Since the rise of the "fat-free" diet in the 1950s (based on faulty research), fat has been demonised. Fat-free is still very widely promoted and followed, and is the reason so many of us fear "fatty" foods! Fat is always blamed for poor health, but fat is an important nutrient!
Fat is a macronutrient- as are carbohydrates and protein. We need to consume lots of macronutrients as they provide energy in the diet.
Fat contains the most energy per gram than carbs and protein, so fat fills us up.
Because fat provides more energy, people assume it is bad- many of us think eating fat will make us fat, but that isn't the case. Fat is filling and highly palatable (tasty)- so including fat in our meals is positive because it fuels us and increases our enjoyment of food.
Some fats are essential - essential fatty acids- such as omega 3. Omega-3s are important fats for heart and brain health. ALA (alpha-linoleic acid) is an essential nutrient, meaning the body cannot produce it so we need to get it through our diet. ALA is found in lots of plant products such as rapeseed, flaxseed, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts and green leafy veggies. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are long chain fatty acids. They are made from ALA in the body. However, making them takes a long time, so it is important to get some through diet. The best source of EPA and DHA is fish, with oily fish containing the highest amounts.
When we discuss fat, we tend to separate fats by their chemical structure- saturated and unsaturated fats.
Saturated fats: The chain is saturated with hydrogen and is made of only single bonds. Most sources of saturated fat are from animal products.
Unsaturated fats: The fatty acid chain is not saturated with hydrogen and contains at least 1 double bond. Monounsaturated= 1 double bond, polyunsaturated= >1 double bond. Unsaturated fats are mostly found in plant foods.
You may also have head of trans fats. Small amounts of trans fats occur naturally, but most trans fats are found in manufactured food such as margarine, biscuits and cakes. Trans fats are not great for health, but most of us consume less than the recommended amount already, and food industry is continuing to reduce the amount in processed foods, so no need to worry!
The following diagrams might help you see the differences in structure, and they make it easier to see how similar all types of fats are!
In the diagrams: h=hydrogen c=carbon ----=single bond ==Double bond
Should I eat fat-free?
Fat is a great source of energy.
Some fats are essential for good health.
If you take out fat, you'll need to add something (like sugar) to make food taste good.
Without fat, you might feel more hungry.
Most foods that contain fat are sources of a range of nutrients so cutting out those foods could diminish your nutritional intakes. E.G. avocado is considered high fat, but it is also a good source of fiber, potassium, vitamin B6 and vitamin C.
As I always say, no foods or nutrients are inherently good or bad. They are just food and nutrients. They all have a use and a place in our diets. It is all about variety and eating a range of foods that you enjoy.
Lots of love,
Little O x