As published in The Daily Express & The Daily Mirror on the 26.02.19
For years, the accepted wisdom was that eating fat was the number one dietary enemy. It was thought that including fat, particularly the saturated variety, in meals made maintaining a healthy weight impossible and that it was a surefire way to compromise health.
The message was spread far and wide that fats were a thing to avoid wherever possible with the connection between consuming fats and that fat in turn clogging arteries seemingly clear cut, and those with cholesterol issues in particular were advised to steer clear.
As a result, anyone looking to either to lose weight or to maintain health would often restrict or entirely cut out fats. Diets instead focussed on calorie intake, with dieticians recommending a daily allowance and, given that fat is high in calories, those who still chose to eat it were only able to consume a restricted amount.
When the Atkins came to be popular in the early noughties, there was a shift. Atkins’s premise was simple: restrict carbohydrates and fill up on fats instead to shed extra pounds. Adopters of the diet noticed that eating fat and protein-rich foods was actually quite filling, and that, yes, weight did seem to drop off.
But there was an issue with the Atkins diet – not only was it unsustainable in the longterm, but many complained that their breath started to smell bad as ketosis kicked in, aka the result of the body burning stored fats rather than glucose for energy.
All fad diets run their course, but once the Atkins has lost its lustre, others relying more heavily on fats emerged to take its place. Today, the ketogenic diet, for example, is popular, while nutritionists are no longer prescribing diets low in calories but rather are more likely to suggest eating foods high in nutrients and focus on a balanced diet.
Stephanie Moore, Nutritional therapist and author of Why Eating Less And Exercising More Makes You Fat, explains why the myth surrounding fat came to be: ‘the belief isn’t based on anything scientific, but rather on something called the Heart Health Hypothesis, which happened in the ‘50s after President Eisenhower found out he had a heart condition and got the big thinkers of the day to look into it. A physiology professor and obesity researcher called Ancel Keys found the data that suggested that all the countries with the lowest heart issues also had diets low in fat – but his findings were deeply flawed and only some of them supported his beliefs. Nonetheless, his theory entered mainstream and that was where the rhetoric that fats make you fat and ill came from.’
Moore goes on: ‘eating fat absolutely doesn’t make us gain fat – and the principles of low fat diets being superior and saturated fats making cholesterol go up are simply not based on scientific evidence.’
So which fats are ‘good’, and which, if any, should you be avoiding? Here’s your guide:
Which fats are ‘good’ fats?
There are three chemical structures of fat: saturated, poly unsaturated, and mono unsaturated. Traditionally, saturated fats were always considered to be ‘bad’, while poly unsaturated or mono unsaturated were encouraged.
In reality, those distinctions are more blurred. ‘No fats in nature are actually any one way,’ explains Moore. ‘Meat and pork fat is largely mono unsaturated, but then so is olive oil, and many people think the former is unhealthy while the latter is healthy. The reality is that that there aren’t any “good” or “bad” fats.’
So which ones should you be loading up your plate with?
Moore encourages choosing based on how fat has been processed, suggesting that you look for something that hasn’t been bleached or homogenised or man-made, ruling out sunflower, rapeseed oils and margarines.
This advice is echoed by Nutritional Therapist Eve Kalinik, who adds that ‘we tend to fall short of omega 3 essential fatty acids which we can’t produce in the body so need to eat. They can be found in oily fish such as wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, organic eggs, and in plant-based sources such as flax and chia seeds. You should try to balance these omega 3-rich foods with fats found in avocados, cold pressed oils, olives, and nuts and seeds.’
Plenty of misinformation surrounds which fats may or may not be good for health when heated.
Kalinik advises opting for fats that are ‘solid at room temperature as they have a higher smoke point which means they don’t produce some of the free radicals that can be generated by heating cold-pressed oils. That said, ALL oils are affected by heat so try not to get too caught up or stressed about this as olive oil, for example, has lots of great benefits – even when it’s heated.’
How much fat should we eat?
Moore’s advice on choosing what to eat is simple: ‘the body doesn’t need carbohydrates – we’re made of enzymes that come from proteins and fats. We only use carbs as a form of energy for the body when it’s available, but we don’t actually need it. We do, however, need essential fatty acids, which come from fats and which we can’t make ourselves, and essential amino acids, which we also can’t make ourselves and which come from protein.’
The focus, she suggests, should be on the balance between fats, proteins, and nutrient and fibre-rich vegetables rather than on precisely how much is eaten, as fats tend to satisfy appetite and make you far less likely to overeat.
Fat for weight loss
The best bit about upping the fat content of your diet if you’re trying to lose weight? You’ll do it without lots of hunger pangs.
‘Fat is incredibly satiating so you are less likely to fill up with additional calories that can impact weight. Plus, fat has a role to play in supporting hormones that help to manage metabolism and weight,’ says Kalinik.
Moore adds that it is the combination between sugar and fat that is addictive and will lead to weight gain: ‘it will leave you hungry and is bad for you, as well as spiking insulin levels.’