For years doctors, nutritionists and the media have taught the world that eating low-fat food is the way to live long and healthy. Unfortunately, it is never that easy. Fat is not always bad for the human body. In fact, it can be pretty healthy! Hard to believe?
To understand what you actually should be eating, we first have to clarify some basics. There are actually two types of fat: the horrible, dangerous, yet so delicious one and the healthy, good one. Bad fats can be categorised into so called saturated fats and trans fats. They increase cholesterol and your risk for certain diseases, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and sleep apnoea – no need to mention obesity. Good fats, on the other hand, support your body instead of straining it, protecting the heart and controlling cholesterol, blood pressure and overall health. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are know as the good fats.
Oh-oh: Saturated fats are naturally found in animal products, however, they can be added to other foods, making them healthy. Trans fats are found in baked goods such as pies, cakes, biscuits, pastries, buns, donuts… in everything that is delicious and sticky, really. This kind of fat tends to be solid at room temperature – think of butter or traditional stick margarine.
Both saturated and trans fats increase levels of Low-Density Lipoprotein (often referred to as the “bad cholesterol”, as it can transport its contents of fat cells into artery walls) in the bloodstream.
Generally it is advisable to reduce your intake of saturated and trans fat. When shopping groceries opt for reduced-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese, and leaner meat cuts. However, often “fat-free” or “low-fat” products are actually full of sugar, refined cargo-hydrates and calories, which are equally unhealthy. The keyword is choice – meaning, trying to substitute bad fats with good fats.
Yay: Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are found in foods such as avocados, almonds, cashews, peanuts and cooking oils made from e.g. seeds, such as sunflower, canola, soybean, olive, sesame and peanut oils. As opposed to fixed-form bad fats, good fats tend to be in a liquid state.
Both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats assist in lowering LDL levels in the blood stream, helping to keep cholesterol levels on track. Where possible, replace foods and drinks high in saturated fat with either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated alternatives. For example:
- replace butter with olive oil or margarine
- replace potato chips or chocolate with plain nuts as a healthier snack alternative
- replace fried fast food with a sandwich or wrap made with lean meat and salad
- instead of frying, try to bake or grill
- replace red meat with poultry, fish and shellfish
NOTE ON OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
Fish and shellfish have a high level of unsaturated, rich Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fats are one type of polyunsaturated fats and so ridiculously healthy, that it is recommended to eat foods containing them at least twice a week. Research has shown that they have a significant impact on the physical and mental state of the human body, as they are highly concentrated in the brain. They:
- prevent and reduce the symptoms of depression
- protect against memory loss and dementia
- support memory, conflict-solving abilities and emotional health
- battle fatigue and help with bipolar disorder and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer
- ease arthritis, joint pain, and inflammatory skin conditions
- support a healthy pregnancy