Dietary fats are more friend than foe, writes Cathal Barry
Nutritionists have preached for years that a low-fat diet is the key to losing weight and preventing health problems. However, more than just the amount of fat, it’s the types of fat you eat that really matter. In fact, good fats – such as omega-3 fatty acids – are essential to physical and emotional health.
A stroll down any grocery aisle will confirm our obsession with low-fat foods. We’re bombarded with supposedly ‘guilt-free’, low-fat options. However, while low-fat alternatives have expanded, so have our waistlines.
Despite widely held misconceptions, fat isn’t always the bad guy in the waistline wars. Saturated and trans fats may be guilty of some of the unhealthy things all fats have been blamed for, but monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, as well as omega-3s often have the opposite effect.
In fact, healthy fats play a huge role in helping you manage your moods, boost brain functionality, fight fatigue, and even control your weight. The answer isn’t cutting out the fat – it’s learning to make healthy choices and to replace certain ‘bad’ fats with ‘good’ ones that promote health and well-being.
Scientific studies show that the body processes certain types of fat very differently. The body does not store the essential fatty acids (EFAs), such as the omega-3 fats found in fish, as fat in the body. The body likes to use these fats to make hormones and build the lipid layer of cells.
The effect is that eating the omega-3 fats will raise energy expenditure, leading you to burn more calories than you would otherwise. Monounsaturated fat that is found in avocado, olive oil and most nuts doesn’t appear to increase body fat levels either.
It should be no surprise that the fat derived from fish is extremely important for a healthy body. The omega-3 fats support body composition because they are incorporated into the outside lipid layer of cells. This improves insulin signalling to the cells, which allows for a better metabolism.
Similarly, avocado, olive oil and tree nuts have all been called ‘anti-obesity’ foods by food scientists. They all provide omega-6 fats, which when eaten in balance with omega-3s, are very good for you.
Now that we have established certain dietary fats are more friend than foe, it is also important to note that fat is more calorific than other food groups.
Fats carry nine calories per gram you consume, so don’t over-do it. Again, it comes back to that fail-safe rule of thumb – everything in moderation.