Is fat my friend or foe? Does fat actually make you fat? The questions around fat are some of the biggest (and most preyed on questions) in the health and fitness industry in the last 30 years. To put it simply, no. All of the weight loss problems would not be solved if we just eliminated fat from our diet. In actual fact, we need fats!

We simply could not live without them. They contain 9kcal/ gram which is considerably more units of energy than 4kcal found in our other two macronutrients carbohydrates and protein. However, they have an important role in a healthy diet and should make up about 20% of the energy we consume.

Fats contribute to the production of hormones such as oestrogen and testosterone, which ensures normal menstrual function in women. They also make up the structure for cell membranes, brain tissue, nerve sheaths and bone marrow and they form a cushion which protects your internal organs. Without adequate fats, the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K would not be absorbed correctly, which would leave us with low energy and more prone to disease.

Sometimes you simply just need some fats to help you feel full after a meal!

Adding sources such as peanuts, avocados, full fat milk etc will ensure you will finish the meal feeling satisfied and leave you with less reason to hit the cupboard 20 minutes later looking for more. So yeah, never listen to anybody who says you need to avoid fats!

In saying that, this doesn’t mean we get to eat all the cakes, pastries, cheesy pizzas and battered foods we would often like to.

There are three main types of fats found within food which are determined by their chemical structure:

  • Saturated fats
  • Monounsaturated fats (MUFA’s)
  • Polyunsaturated fats (PUFA’s).


Each of these are made up triglycerides which are a unit of glycerol and 3 fatty acids. Each fatty acid is a chain of carbon and hydrogen atoms with various chemical structures, differentiating them between saturated, MUFA’s and PUFA’s. Read on for more information and discussion around fat and if they are friend or foe.



Fat #1 – Saturated & Trans fatty acids


Saturated fats have no double bond within their carbon chains and are therefore said to be ‘saturated’ with all of their carbon atoms being linked to a single bond to hydrogen atoms.

Fats which contain a large amount of saturates generally come from animal products such as:

  • Cheese
  • Butter
  • Lard
  • Meats.

Processed foods that are made from these fats such as biscuits, cakes and pastries also fall into this bracket. Limiting the amount of saturates in the diet is advised. This is due to long term research consistently finding a link between saturated fat intake and heart disease.

Trans fats, which are produced by hydrogenation perhaps have an even worse effect on the body and should also be limited.

Food sources include:

  • Snack
  • Bakery products
  • Fried foods
  • Takeaway foods

It is thought that trans fats can lower HDL and rise LDL and increase levels of a substance that promotes blood clot formation along with stopping your body using essential fatty acids properly. They also have been shown to have an extremely negative effect on cardiovascular health.

No more than 11% of your total energy should come from saturated fatty acids (butter, coconut oil, battered foods) and less than 2% from trans fats (cake, chips, pizza and doughnuts). These instead should be replaced by the unsaturated fatty acids we will talk about in the next section.



Fat #2 – MUFA’s


The carbon chains of MUFA’s contain one double or unsaturated bond, giving them more hydrogen than polyunsaturated fats. These fatty acids are thought to have the greatest health benefits, with studies having shown that by replacing your saturated and trans fats for monounsaturated fats, total cholesterol in the body can be reduced, in particular LDL cholesterol (the not so beneficial cholesterol). This happens without affecting the beneficial high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. 12% of your total caloric intake is advised to come from MUFA’s.

Rich sources include:

  • Olive oil
  • Rapeseed oil
  • Groundnut oil
  • Hazelnut oil
  • Almond oil
  • Avocados
  • Olives
  • Nuts
  • Seeds



Fat #3 – PUFA’s


PUFA’s have the least hydrogen – the carbon chains contain two or more double bonds. The richest sources include mostly oily fish, nut and seed oils, nuts and seeds. Numerous studies have found that PUFA’s reduce total cholesterol levels. This may sound great however we actually only want to lower LDP cholesterol and not HDL cholesterol as mentioned before. For this reason, limiting your polyunsaturated fat intake to 10% of your total energy intake is recommended.


Essential PUFA’s

A subcategory of PUFA’s called essential PUFA’s cannot be made by your body.

These are grouped into two families:

  • Omega 3’s
  • Omega 6’s

2 portions of fish per week is what is recommended to meet the requirements of omega 3’s. One to be an oily fish source such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines or trout. If an adequate amount of these foods is not part of your daily diet, I would highly recommend considering omega-3 supplementation as, as mentioned, they cannot be produced by the body.

Omega-3’s affect the functioning of many tissues and body systems including the brain, cardiovascular and immune systems, while also work to reduce inflammation. Studies show that those who eat high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids have a reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, arthritis, dementia and depression than those with low intakes.

Omega-6’s are important for the healthy functioning of cell membrane’s and healthy skin. A moderate intake is advised as omega 6’s also lower the beneficial cholesterol along with the non-beneficial.

Food sources include:

  • Vegetable oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Corn oil
  • Spreads
  • Margarine.



In summary


So now hopefully you know not all fats are the same, and realise that you can eat some fats and still be very healthy!

Unsaturated fatty acids are required by the body to adequately function. However saturated and trans fats need to be limited to reduce heart disease risk.

So why not start making the switches today? Switch butter, lard and margarines for sunflower, olive or rapeseed oils or spreads.

Simply choose the lean sources of meat in the supermarket – 0% fat or 5-star mince for example!

Also ensure to cut of visible fats on alternate choices. It’s often as well beneficial to grill, bake, steam or poach foods instead of frying. Reading food labels could also be useful and remember that <3g fat/ 100g is low fat!

Not only will you feel better and look better, but you will be adding years onto your life as well!



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