Tony Ferguson
Health Matters

Healthy lifestyle

Focus on fat


For a long time, we have made fat the bad guy of the food world. We’ve become obsessed with only choosing “low-fat” foods and drinks but, fat is really misunderstood and can be much more beneficial than you think!

Fat is an important part of our diets. It’s essential for our brains, and every cell in our bodies. In fact, there are 4 essential vitamins (A, D, E and K) that can’t be absorbed and used by our bodies without fat. Research has linked a shortage of fat to a range of problems including an increased risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and cancer.

Unlike pure sugar, which is empty calories, most healthy fats are found in foods packed with goodness like fish, avocado, nuts and olives.

What’s Wrong with Fat?

There are 2 main concerns people usually have when it comes to fat.

Fat is a high-calorie food

Fat is higher in calories than the other main macronutrients such as carbohydrates and protein. This means that while one gram of carbohydrate or protein contains 4 calories, one gram of fat contains 9 calories. Because of this, if you’re trying to restrict your calorie intake to lose weight, fat may seem like a bad idea.

However, the truth is that fat is absorbed slowly, so it actually helps you feel fuller faster and for longer. This means that when you eat fat-containing foods, you’re less likely to overeat and you should feel more satisfied after eating – a benefit which should help in the weight loss process.

Fat causes cholesterol and heart disease?

The second concern people have with fat is that it has been linked to cholesterol and heart disease, but research shows that this link may not be as accurate as previously believed.

Not only this, but some of the healthiest nations in the world, with the lowest rates of heart attacks and strokes have the highest fat intakes. Researchers were shocked to discover that this extremely high intake of fat actually led to nearly non-existent rates of heart disease.

What does this all mean?

Our years of hating either fat, sugar or both have brought us to a place of understanding that neither is fully evil, provided you choose the right types. Fat has an essential role in our diets and can be completely healthy; what’s important is the type of fat. To understand the truth about fat, we need to understand different types.

3 types of Fat

Basically, there are 3 types of fat. From “best” to “worst” these are:

  1. Unsaturated (both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) fat
  2. Saturated fat
  3. Trans-fatty acids

Unsaturated Fats

Mostly, healthy fats are all unsaturated in nature, for example, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are both unsaturated fats.

Unsaturated fats are as mobile in your body as they are out of it. This type of fat does not cause any health problems, in contrast, it has many health benefits. A lot of the good that comes from fat comes from unsaturated fats.

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are traditionally believed to promote cholesterol and plaque build-up as they get stuck in your vessels, leading to cardiovascular disease.

While, for certain individuals, this may be true (when consumed in large amounts); the most recent studies are showing that the fat in your veins has less to do with what you eat and more to do with what your liver produces (and that cholesterol may not be that bad after all).

Regardless, while saturated fats are acceptable in moderate amounts, overindulging in large amounts is not good for your health.

Trans-fatty acids

Trans-fatty acids. These fats are the only fats that are truly are bad for you. They are the types of fats found in things such as brick-margarine, take-aways, and non-homemade baked products.

Trans-fatty acids are created when healthy (unsaturated) fats are exposed to stress through heat (for example, during cooking) and processing.

The simple solution therefore is to avoid fats you know are really bad (fast food, brick margarine etc.) and be careful about how you cook with healthy fats.

High temperatures for a long time can make the even the healthiest fats unhealthy, but different unsaturated fats can withstand different levels of stress before becoming classified as trans-fatty acids. One of the reasons olive oil is so good is that it can withstand a lot of stress. More affordable oils, such as sunflower oil are actually very healthy in their original form; but they are less able to withstand stress and sooner give in to pressure becoming bad, for example, when exposed to heat. Fast food is particularly bad as it is a bad fat to begin with (palm oil in most cases); but then the same oil is used over and over again constantly undergoing stress and making it worse.

Fat and Protein

When thinking about fat, it’s also important to consider protein because many of the foods which give us protein are also high in saturated fat.

Protein is an essential component of every diet. At a meal, a good guide to protein portion size is the size of the palm of your hand (not including your fingers). It’s important to know how much of each type of protein you should consume each week. Ideally, you should have fish on 1-2 days per week (as a great source of omega-3 fatty acids), red meat should be limited to 1-2 days per week and at least one day per week should be a vegetarian day (both for your own health as well as for the health of the planet). Chicken can be eaten as often as you choose for the remainder of the week. Shellfish should be limited to once per month. Processed meats are higher in trans-fatty acids, sugar and salt and should only be eaten occasionally.

The “Take-Away”

Fats are a super important part of your diet. You should embrace them rather than avoid them. However, the type of fats you choose and how you choose to consume them are very important. Try and incorporate lots of unsaturated fats (especially omega-3 fats) in your diet while avoiding trans-fatty acids as far as possible. Saturated fats are healthy in moderation, but ideally shouldn’t make up the bulk of the fat in your diet.