Are You Fatphobic?
The issue of dietary fat is divisive and, for lots of people, confusing. The idea that some fats are healthy is a lot to take in, especially for those who endured the 80s/90s low-fat bullshit extravaganza.
There are many different kinds of fat. I still meet women who proudly tell me that they only buy low-fat and then look at my dismayed face with total confusion. The messages are still disappointingly inconsistent on the message of dietary fat. Google “Is fat good for you?” and you’ll get more than 600 million (differing) answers. Indeed, the inclusion of saturated fats in our diet has recently triggered vociferous debate. When arguments rage about what is healthy, what isn’t and whether, for example, coconut oil is “pure poison” or a “superfood”, it’s no surprise that people are bewildered.
The problem is partly a generation or more of people that were bombarded with the message that fats make us fat. We were sold the line that eating low-fat was the way to lose weight. Really? How’s that workin’ out? You know what does make us fat? Sugar. You know where you’ll find lots of sugar? Low-fat foods.
Fats are not all created equal and there are some that we, as women especially, NEED. They are literally essential. Our bodies cannot make them. You’ve probably heard of the essential fatty acids, like omega 3 and 6. We need omega 3 for hormone production, for our skin, for our nervous system, for fertility, for our mental health… the list goes on.
Fats also help to maintain our blood sugar levels. They are the BFF of the hangry mamma. If your meal or even snack contains a little healthy fat, along with protein, you’ll feel fuller for longer.
Here’s a Fat 101.
This is the fat that causes most dietary consternation. Coconut oil is a saturated fat.* So is butter. Crisps, biscuits and doughnuts all contain saturated fats. Are all these foods created equal? No. Some saturated fats can be incorporated into a healthy diet, but in moderation. Coconut oil, for example, is 90% saturated fat. Two tablespoons of coconut oil provide the 20g of fat the government recommend as your maximum per day. But coconut oil has a different chemical structure to beef dripping, for example. It consists of mainly medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) plus long-chain triglycerides (LCTs). (Stay with me.) MCTs might sound familiar if you’ve heard of Bullet Proof Coffee. They’re considered a good source of energy because of the way they’re broken down by the body and Keto advocates rave about MCT oil (but they don’t suit everyone so please take advice from a BANT nutritional therapist on this one.) Butter or ghee are other examples of saturated fat. Grass-fed versions are preferable to those from grain-fed animals because they contain more of a healthy fat called CLA, and more vitamins too. Also, they’re a source of gut-friendly butyrate but are still best eaten in moderation, as part of a balanced diet. Now, be aware, if you have high cholesterol or a heart problem, the party (government) line is that a diet HIGH in these fats should be avoided. The established advice that all saturated fat is categorically bad for those with heart or cholesterol issues is contested, however, but I won’t wade any further into that nutritional nest of vipers today.
*(Coconut oil deserves a blog all of its very own. Be aware, there are so many different qualities – I recommend opting for one that is raw, organic and extra virgin. The less ‘treated’ it is, the better. And don’t use it every day, or every time you cook. It’s all about balance and moderation.)
2. Monounsaturated. A smashed avo on sourdough has become a middle-class cliché, but that little green fruit is a great example of a monounsaturated fat. Nuts and seeds are also monounsaturated. These are healthy fats.
3. Polyunsaturated – omega 3 and 6. We generally get too much omega 6 in our diet – sources of this tend to be sunflower oil or vegetable oil, including those contained in packaged or processed foods. Some omega 6, including cold-pressed oil (i.e. not heated) is fine but you want to get plenty of omega 3 essential fatty acids into your diet. Omega 3 fatty acids include ALA and its derivatives DHA and EPA. You get these from oily fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, nuts and eggs. Omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory.
4. Trans Fats. AVOID. They’re fats that have been damaged or structurally changed so that they are solid at room temperature. Baked goods contain trans fats; all deep-fried food contains trans fats. They’re bad news for our health. They’re PRO-inflammatory.
My advice? Give up the trans fats and eat some healthy fats each day. Have some with each meal. Mix them up – don’t rely on one source of fat only. Cook with a variety, pour a variety onto salads and for sure, if you have no allergies, eat nuts and seeds. There are lots of ways to incorporate these into your diet, but freshly ground into porridge, smoothies or onto soups or stews just before you eat them works too. Remember high-fat doesn’t necessarily mean unhealthy but always think about how much you’re eating or using. A tablespoon of oil to cook with or pour with is a good guide; a palmful of nuts or seeds a day; oily fish twice a week; an avocado each day if you want it (apparently Victoria Beckham eats 4 a day…).
Look after your fats. Buy the best oil you can afford – single estate extra virgin olive oil or cold-pressed rapeseed oil, for example, and use a little not a lot. Opt for oils in glass bottles and keep them out of direct sunlight or near heat sources. Keep nuts and seeds in the fridge as they can go rancid.
If you’re still confused about what, why and how much – pop your questions in the comments below.