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Fat Basics | What You Need To Know

Once upon a time, the typical Western diet looked very different to how it does now. Meat and vegetables cooked in lard and dripping were the staple, according to my grandparents. Rice and pasta were foreign foods that only the very wealthy enjoyed. This diet was rich in fat.

But one day, Ancel Keys started to play with his brand new gadget; the cholesterol monitor. His observations lead to a shocking hypothesis; fat causes heart disease. He eventually completed his study known as the Five Country Study, which confirmed what we’d all feared; saturated fat DID cause heart disease. The grease from your food was clogging up your arteries and if you wanted to avoid dying you needed to remove fat and replace it with carbohydrates.

Over half a century later, government guidelines are still based on Ancel’s findings. This is despite a wealth of analytics that has completely discredited the study, and a mass of research that has disproved the theory.

Fat has been demonised, but what we know now is that eating fat doesn’t make you fat. In fact, fat is an extremely important part of the diet AND many of the alternatives you have used to in place of fat have been extremely detrimental to your health. The types of fat that you thought were healthy, aren’t, and the types you’ve been avoiding your whole life are essential.


Fat 101

It’s super important to understand that there are different types of fat, and that these fats behave in different ways in the body.

Saturated Fat

The words ‘saturated fat’ bring to mind things like animal fat, lard, dripping and butter, but saturated fats are found in some plants too; coconut oil and cocoa butter are the key plant sources.

Saturated fats have had a seriously bad press for decades, however, the tide is turning as more and more research studies debunk the association between saturated fat intake and chronic illnesses.

Your body uses saturated fat to make good (HDL) cholesterol, which is essential for the balanced production of sex hormones such as oestrogen, testosterone and progesterone, the stress hormone cortisol and thyroid hormones.

We also love saturated fats because:

  • They have a high smoke point. This means that you can heat them to really high temperatures before they are damaged. Damaged fats are incredibly detrimental to health. This makes saturated fats perfect for high temperature cooking.
  • Fat is where the vitamins A, D, E and K are stored. This means that fat from a healthy animal is a rich source of vitamins.

We recommend organic (and ideally grass-fed and free-range) meats, lard, butter and ghee, and coconut oil and cocoa butter. We recommend organic because fat is where pesticides and hormones are stored too and you really don’t want to be loading up on those!

Related Article: Do We Really Need To Eat Organic?

Monounsaturated Fats (MUFAs)

These include omega 7 and 9. Omega 7 is a much lesser known about fat and it’s found in tiny amounts in some nuts such as macadamias. Omega 9 is found in olives, avocados, nuts and their oils. MUFAs feature heavily in the Mediterranean diet and have been found to be very beneficial for heart health.

MUFAs are also found in some vegetable oils, but vegetables oils are also a significant source of omega 6 fats and you’ll read below why that’s not such a good thing.

MUFAs are best for low temperature cooking and dressings, as they are prone to becoming damaged at high temperatures.

Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs)

These include omega 3 and omega 6. These are essential fatty acids and have many vital roles in the body. It is important for these two fats to be in balance. Due to the large amount of omega 6 in grains in the typical Western diet and also in the diets of the animals that we eat, we get A LOT of omega 6 and far from enough omega 3. When these two fatty acids are out of balance the body becomes an inflammatory environment.

It’s important to realise that omega 6 fats are not inherently bad. In fact, many women find supplementing evening primrose oil and star-flower oil helpful for balancing hormones. This, however, is not helpful when there is a lack of omega 3 and excess of omega 6.

The quality of fats is hugely important. PUFAs are prone to become rancid, and easily become damaged even with low temperature cooking.

Never cook with omega 3 oils, such as hemp and flaxseed oil. Omega 6 based oils such as rapeseed, sunflower and vegetable oil are heavy processed and therefore are less prone to damage and rancidity, however, it’s these processed fats that are thought to be so detrimental to health.

Limit: grains, vegetables oils, poor quality meats and farmed fish.

Enjoy more: Oily fish, grass-fed meats, omega 3 enriched eggs and ground flaxseeds/ linseeds, hemp seeds and hemp and flaxseed oils.

Trans fats

These are definitely bad. Trans fats are created when polyunsaturated fats are exposed to very high temperatures. They are found in margarine, hydrogenated oils, and processed foods.

These are bad for you because they are essentially ‘man-made’ and your body has difficulty eliminating them. Every cell in your body is made up of fatty acids. Fat like omega 3 makes the cell walls more squishy (which is a good thing), whereas trans fats make the cell walls rigid and inflexible, inhibiting their communication with surrounding cells.

Trans fats have been shown to cause obesity and diabetes in lab rats.

Related Video: Getting Your Head Around Eating More Fat

Conclusion

Your body needs saturated fats as they are used to make cholesterol, which goes on to become our sex, thyroid and stress hormones. Try to buy organic, grass-fed and free-range meat. Use this types of fat to cook with.

Your body also needs unsaturated fats as they help to protect your heart and to keep inflammation at bay. Reduce grains to lower omega 6 intake and replace with fresh vegetables! Swap vegetable oils for coconut oil and olive oil. Have lots of wild oily fish and, flax, pumpkin and hemp seeds to increase omega 3 intake.

Avoid Trans fats completely.

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