There’s a lot of confusion about fat in the diet. The diet industry has demonised fats leaving many people concerned that if they include fat in their diet, they will accumulate more fat cells.
Given that I talk a lot about the importance of a balanced diet, and that is one that includes fats, I often get asked about it. So, I wanted to share some simple information that might help you to dispel the myth that fats make you fat.
Here’s what I think you need to know:
Essential fatty acids are fat-derived compounds that our bodies need to support many important functions, like the regulation of inflammation and brain health.
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 a great deal of the research linking saturated fat with heart disease has been found to be flawed. Monosaturated 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. Trans fats are artificial, highly processed oils that can be found in commercially baked and fried foods, these fats are largely thought to be detrimental to human health.
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 food sources. Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and Omega-6 is pro-inflammatory, so it’s good to get the ratio right.
In short, we should be aiming to include a good source of Omega-3 and Omega-6 in our diet, at a ratio of around 4:1.
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 look up Kimberly Wilson*).
Not all food sources of Omega-3 contain EPA and DHA. Specifically, seeds and nuts like: flax, walnuts, chia seeds and other sources that are recommended for vegetarians, 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. Margarines and many processed foods, contain almost all Omega-6.
Better sources for balance are things like olive oil, seeds, and butter.
Hopefully, this information will help you to make sense of fats and the importance of including the healthy ones in your diet. Any questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you.
Refs: 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 DiNicolantonio and James H O’Keefe
*How to Build a Healthy Brain, Kimberly Wilson. 2020 Yellow Kite.
If you liked this article, you might be interested in my article on balancing your diet. If you are interested in learning a method for creating simple, dinners that balance nurttion, check out my online courses page for Nutritionally Balanced Dinners Made Simple.