Fat is the Friend

Fat has an important role in our bodies. It is what is known as a ‘macronutrient’ much like protein and carbohydrates. Our bodies are incapable of creating fat without outside assistance[1]. We need fat for energy but also jobs within the body such as absorbing vitamins & minerals as well as supporting our hormones[2]. Fat also protects our cells.

The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook. Julia Child

Since the low-fat diet was widely touted across America in the during the by the 1920s by middle to upper-class women and then spread throughout the rest of the Western world.

Small portion on plate
Avoiding fatty food has been popular for around 100 years.

Fat has been the enemy for the past 50 years for everyone in the western world, but only now has fat become known to be an essential part of our diets. Studies conducted during the 1940s suggested that there was a connection between high-fat diets and high cholesterol leading to problems such as heart disease[3]. In the decades that followed, the low-fat diet reared its head and has been advocated by health professionals, the food industry, the government and the media[3].

Despite this, healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids, are becoming more prominent in everyday consciousness. Even saturated fats, like coconut oil, are particularly popular and the acknowledgement on full-fat dairy as a health food is accepted.

Decoding Fat Terms

What are good fats and what are bad fats? No matter what we eat though, it is hard to escape all these types of fats, especially as our diet has shifted so dramatically from-scratch cooking to convenience food. Despite this, we can still take control of what kinds of fats we are eating and in what quantities. The Department of Health (UK) suggests that our fat intake shouldn’t go over 35% of our energy intake and no more than 11% of this should be from saturated fat[4].

4 Types of Fat

Saturated

Saturated fat is found in animals products like meat and dairy; butter, milk and cheese. Eating too much saturated fat foods can raise bad cholesterol levels[5]. Other high saturated fat products range from sausage rolls, chocolate spread to coconut oil. There is yet to be substantiated evidence to suggest that saturated fat is wholly bad for us[6].

Sausages on the bbq
Sausages are a source of saturated fat and are best enjoyed in moderation

Monounsaturated

One of the sub-categories of unsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats are in vegetable oils like olive oil and rapeseed oil. This inflammatory fat is also in nuts, olives and avocados.

Small jug of oil
Rapeseed oil is a good source of polyunsaturated fat.

Polyunsaturated

The other type of unsaturated fat which can be found in seeds and oily fish. The famous Omega fatty acids 3 and 6 are both types of polyunsaturated fat.

Oily fish
Enjoying oily fish is a good way to get polyunsaturated fats in your diet

Trans Fats

Interestingly, trans fats can occur naturally in foods such as meat and dairy products, although these are in small amounts if unprocessed[7], but also in processed foods like cooking oils and spreads such as margarine. Trans fats are sometimes labelled as partially hydrogenated oils.

A tub of margarine
Margarine is one of the main trans fat foods to avoid.

It is recommended that you avoid trans fats as much as you can in your diet.

Essential Fatty Acids

We’ve all heard about essential fatty acids. These are important as the body is incapable of creating it. There are in fact 2 main fatty acids; omega-3 and omega-6.

  • Omega 3 is alpha-linoleic acid
  • Omega-6 is linoleic acid

Other types fatty acids include triglycerides and cholesterol. Omega-9 is also an important fatty acid, also known as oleic acid. It can be made within the body[4] but it is important to get this from dietary sources, most notably from olives.

Depending on our diets, the Western-style of eating means our bodies are consuming much more omega-6 than omega-3. This can lead to inflammation, this is why experts recommended upping the omega-3 intake to match the same quantity of omega-6 or to increase it with omega-3 rich foods such as fatty fish[8]. These polyunsaturated fats work together to keep cholesterol managed and to lower the LDL cholesterol, which is what blocks the blood vessels.

Is Low-Fat making us Hungry?

Avoiding fats in the diet is making the headlines. Finally, the media is showcasing fats importance to our health and as an integral part of our diets and satiety. Low-fat diets, ironically, have seen cases on obesity and illnesses such as type 2 diabetes dramatically rise in the population across all ages and gender groups[5]. What wasn’t highlighted was in fact, those seemingly fatty foods, such as yoghurts and butter, were replaced with refined sugars and carbohydrates. This created a problem in the body’s ability to stabilise blood sugar and insulin levels[9]. The problem with reducing fat intake is that we look to satisfy ourselves with other good-feeling foods such as sugary and salty snacks which actually makes your body think it’s starving[10].

Various emotions shown on balloons
Is a low-fat diet causing your mood swings?

Low-fat diet plans more often than not target women. Women do store more fat than men, up to 11% more[11], despite differences in diet and fat and calorie intake. The conclusive research suggests it the result of the main sex hormone, oestrogen, therefore getting the body ready for its childbearing years from puberty onwards[11]. Biology also determines that female bodies, tend to have a higher body fat content at 25% compared to men’s 15%[12]. This does not mean that we have bad, visceral fats around our organs, or that this is a bad thing for our figures. All healthy people have fat reserves which are necessary for the species survival, even more so for females.

I realised that I have spent so many years being on a diet that the idea that you might actually need calories to survive has been completely wiped out of my consciousness. Bridget Jones Diary by Helen Fielding

The results from the advised low-fat/high carbohydrate diet have tricked our fat cells to ‘hoard’ calories and raise insulin levels. Through a series of communications between the brain and body, metabolism slows down and this results in weight gain, rather than loss[13]. Cutting calories doesn’t help either.

A low-fat diet, too, can be lacking in healthy fats which can result in problems including inflammation, dry skin and moodiness

10 Top Healthy Fats

Including healthy fats in your diet helps your wellbeing, both mentally and physically. Many vitamins are fat-soluble, such as A, D, E and K[14], which are essential nutrients in our diets. Eating healthy fats can help us avoid bad fats, such as trans fats, in our diets which lead to unnecessary weight gain, high-levels of bad cholesterol and are usually paired with high levels of salt and sugar.

Avocado

The food of the decade, avocados are one special fruit! Although high in calories, this fruit contains no cholesterol and is mostly made up of monounsaturated fat[8].

Avocado is full of healthy fats

Cheese

Cheese is one of the country’s favourite foods. Good quality cheese can be part of a healthy diet. It is rich in calcium, protein and importantly fat. Hard-pressed cheese do contain good fats, although they contain high levels of saturated fat. Try cheese from Doddington Dairy and Northumberland Cheese Co.

Berwick Edge cheese by Doddington Dairy
Try a hard cheese such as Doddington Dairy’s Berwick Edge cheese

Dark Chocolate

Considered a required taste, but becoming more popular as our tastes adapt to the natural bitterness of cocoa. Although dark chocolate does contain saturated fat, it is balanced with monounsaturated fat, oleic acid, the same found in olive oil, if it contains no dairy at all.

Dark chocolate chunks
Only good quality dark chocolate contains healthy fats

At least 70% cocoa is the recommended minimum quality and only a few squares are necessary. Find good quality dark chocolate from many border chocolatiers including Kiki’s Chocolates, Cocoature and Cocoa Black.

Eggs

Eggs are super healthy and inexpensive food. A rich source of protein and more importantly, the omega fatty acids, even more so if you can buy free-range and organic. Remember it is the yolk that contains the fat.

Half a dozen egg box
Crack open an egg from Border Eggs.

Try Border Eggs eggs and see the difference.

Oily Fish

Fish such as salmon, trout and herring, all of which can easily be sourced locally from local fishmongers such as Ross Dougal and Swallow Fish Ltd. Oily fish is one of the top dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids. It is recommended that you eat 2 servings of oily fish a week.

A fillet of salmon
Increase your omega-3 intake by consuming a canny fillet of fresh salmon from your local fishmonger.

Nuts

Nuts, the ultimate snack food, is also a great source of healthy fats. The best nuts being walnuts, however almonds and pistachios are also favoured by nutritionists. Try almond butter from The Nut Roaster. A 2 tablespoon serving is all that is necessary.

A tsp of nut butter
A teaspoon of nut butter added to your morning granola & yoghurt bowl will boost those good feelings

Seeds

If you’re allergic to, or not a fan of, nuts, then seeds are the next best thing. Both the popular sunflower and pumpkin seeds make fantastic seed butters, but also can be eaten on their own, sprinkled on salads, added to baking and smoothies and roasted.

Sunflower seeds
Top up salads or your cereal with sunflower seeds for an omega boost!

Most seeds are omega-6 dominated apart from flaxseeds and chia seeds.

Olive Oil

One of the most popular, and healthiest, oils around as a result of the Meditteranean diet. Small amounts are only necessary, and it is recommended that it is not used for frying or roasting at high temperatures. Drizzling extra virgin olive oil after cooking helps the oil to retain its essential nutrients and stops the monosaturated fats, like oleic acid, transforming to saturated fats.

Olives are a good food to encourage a healthy intake of monounsaturated fats, especially black olives. Olives are also good to eat if you suffer from allergies or inflammatory problems[8].

Olive oil in bottle
Avoid heating olive oil at high temperatures to keep the good fats intact.

Full Fat Milk

Full-fat dairy, although mostly made up of saturated fat, is actually very good for us. Many of the vitamins associated with dairy, such as A and D, are actually fat-soluble[8]. This means that the fat content of the dairy is important as it helps our bodies absorb these vitamins into the body, whereas low-fat or skimmed milk options forego this.

Milk bottles
A refreshing glass of raw milk from Wheelbirks is full of B vitamins essential for mental wellbeing.

The fat content of full-fat dairy also increases our satiety, meaning we consume less overall. Try full-fat milk from Morwick Dairy, Northumbrian Pedigree or raw milk from Wheelbirks.

Yoghurt

Plain or Greek-style yoghurt, not low-fat, is a great healthy fat option for your diet, especially as a breakfast or dessert alternative. Natural-style yoghurts generally contain a substantially lower amount of sugar and also contain gut-healing probiotics.

Blue House Goats yogurt
Enrich a healthy diet with Blue House Goats Greek-style yogurt.

Try Greek-style plain goats yoghurt from Blue House Goats for a healthy breakfast or dessert.

Eat the Fa(t)cts

Try to get the right fats for your diet. Many of these healthy fats can be found locally across Northumberland and Scottish Borders. It is important to realise how important healthy fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats positively affect the body from our skin and hair to our hormones and cells.

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