When it comes to diets and nutrition plans, the presence of fat has always been a controversial topic. For the longest time, fat was the greatest enemy of all the super-healthy.
In recent years though, fat has had enjoyed a bit of a renaissance, with some research showing that a diet including fat can actually lead to a healthier body. Who is right, and who is wrong? Here are some facts about fat that are important to know.
Fat is literally pure energy. It is twice as calorie dense as the other two main macronutrients our food is made of, ie carbohydrates and protein. This is why there are numerous fad diets that encourage the total elimination of fat. Practically speaking, eliminating fat completely from a diet is both extremely difficult and unsatisfying to the taste buds. When planning and cooking meals, just remember portion control if a third of your meal comprises fat, this means you are taking in just as many calories in fat content as you are with the remainder of your meal. Do you think you have done enough exercise that day to be able to compensate for such an enormous bump up in calories?
Back when all humans were hunter-gatherers, the parts of animals that were fat-laden were always consumed as a priority: the brains and bone marrow were always the first to go. Physiologically, we are hard-wired to crave fat as it can provide us with so much energy for survival, as back then the body didn’t really know when it’s next meal was going to be.
Nowadays, in our society where food is plentiful and ready in an instant, the ‘draw’ of our bodies to consume fat now acts to our detriment we now can eat whenever we want, which basically means that we can keep topping up our fuel reserves without having to rely so heavily on energy-dense, fatty foods.
Fat isn’t all bad news though. There are relatively new diets, such as the Paleo diet, that encourage the responsible consumption of fat, and rightfully so.
Fat is essential for the normal functioning of our body. However, just as there are different types of carbohydrates and proteins, some of which are better for us than others, there are also different types of fats. Let’s have a look at the two types of fat groups that are gaining a lot of media attention recently.
Omega-3 fatty acids
The benefits of adding Omega-3 fatty acids to your diet are insurmountable. With every passing week, more studies show the increased benefits of the healthy consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids and the positive effect they can have on your body.
- Omega-3s increase the absorption rate of vitamins A, D, E and K. Basically, it helps get the most of out of the rest of the food you eat in your diet.
- There has been some evidence to show that mood and memory retention can be improved by increasing your intake of Omega-3s.
- Omega-3s have long been linked to better joint health, especially for those who are active and put a lot of pressure on their bodies.
- Omega-3s can also help initiate some responses within your body that help the synthesis of muscle or the building of the muscle fibre.
- Omega-3s have been shown to help with cholesterol levels and decreased blood pressure.
Where can you find Omega-3s?
The best, most natural source of Omega-3 is fish. Oily fish, such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel, is excellent because it also is very high in protein. Sardines, flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts are also excellent food sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.There are also small amounts in dark green leafy vegetables and sea vegetables such as wakame and nori. Try to get have at least three servings of Omega-3 rich foods within your weekly diet.
Omega-6 fatty acids
Omega-6 fatty acids have had a bad rap as of late. They have been linked with chronic inflammation, heart problems, cancer and arthritis. Usually this coincides with a diet high in processed foods. Omega 6 is widely available through nuts, seeds, avocado, oils (palm, soybean, corn, sunflower) and grain-fed animal products. It is also contained in processed foods such as margarine, cookies, chips, cakes and breads. What we need to be aware of is not overloading our systems with too many Omega-6 fats without balancing it out with Omega-3 fats. It is the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 in your diet that you should be looking out for (3:1). This can affected fairly easily by limiting your processed foods while having a few more regular servings of fish in the week.
Fat also plays an important part in digestion.
There are several key, important nutrients that are found in the food that we eat that can only be absorbed in our bodies if they attach themselves to fat molecules. Basically, you need fat in your diet to be able to get the most out of the healthy food that you are eating. As an added bonus, fat also increases satiety, which basically means that it helps keep you feeling ‘fuller’ for longer. This means that you won’t be reaching for the chocolate bar within 20 minutes of eating your lunch.
Fat is vital to our diet, but keep in mind it is high in calories, so you still need to be mindful about how much of it you consume. Don’t ban it from your diet – just keep your portions under control. Smile, and say cheese.