Guess What? Eating Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat.

healthy eating the non-diet method
Olive oil. Image for the article: Eating Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat.

There’s a lot of confusion about fat in the diet. The idea that a low-fat diet is the healthiest diet for every person has been embedded in Western culture for decades. The diet industry has demonised fats leaving many people concerned that if they include fat in their diet, they will accumulate more fat cells. But the realisty is, the research is conflicting.

If you’re one of the many women concerned about dietary fats, here’s what I think you need to know:

There are four general types of fat:

Saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and trans fats.

Saturated fats are those that are solid at room temperature, examples of foods in this group are: butter, coconut oil, lard and animal fats. These fats have historically been linked with heart disease, but more recently, there has been growing recognition that labeling all saturated dairy fat as ‘bad’ could be misleading.

Monounsaturated fat is liquid at room temperature but solid in the fridge and includes things like olive and avocado oil.

Polyunsaturated fats are liquid at all temperatures and include things like vegetable oil and sunflower oil.

The fats to be mindful of:

Trans-fats are artificial, highly processed oils that can be found in commercially baked and fried foods (e.g. crisps, snacks, margarine and takeaways), these fats are thought to be detrimental to human health. Trans-fats are made from industrially processed vegetable oils. They have similar properties to animal fats like butter, which gives foods a desirable taste and texture, but they're much cheaper and have a longer shelf-life - meaning they are used in lots of processed foods like cakes, pies and pastries.

The Importance of Omega-3 and 6

There are two special types of polyunsaturated fatty acids: Omega-3 and Omega-6. We can’t make these in the body, so we need to get them from our food. Both are crucial to our health but Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and Omega-6 has been found in some studies to aggravate inflammation so it’s wise to make sure you are getting a good amount of Omega-3 in your diet to support the health of your cells and benefit from it's anti-inflammatory proprieties.

You should be aiming to include a good source of Omega-6 and Omega-3 in your diet at a ratio of around 1:1  Currently. it's thought that we are consuming more like 16:1 on the UK diet as a result of the prevalence of Omega-6 in processed foods from sauces to ready meals.

Sources of Omega-3 and Omega-6

Omega-3: Olive oil. Oily fish: mackerel, anchovies, pilchards, salmon. Note: The reason why oily fish are so high in Omega-3 is because they obtain it from their diet of algae and other marine compounds. Vegans and vegetarians can obtain good quality Omega-3 from seaweed products, like samphire, kelp and nori.

A point on Omega-3:

Omega-3 is made up of three elements: AHA, EPA and DHA (they have much bigger names, but I’m keeping this on a ‘need to know’ basis). They each perform different tasks in the body and EPA and DHA are particularly good for brain health (for more info on this lookup Kimberly Wilson*).

Not all food sources of Omega-3 contain EPA and DHA. Specifically, seeds and nuts like: flax, walnuts, chia seeds and other plant sources, only contain AHA. This is why marine sources of Omega-3 are thought to provide the most benefit to health.

Omega-6: Polyunsaturated cooking oils like: vegetable oil, sunflower oil and many seed oils. Margarine and many processed foods, contain almost pure Omega-6.

When it comes to cooking oils, the two I tend to use the most are: olive oil and coconut oil. Olive oil comprises largely a fatty acid called oleic acid which belongs to the omega 9 group and coconut oil I use from time to time for baking and certain other dishes. Generally speaking, having a moderate amount of natural, saturated fat in your diet like: coconut oil, butter and cheeses, is ok for most people who don't have elevated bad cholesterol..

If you're keen to take ownership of your relationship with food through nutrition education and mindset coaching check out The Non-Diet Method

Refs:A healthy approach to dietary fats.

White B. Dietary fatty acids. Am Fam Physician. 2009 and Importance of maintaining a low omega–6/omega–3 ratio for reducing inflammation. James J Di Nicolantonio and James H O’Keefe

*How to Build a Healthy Brain, Kimberly Wilson. 2020 Yellow Kite.