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Facts about Fat

By Claudia Jones

Trans fats, omega 3’s, hydrogenated, monounsaturated…Are you confused about which fats are safe to eat and which are to be avoided? This article aims to uncover some of the facts about fat; which fats to include in your diet and which fats to avoid at all costs.

First lets be clear about one thing, our bodies need fat to keep us healthy, its good for us!

Why?

Fat makes up 60% of your brain,helps the body to absorb fat soluble vitamins A, D, E & K, is a back-up source of energy, is part of the cell membrane of every cell in your body, and plays a vital role in hormone and immune function.However, some fats are harmful to the body so we have to be selective about the type of fats we consume and of course the amounts.

So how much fat should we be eating?

Well, an optimal amount would be up to 20% of our daily calorie intake but no more. In nations like the U.S. and the U.K. where the percentage of fat increases above 20% we see an increase in both obesity and cardiovascular disease. However, some nations take more than 20% of their calories from fat yet remain healthy such as the Inuit people, or Eskimos, with a diet rich in essential fatty acids, we can see that the type of fat that is being consumed is very important.

From which source?

The body needs a regular intake of essential fatty acids which it cannot produce itself. These come from polyunsaturated oils such as corn, safflower, sunflower, sesame and pumpkin for Omega 6’s and flax, pumpkin and walnut for Omega 3’s. The health benefits of these oils are numerous including the lowering of fat and cholesterol levels in the blood, reducing the risk of cancer, minimizing symptoms of PMS, reducing inflammation and pain in the body and lowering blood pressure.

However, these oils need to be consumed in their cold pressed, unrefined form. Once exposed to heat they oxidize creating free radicals, far better to use a saturated fat for cooking purposes. Safe fats for cooking are coconut oil, sesame oil, ghee and butter.

Olive oil, a monounsaturated oil, is also safe for cookingusingover a medium heat, (no oil should ever be heated to smoking point). Olive oil used in large quantities inthe Mediterranean dietis associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease in these countries. Although not rich in essential fatty acids, olive oil is usually cold pressed and unrefined which is far better for your health than refined vegetable oils.

Saturated fat found in meat and dairy products has always been isolated as a ‘baddie’ linked to high cholesterol and heart disease, however, more recent research shows that it is far more likely that these dangers are attributable to a diet high in trans fat and sugars from processed foods rather than from moderate amounts of saturated fat in the diet. Not only is saturated fat essential for the body, some types of saturated fat actually help to lower blood cholesterol levels, coconut oil being a particularly healthful source.

Which fats should be avoided?

All heated fats (except the heat stable ones mentioned above) and all trans fats. Once an oil has been refined its structure changes so it no longer has the same effect on the body when eaten as when taken in its cold pressed, unrefined form. Polyunsaturated oils become transfats when theyare hydrogenated to turn them into a hard fat. Once an oil has been transformed to a trans fat it becomes harmful to our health. Trans fats block the use of healthy polyunsaturated fats in the body and are of no use nutritionally. These fats are found in many processed foods, highlighting the importance of eating a whole foods diet for health. Another notable fact about the Mediterranean diet is that it tends to be high in fresh fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains and relatively free of refined and processed foods which contain unhealthful fats and sugars.

So how do we ensure we get enough of the right oils in our diet?

By eating a blend of nuts and seeds daily we can ensure our intake of Essential Fatty Acids. For Omega 6 choose frompumpkin, sunflower, sesame, hemp or walnut oils; for Omega 3’s choose from flax, hemp and pumpkin seed oils. One to two tablespoons per day should be adequate, the oil can be used as a dressing or taken directly from the spoon. For those who eat fish, oily fish is an excellent source of Omega 3 oils; salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel are especially rich sources. Two servings of oily fish per week would be beneficial. Another option is to make a blend of freshly ground seeds and take 2-3 heaped tablespoons per day. The ratio should be 1/2 flax and 1/2 equal parts of sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

What about supplementation?

If you find it easier to ensure your essential fatty acid intake by taking supplements, the best sources are a fish or flax seed oil for the Omega 3’s and evening primrose or borage oil (starflower) for the Omega 6’s.

A few helpful tips:

  • Eat a diet rich in whole foods and avoid processed and refined foods and you will automatically avoid deadly trans fats
  • Avoid cooking with oils as far as possible. If you need to cook with a fat choose a saturated fat such as coconut oil or butter. Olive oil can be heated safely to a medium heat.
  • Eat foods rich in essential fatty acids, such as seeds and oily fish
  • Take supplements of fish or flax seed oil for Omega 3 fatty acids and evening primrose or borage oil for Omega 6 fatty acids
  • Ensure your diet contains enough fat, up to 20% of your daily calorie intake.

Claudia is the Wellness Director at Samahita Retreat. Claudia offers support and advice to guests on our detox programs and teaches detox & wellness retreats at Samahita Retreat throughout the year.

References & Resources:

  1. Holford, Patrick ‘The New Optimum Nutrition Bible’ , Hachette Digital 2009
  2. Various articles on topic of fats on www.mercola.com

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