In recent years, there has been a big change in the way we think about dietary fat. You may have some idea that eating fat might make you fat.
For a long time the thinking around dietary fat has been to limit your intake for a healthy balanced lifestyle. However recent studies are revealing that not all fats are bad for you, and that actually cutting all fat out of your diet may not even be good for you.
So before you throw out your butter or stop eating red meat altogether, you might want to assess the rest of your diet. Eating a balanced diet of carbohydrates, whole foods, fats and protein seems to be the healthier way.
Not all dietary fat is the same.
When nutritionists talk about dietary fat, you need to know that they aren’t all the same. As a general group, we need fatty acids in our diet for our bodies to move. Our bodies create energy from dietary fat, along with carbohydrates and protein so that we can function. The way that the fatty acid molecules are structured determines if they are saturated or unsaturated.
Saturated Fats. Saturated fats are typically the fats that aren’t so good for you. The jury is still out as to which saturated fats are good for you, but they typically come from red meats and processed foods. Dairy products, coconut and palm oil also contain saturated fats.
Polyunsaturated Fats. These include omega-6 and omega-3 fats. The confusion with these fats is that there aren’t many studies that have separated the two fats out.
- Omega-6 Fats. Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats are in vegetables oils such as safflower and sunflower oils. Processed foods are high in omega-6. An excess of omega-6 can create inflammation, clotting and constriction of blood vessels.
- Omega-3 Fats. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats are found in nuts, seeds, leafy green vegetables, algae and oily fish. The longer chain omega-3s that are used straight away, without any processing, are docosahexaeonic acid which you can get from salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines. Omega-3 acids reduce inflammation, blood clotting and improve blood vessel dilation.
Monounsaturated Fats. These are good for a variety of health benefits and you can get them by eating olive oil, macadamia oil, avocado, almonds and peanuts.
The reason why it’s important to understand the different roles of different fats is because most Australian s eat them way out of proportion. The best balance of the omega-6 to omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid ratio is about 2-1:1. This is the reason why so many people are discovering that the Mediterranean diet is so healthy as it is so well balanced in this area. The problem comes when the ratio is out of proportion creating chronic inflammation and poor blood flow. These problems create chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, stroke, mental illness and dementia. In Australia the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is estimated to be 8:1. So in general we don’t just need to exercise well and worry about our calories, we need to eat less omega-6 fats and more omega-3 fats.
Fats versus Carbs
The studies are confusing because it’s hard to separate out all the fats. People who are involved in the study have to be honest about what they eat, and it is almost impossible to trace back the source of the all the foods consumed. For example if your chicken was grain fed or fed on plants that were high in omega-3 how are you to know? Across the globe, however it seems that a balance in our diet is what we need to aim for. There is no point in reducing your saturated fat content for example from red meat, and replacing it with potato chips. You will just lose out on all the added nutrition from the red meat. We also need to understand that not all carbs are the same – an apple will give you loads more nutrition than a bag of potato chips. It’s logic and it’s science. Processed foods just aren’t as healthy for you as fresh whole foods.
An observational study carried out by Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) recorded the eating habits of 135,000 adults in 18 countries — including high-income, medium-income, and low-income nations — and followed the participants’ health for more than seven years on average. Blood samples were taken to analyse for cholesterol and other lipids. Participants who ate more fats than carbs had lower levels of the bad cholesterol lipoprotein and triglycerides, and higher levels of protective good cholesterol. The study isn’t strong enough to prove a cause and effect, however it does show that we need to rebalance out our fat/carb intake. The study showed that highly processed carbohydrates aren’t good for you no matter where you come from. “Cutting back on starch and sugar and adding more fat and more foods from plants, especially bioactive fruits and seeds, is where we should be headed,” said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.
What Should We Eat?
In all the confusion around what is and isn’t good for you, you may be wondering what it is you should actually eat! The take home message is to take a good look at your overall dietary intake to reach a good balance. Take a look at the revised Australian Nutritional guidelines to help you out. “Your diet should consist of healthy carbs, lean protein, and plenty of Bethany O’Dea, cardiothoracic dietitian with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.. Remember to avoid processed snacks that contain trans and saturated fats, and opt for a healthy carb source.”
For personalised advice, make sure you speak to our on-site dietitian or have a chat to one of our personal trainers. Achieving a healthy lifestyle is possible with the right professionals in your corner.