Is eating fat bad for you? Will fat make you fat?
The simple answer is ‘no’ (it’s TOO MANY CALORIES that make you fat!!) .. but if you want to find out more about fat, and in particular what types of fat you SHOULD be eating then check out my new video & blog post below.
- We used to think that fat, in particular saturated fat, should be avoided.. we were wrong!
In the 1960’s it was concluded that saturated fat, rather than total fat intake was associated with heart disease .. but association does not mean causation and years later it was actually found that sugar intake was more strongly associated with heart disease (think biscuits, cakes, sweets etc).
In the mean-time though National Guidelines (perhaps wrongly) encouraged the reduction of TOTAL fats to no more than 30% of total energy intake. This guidance was simplified and twisted and eventually all fats were seen as bad.. with the advice to cut it out if you wanted to improve your health or lose some weight.
Manufacturers jumped on the ‘fat is bad’ bandwagon and produced lots of foods marketed as ‘low fat’ and ‘fat free’ but to keep them tasting half decent added SUGAR! More and more processed foods including ready meals loaded with salt entered the supermarkets where convenience was seen as the most important thing to do with food.
- So is (saturated) fat good for us then?
Saturated fat (found in animal products such as meat, butter, eggs and milk) appears to be cardiovascular (heart) disease risk neutral. The problem has been that when you tell people to cut down on saturated fat (found in whole/natural foods) they naturally seek other food alternatives – which in our societies’ case seems to have been foods rich in carbohydrates and sugar. So it’s not our saturated fat intake that we should be worrying about.. it’s the overall quality of our diet; is it based on mainly naturally, whole foods such as meat, fish, whole grains, fruit, vegetables and legumes or is it loaded with so called ‘junk’ or heavily processed foods such as takeaways, sweets, biscuits etc.. I’m sure that you can work out which is better for us!
The Mediterranean Diet is still promoted as one of the most cardio-protective diets and is based around olive oil, oily fish, whole grains, fruits and vegetables (this diet mainly contains unsaturated as opposed to saturated fat – just because saturated fat is cardiovascular disease risk neutral DOESN’T mean we should go crazy and start eating copious amounts of it – excess calories from any food can still cause weight gain which is not good for our overall health.
There is currently a lack of evidence for promoting definitive ratios that we should be eating of monounsaturated to saturated or omega 3 to omega 6 (polyunsaturated fats) and although some people will benefit from reducing the amount saturated fat in their diet, this is only if they simultaneously increase foods high in unsaturated fats.
- Overall health
Reducing the risk of disease, in particular cardiovascular disease, cannot be attributed to one nutrient alone. We need to be promoting food based, not nutrient based dietary advice for disease prevention. Focussing too heavily on the role of fat has led us away from looking at other risk factors, such as refined carbs, trans fats (see below) and processed/convenience food intake and potentially reduced the whole/natural food content of peoples diets. We forgot that fat was essential for a healthy diet!
- TRANS FAT – THE EVIL ONE
Ok, so although I said at the start that eating fat WASN’T bad for you, there IS one exception to the rule.. and that’s eating TRANS FATS. Artificial trans fats are formed when oil goes through a process called hydrogenation, which makes the oil more solid (known as hardening). Luckily in the UK the levels of trans fats found in foods are pretty low. To reduce your intake of trans fats though you should avoid products that list partially hydrogenated fat or oil on the ingredients list, try to eat fewer biscuits, cakes and pastries and reduce your intake of fried foods and fast-food/takeaways (this isn’t rocket science/new information I know!!).
- So what should I be eating?
Aim to get most of your dietary fat from unsaturated foods such as Olive Oil (Extra Virgin), Olives, Unrefined Vegetable Oils, Nuts, Seeds, Avocados, Oily fish and Vegetable & Olive oil based spreads.
Aim to get some of your dietary fat from saturated foods such as Animal fat, Butter, Lard, Ghee, Unrefined Coconut Oil, Coconut, Cheese, Eggs and Milk.
Aim to reduce your dietary fat intake from processed/trans fats such as Hydrogenated vegetable oils, Cream substitutes, Sausages & Burgers, Cured/Breaded Meats, Cakes and Muffins, Crisps, Doughnuts, Pies and Pasties, Biscuits, Fried food, Ready meals and Fast food/Take-Aways.
- A Word on Cholesterol
It was once thought that is was the amount of total cholesterol in our bodies or the amount of so called ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) that was the primary indictor for heart disease risk. What now is apparent though, is that it may actually be the type of LDL in our bodies that matters more (or at least, how it is carried): Cholesterol is essential for our health and it is carried on LDL particles to our cells, HDL particles then carry any excess cholesterol away and back to the liver.
There are two different types of LDL particles – small dense ones, and large fluffy ones, and it seems that it’s the small dense ones (and lots of them) that can cause the build of plaque in our blood vessels. We can’t test to see if we have small and dense or large and fluffy particles, but what we do know is that having high triglyceride (Tg) levels and low HDL levels can be detrimental to health (and this profile corresponds to having a small dense LDL cholesterol profile).
In order to decrease high Tg levels we should cut down on refined (processed) carbohydrates and sugars (including excessive amounts of fruit juice) and in order to increase our HDL cholesterol we should exercise regularly, consume oily fish and soluble fibre such as fruits and vegetables (i.e. eat healthily and exercise!!).
Base your diet around whole foods, foods which which are as close to their natural state as possible, such as whole-grains, legumes, nuts, white meat and fish, fruits and vegetables, vegetable based fats and pure saturated fats… and cut down on the processed stuff that you already know isn’t good for you (aka the Mediterranean Diet).
I’m personally loving a drizzle of Udo’s Choice Ultimate Blend Oil on my salads at the moment and then cook with 100% rapeseed oil (for roasting veggies and stir-frys etc). I promote the 80/20 rule where no food is band and it’s still true that no food in moderation is ‘bad’ for you – it’s the overall makeup of our diets that we should be concerned with.
I really hope this blog post has helped to clear up some confusion!!
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