Be Fat Smart: your guide to knowing what fats you should and shouldn’t be eating and why they are good for us!
Before we get into the benefits of adding fats into your diet let share some knowledge.
What exactly is fat?
Fat is a rich source of energy made up of essential fatty acids. These fatty acids are broken down into the following classifications, determined by their chemical structure: saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Fats high source of energy means for 1 gram of fat, we are provided with 9kcals. To compare this, for 1 gram of carbohydrate or protein we consume we are provided with just 4 kcals.
Ultimately, it is easier to overeat on fats than it is on carbohydrates or protein. Although is it possible eat too much of both, the way our bodies store this over consumption of energy is the same; it is stored as fat. The reason for this is that our body’s cells have limited stores therefore once full it can no longer create any more energy from that source. The more fat that is deposited, over time leads to serious conditions such as heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.
Know the differences
Known as the “bad fat” saturated fats are known to raise low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) leading to blocked arteries, and restricted blood flow to the brain and heart. This increases risk of stroke and heart disease. There are ongoing debates as to whether there is “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol, but for many years it has been suggested that high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) is good for us. HDL cholesterol is known to take cholesterol from parts of the body where there is too much of it and transport it back to the liver where it is deposited of.
High saturated fats include:
- meat products: sausages, pies, sandwich meats
- fatty cuts of meat
- butter, ghee and lard
- all cheese
- all creams including ice cream
- cakes, biscuits and pastries
- some savoury snacks and chocolate confectionery
- palm oil
- coconut oil and cream
The UK eats minimal levels of trans fats and it is found in low levels in the following foods: animal products, both meat and dairy, and hydrogenated vegetable oil. Supermarkets have taken strong measures to ensure that hydrogenated oils aren’t in their own products however always be sure to check. On average the UK gets just half the required maximum level recommended therefore it is more important to focus on reducing saturated fats. Like saturated fats, trans fats increase LDL cholesterol and the recommended daily intake is just 5% of our daily caloric intake. Eating a plant based diet you will more than likely consume 0% trans fats in your diet.
The fats that we all SHOULD be eating! These are the fats you want to include in your diet and switch out the saturated fats. Unsaturated fats come from plant based foods and this is what makes the body thrive. Eating unsaturated fats and banishing saturated fats will cut your risk of heart disease and stroke, and can even help to lower cholesterol.
Unsaturated fats can be either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.
These fats help to reduce our LDL cholesterol and maintain our HDL cholesterol, thus protecting our hearts.
Monounsaturated fats are found in:
- oils from: olives and rapeseed (including their spreads)
- almonds, brazils and peanuts
Polyunsaturated fats can also help reduce our LDL cholesterol and come in two types: omega 3 and omega 6. The body cannot make all the essential omega 3 and 6 fats and therefor these need to be added into our diets.
- sunflower oil and rapeseed oil
- chia seeds
- oily fish (if you consume fish)
Omega 3 and 6 are extremely important to have in a plant based diet as these are found in the least common foods. If you cook with oil then you will get enough Omega 6 in your diet, however to get sufficient levels of Omega 3 it is important toad flaxseed and chia seeds into your diet, as well as a plant based protein which included Omega 3’s.
Benefits of getting healthy Unsaturated fats in your diets include:
- reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, cardiovascular disease, cancers and more
- increased satiety levels meaning you will be full and satisfied and not reach for unhealthy foods instead
- provides us with energy
- provides us with essential fatty acids for growth, healthy skin, vitamin-absorption
- regulates of bodily functions
To summarise, eating fats is an essential part of our diets. When we choose correctly we are able to lower our cholesterol levels and thrive off the fat that we eat. Making the swap from saturated to unsaturated fats can reduce your risk of serious health conditions and it doesn’t include cutting out fat from your diet completely. You can still enjoy good, healthy plant based foods but like most tings this still needs to be done in moderation. Our body only has limited energy stores so no matter where the food is coming from, if we eat too much of it it gets deposited as fat.
Your meals should consist of mostly fruits, vegetables and complex carbohydrates. A small addition of fats should be added to each meal to help you feel satisfied and full.
- nut butter into your porridge
- avocado into your pasta or onto toast
- tahini onto your toast or pasta sources
- flaxseeds into your smoothie
- chia seeds onto salads, oats, smoothies
- some squares of rich dark chocolate as a treat
- coconut milk into your curries
- nut butters with dates
The key is to not be afraid to add fat into your diet because it can be so beneficial for us when done correctly. Have small amounts and enjoy it. Food is for enjoyment as well as keeping us healthy and thriving so always keep that in mind.