​Nutrition Back to Basics step 2: Fat in the diet

Tuesday 08 May 2018

Following on from last week to with Back Basics…..Once you have the vegetable and fruit habit established or well on the way the next step that I think that you should look at is the type of fat in the diet .We can call this Step 2.

When I was thinking about this blog for some reason the nursery rhyme Jack Sprat and his wife came into my mind. Jack who would eat not fat and his wife who would eat no lean. I am afraid that both Jack and his wife have got it badly wrong. Some fat in the diet is absolutely essential and advisable BUT it has to be the right sort of fat.

I previously wrote  a blog where you can read in detail about fats in the diet, which ones are best to cook with or use cold on salads etc. and you will see that some fats are Essential and some fats are best to keep to a minimum. The blog also explains which is which.          

What are essential fats? The types of fats that are ‘Essential’, are called ‘Essential’, for 2 main reasons:

  • We cannot make them ourselves so it is essential that we get them from the food that we eat.
  • They are called essential because of the important roles they play in the body. Roles that cannot be substituted by any other nutrients.

Why should essential fats be included in our diets?

These essential fats have many important functions to perform in our bodies and this is why they should be included as part of a healthy diet, here are the main ones which shows the importance that they have in our diets:

  • They support healthy cell structure. The cell membranes are made up mostly of Essential fatty acids, too little will encourage the cell membranes to become hard and rigid.
  • Omega 3 appears to help stop the spread of cancer cells, probably by binding to the cell membranes to protect the healthy cells and inhibit cancer cells. Chris Woollams in his book ‘Everything you need to know to help you beat cancer’, records trials under lab conditions showing that by using fish oils there was a reduction in spread of cancer by 60%.
  • The main essential oil, Omega 3 oil have been shown in research, to aid recovery from fatigue. This is important because fatigue is one of the main lingering side effects of treatment.
  • All fats, regardless of the type, supply a good source of energy and calories. Fats contain 9 kilocaloris per grm as opposed to carbohydrates and proteins that contain approximately 4 kilocals per grm. This can be important for those who need to increase their calorie load to maintain or gain weight. But it is worth noting that even if you want to lose some weight the omega 3 fats must be included in the diet simply because of the essential roles that they have.
  • A big area of interest is that these essential fats have been shown to be anti- inflammatory and they may help with pain and swelling. This is because they have the ability to block things called prostaglandins series 2 which are substances that come from saturated fat and can cause inflammation.
  • They play a role in maintaining a healthy blood pressure.
  • They are necessary for the transmission of neurotransmitters which are basically chemical, messengers in the brain which determine how we think and feel.  For example serotonin is involved in mood, or adrenalin which gives us motivation or acetylcholine which is vital for good memory to name a few. Low levels of neurotransmitters can lead to low mood and poor mental clarity. Many people ask me about ‘Chemo brain’, where they experience memory loss, difficulty thinking straight and general mental fogginess. Omega 3 may help with this.

So which are the essential fats?
As I have already mentioned it is mainly the Omega 3 group of fats. This is the group of fats we tend to be very deficient in because they are found in so few foods. We also need the essential omega 6 group and the essential omega 9 group but these two are generally found in abundance in the normal British diet. So I like to concentrate on the omega 3 fats.

They are found in the following foods;
Oily types of fish (the best source) like salmon, sardines (I did a blog on sardines on 17th Sept.), tuna, trout, mackerel and herrings.

Also walnuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds and flax seeds and the oils and butters that are made from these. We can also get some from egg yolks if the chickens have been fed a diet rich in omega 3. It should say so on the egg box.

So Jack would be advised to change his ways and try and include some of these foods on a regular basis! And his wife should be more discerning about the types of fats that she chooses to eat!!!!!

Which are the fats we should limit in our diet?
Apart from looking at the good fats, It is equally as important to look at the fats that we should try and keep to a minimum and why. Again this was covered in detail in my original blog but I think it is worth briefly visiting this again.

Basically it is the fats that are found in processed, convenience and fried foods. These fats are commonly known as ‘Trans fats’ or ‘Hydrogenated fats’. Two phrases that you may be familiar with.

Any heat that is applied to a fat through processing of any sort will destroy its natural structure of the fat and turn it into a Trans fat. This will make the fat very difficult for us to digest and use, simply because it is no longer natural and not recognised by the enzyme systems of the body. This can cause damage to our cells, particularly the DNA of the cell. Compounds called Free Radicals can develop as a result which can cause havoc within the cell.

Crude oil is imported by the food industry, bleached and deodorized and then it has hydrogen added to it artificially by a chemical process. The more hydrogen that Is added the harder the oil becomes, This process is cleverly controlled to make the crude oil into fats and spreads that are spreadable from the fridge. This is the process of Hydrogenation.

Apart from the Trans and Hydrogenated fats the other fats to try and limit are the saturated fats that we associate with animal foods like the fat on meat or skin on chicken, cream, full fat milk and cheese etc. These fats are high in cholesterol and as we know, although cholesterol is essential too much can cause health problems particularly for the circulatory system and the heart.


A note about coconut oil

I want to add a little word about coconut oil. It is an exception to the rule because it is a saturated fat but because it comes from a plant not an animal it has no cholesterol and is therefore the oil of choice for cooking.

One question that is important to clear up and one that I am frequently asked is.

‘What do I use to spread on my bread and toast?, Well, my answer to this is butter but butter that has been traditionally made with cold churning methods i.e. no heat has been applied in its manufacture. It will say whether the butter is cold churned when made or not on the packet. I do believe that Yeo Valley and Rachel’s butters are made this way. I know that we associate butter with animal fat and yes it does contain cholesterol but if it is used in moderation it is better than fats from tubs as the fat in tubs will have been processed to get it in the tub. Butter is a natural, not a processed food. However if you do choose to use a tub spread then read the label to make sure that it does not contain Trans or Hydrogenated fats.

I hope that this is clear and helps you understand the differences and importance of some fats and not others. Next week we will turn this understanding into practical solutions.

posted on 29th may 2012  fat in the diet blog link

Blog originally written by Caroline March 2014

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