions of saturated fat are. Furthermore, as Science Daily recently reported, saturated fat has been shown to cause the human brain to have difficulties controlling the quantities of food they consume and thus how much food to consume, thereby making saturated fat totally counterproductive to weight loss. It is not encouraging at all that, according to expert estimates, saturated may constitute a whopping 30% of the average Western diet! You certainly are better off staying on the safe side by paying particular attention to what you eat.
Four simple tips for decreasing saturated fat intake and conversely increasing healthy fat intake:
- Eat more fruit and vegetables. An old trope, but it has never more important!
- Eat more fish and chicken, and leaner cuts of pork and red meat. Remove as much visible fat as possible before cooking.
- Avoid fast food (high in both trans and saturated fats). Food served in restaurants may also contain significant quantities of undesirable fats; one thing you can do to alleviate this is ask that dressings and sauces be served separate from your food. All the more incentive to cook yourself!
- Use fat-free or reduced fat dairy products. However, be careful not to replace saturated fat with highly refined carbohydrates and sugary foods. Fat-free products may be high in sugar and highly refined carbohydrates. This also means ensuring food products you buy do not contain “hidden fat” by checking their nutritional value labels. Do not be misled by descriptions such as “healthy” or light”.
It could be a bit of a challenge to ensure that your diet is ideally eliminated of saturated fat, however it is also true that just a few small changes in how you approach food preparation and consumption are sufficient to drastically reduce unhealthy fat intake and continue having tasty meals in the meanwhile. If the stakes are so high through merely eating the wrong fat, change should be worth a try!