For years now, we have been told that eating fats is not good for our health, and that we should be reducing our fat intake in food. In more recent times, research is evolving to show that fat is not the main concern and has been unfairly villainised.
Firstly, it is important to recognise that consuming a balanced diet rich in a wide range of wholesome food sources is much more beneficial for overall health than focusing on the intake of one particular nutrient.
Fat is essential for our body to function properly. There are a number of different types of fats, all of which have different functions in the body – some valuable and others detrimental to our health.
Foods contain a variety of the different fats but often one type will predominate. In this article we will explore “healthy fats” and what foods are good sources of these. Ideally, you want to be consuming fats that come from natural, whole foods. The term ‘healthy fat’ generally refers to two types of fat known as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Monounsaturated fat provides a number of heart health benefits and incredible anti-inflammatory effects. Polyunsaturated fats also have similar benefits. There are two well known polyunsaturated fats that are essential to life, yet cannot be made in the body and must therefore be obtained from our diet.
These are known as:
- Omega-6 fatty acids, found in seeds, nuts, some animal proteins and vegetable oils.
- Omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish, nuts, free range eggs, grass fed meat amongst other sources.
There is reason to believe that the ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 should be at an optimal ratio to receive the full benefits from these fats. Currently, due to the western diet, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is often too high due to excessive intakes of refined vegetable oils.
Too much omega-6 can lead to inflammation. It is therefore important to reduce intake of refined vegetable oils, such as sunflower and corn oil, and ensure adequate consumption of omega-3. If you are eating your omega-6 sources of fat from seeds, nuts and animal proteins you won’t need to be concerned with reducing consumption, only vegetable oils and processed food products are a concern. In addition to this, it is important to get your omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids from natural sources, as mentioned above.
Saturated fat is another commonly known fat source, which was previously thought to be a ‘bad’ fat. However, recent research has reported no significant associations between saturated fat intake and risk of coronary heart disease, stroke or cardiovascular disease in general. However, it is important to choose natural sources of saturated fat like butter, animal proteins and coconuts, rather than highly processed sources like chocolate bars and cakes.
Let’s explore some healthy fat food sources:
Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines are good sources of polyunsaturated fatty acids (Omega-3 Fatty acids). As well as this, they are also a good source of protein, Vitamin B12 and fat soluble vitamins such as Vitamin D.
Omega-3 fatty acids, as previously mentioned, have been shown to offer huge health benefits when it comes to improvements in conditions such as cardiovascular disease, arthritis, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
Oily fish contains a number of the omega-3 fatty acids known as Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – possibly the most beneficial omega-3 fatty acid in addition to Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These fatty acids are necessary for our brains and bodies to function optimally.
To meet your omega-3 requirements it is recommended to consume at least 2 portions of fish per week, one of which being oily.
Nuts and nut butters
Let’s go nuts for these nibbles. A popular and convenient snack or topping, not only are nuts and nut butters a good source of omega-3 and monounsaturated fat, they are a great supply of micronutrients, protein and fibre too! Each type of nut will vary in their proportions of fats, yet all provide great value to your health. For example:
- Walnuts – these are very high in omega-3 fatty acids
- Almonds – a source of Vitamin E, a natural antioxidant that helps to promote skin health.
- Cashews – a much loved protein source which will help keep you feeling fuller for longer
Why not add 30g chopped nuts to your salads or porridge for an extra boost of nutrition, or take a small handful of nuts to work as an easy on-the-go nutritious snack. A sweet alternative could be adding nut butter to a sliced apple or banana.
Next on the list are seeds. Similarly to nuts, small seeds are bursting with an array of nutritional benefits, they are a good source of fibre and protein as well as healthy fats. Try out these below:
- Pumpkin Seeds: these can be added to soups and salads for that extra crunch and boost of omega-3 and 6 fatty acids.
- Flaxseed (also known as Linseed): a great source of omega-3. It’s important to note that flaxseeds are enclosed by an outer shell, and our bodies cannot digest this efficiently. Therefore, a useful tip is to grind flaxseed down if you haven’t bought already ground packets from the supermarket!
- Chia Seeds: Similar to flaxseed, chia seeds contain a large number of fatty acid called Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which our bodies can convert into other omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds can be added to cereal, salads, and used to make puddings.
Olive oil and olives
A traditional Mediterranean staple, olives and olive oil have been shown to offer vital health benefits. Studies show that olives contain fats and antioxidants that can help reduce inflammation and the effects of metabolic syndrome.
Olive oil is pressed from olives, however some lower quality versions can be extracted using chemicals, or even diluted with other cheaper oils. Consequently, extra virgin olive oil is best to use because it is extracted using natural methods and no chemicals are used or heat applied during processing.
During cooking, some fats can oxidise – they react with oxygen and become damaged. However, this tends to be the fats found in refined vegetable oils. Olive oil is 73% monounsaturated fat and 14% saturated fat and is fairly resistant to high heat – therefore, do not be afraid to cook with this oil or use it as a salad dressing.
And lastly don’t forget, a favourite for many, avocados. This nutty and creamy fruit is another food that is high in monounsaturated fat and can be used in a variety of recipes. Roughly, half an avocado (80g) will count toward 1 of your 5 a day – why not add a couple of slices to a salad or mash it up and make a healthy guacamole dip.
So why are these foods good for weight loss? They’re fat!
Fat has previously been demonised to be harmful for our bodies, however hopefully after reading this you have more understanding as to why some fats are actually valuable to health and very crucial to include within our diets.
They will help us to feel fuller for longer and slow down gastric emptying. As long as you are mindful with portion sizes, healthy fat foods can be enjoyed when following a weight management programme – find out more about dietary fats and how to lose weight well with the Second Nature programme.