Fats - The good, bad and ugly
The key here is balance! I’m sure most of you would have heard of good and bad fats… What does this actually mean and why does it matter? Good fats are also called essential fatty acids. The reason they are called essential, like other essential nutrients is that firstly they are essential for the body to function properly and secondly the body doesn’t make them so we need to be consuming them in the diet.
By good fats, I mean those you find in seafood and natural plant-based oils. There are two main types you probably also heard of being Omega-3 and Omega-6. Whilst they are both essential, they have opposing actions, helping to keep the bodies immune and repair systems working optimally and in balance. These essential fatty acids live in the membranes around all of the cells in our body to help regulate inflammation. The Omega-6 create inflammation and Omega-3 reduces this response, bringing it all back into balance. Typically, when we think of inflammation, we think bad, however inflammation is important to help recruit an immune response against invading bugs and to increase healing factors. The problem really lies when this inflammation continues without a way to bring it back into balance once it has done its job. This is when it can start to compound existing disease and create new ones. So, what is most important is having a good balance of these fats in our diet. Foods high in Omega-6 include nuts, seeds and plant oils, whilst foods high in Omega-3 include any foods from the sea, as well as flaxseed oil and chia seeds. Other healthy fats to include in your diet include olive oil and avocados. While on this topic, olive oil received a bit of bad press about it being bad to cook with, however this has more recently been found due to some imported olive oil being adulterated with cheaper oils. So basically, it’s fine to cook with olive oil and is probably why you should choose it as a preference. There is loads of scientific research about the health benefits of this wonderful oil including for heart disease, arthritis, eczema and other inflammatory conditions.... just ask if you'd like me to send you some! Cold-pressed flaxseed oil on the other hand should not be cooked or heated and is best used in salad. It should also be purchased from and stored in the refrigerator to prevent it from going rancid. It is an amazing oil to use as it is high in omega 3 healthy fats and as a bonus has a pleasant nutty flavour too! Cholesterol is another interesting type of fat in that it is essential for our health. So much so that our body even produces it so it can make our hormones, nerve coverings and is even needed for vitamin D synthesis in our skin. Interestingly, there is loads of research showing fibre to be useful in reducing excessive levels of cholesterol in the blood, whilst high sugar diets and stress cause the body to produce more, irrespective of how much we are eating or not in the diet. So according to the research it seems that sugar dysregulation is more responsible for high cholesterol than fats, especially when the diet is not high in animal food.
Saturated animal type fats are not so bad, as long as they are consumed in balanced amounts with the good fats, so again here it is all about balance. Unfortunately, majority of Western style diets consume way in excess of saturated fats versus unsaturated fats, to the detriment of our long-term health. With today’s medical advances, we might be able to live longer, but often at what quality of life when we have to be medicated to the eyeballs to survive???
For the last and least, trans fats found in processed foods are the ‘Ugly’ and should be avoided. According to the World Health Organisation, these types of fats increase the risk of a whole host of chronic diseases. Foods like margarines, biscuits and other items which seem to be ok sitting around on supermarket shelves for ever, often contain these man-made chemically altered fats.