Nutrition: Fats part two

Friday 04 May 2018

As a follow on from last week I want to continue the theme of fats and clear up more questions that I am regularly asked about them.

A question that always crops up, particularly after I have talked about fats, is whether   

Is it better to use butter or a spread from a tub?
Well you may be able to answer this yourself after last week’s blog. I would recommend butter every time. I know that it contains cholesterol and we are warned about eating too much of this but butter is natural and a fat that our bodies recognise, one that we can naturally assimilate. I think that traditional cold churned butter used sparingly is better than a processed fat in a tub. If you do use a fat from a tub make sure that you read the label and it does not contain any Hydrogenated or Trans fats. The food industry seems to be getting better at this, recognising that there is a demand for non hydrogenated fats from the public.

What about coconut oil?
There also seems to be some confusion about coconut oil whether to use it or not. It is a saturated fat which you may think should be avoided but because  saturated fats are associated with cholesterol. Well as coconut oil is a palm oil not from an animal it does not contain any cholesterol. Another positive is because of its chemical structure is very stable when heated, so an excellent choice for cooking. One tip I have picked up along the way which some of you may want to adopt is to blend coconut oil and olive oil together to get a spreadable consistency and use that on toast etc. rather than butter or a commercial spread. I have not tried it myself but am told that it is very acceptable and of course a healthy alternative.

Essential fats

Now onto the essential fats. I touched on these last week and just to remind you they are called essential because we do not make them ourselves but they are essential for our health

particularly omega 3 which is only found in a limited number of foods and we tend to be quite deficient in this.

A reminder, Omega 3 is found in flax seeds (linseeds), walnuts, pumpkin seeds and their oils also oily fish (herrings, sardines, trout, salmon, sardines, tuna, pilchards, mackerel).

Essential fats are transformed in the body into regulatory compounds known as prostaglandins. These compounds carry out many important tasks in the body.

  • They regulate inflammation, pain and swelling.
  • They play a role in maintaining blood pressure.
  • They regulate heart digestion and kidney function
  • They are involved in blood clotting.
  • They help with transmissions along nerves
  • Are used for the production of steroids and other hormones.

So you can see their immense importance hence the word ‘essential’.

  • Perhaps the most pertinent role is in their control of cell membranes and their structure.
    Cell membranes are made up of mostly fatty acids. Depending on the type of fat present in the diet will determine the health of the cell membrane. High amounts of omega 3 lead to a healthy cell membrane. Any alteration in the cell membrane is the main cause of cell damage or even cell death.. Without healthy membranes the cells lose their ability to hold water, vital nutrients and electrolytes. They also lose their ability to communicate with other cells. Basically they simply do not function properly. This is critical in the development of diseases including cancer. There have been many studies about the positive role of omega 3 and cancer.

One study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology 2012 reported that cancer patients who had a good intake of omega 3 suffered less from fatigue which is due in part to systemic inflammation. His was supported by the U.S National Cancer Institute which is all very interesting.

I would recommend eating oily fish at least 3 times a week. There is nothing simpler than sardines on toast or poached salmon with vegetables or salad. It does not have to be complicated. Or you might like to make my recipe for fish cakes below.

Fishcakes these freeze well and they are really handy for days when you do not feel like cooking.

Approximately 31bs potatoes.
1 small onion finely diced.
6oz frozen sweetcorn.
2 tbsp freshly chopped parsley.
1 ½ lbs salmon fillets
2 bay leaves
3 tbsp sesame seeds
2 eggs beaten

  • Peel the potatoes, cut into even sized chunks and steam or boil until soft.
  • Place the salmon in a large pan and cover with water, add the bay leaves, bring to the boil, reduce heat and poach for 10min. Lift onto a plate and cool.
  • Put finely diced onion, parsley and sweet corn in a large bowl, mash the potato and add to the bowl. Mix well.
  • Break the salmon into large chunks and fold into the potato mixture. Allow it to cool.
  • Preheat oven 180’C/gas 5
  • Put beaten eggs into a shallow dish and the sesame seeds into another shallow dish.
  • Shape the fishcake mixture making them the size that you would like. Place in egg and brush egg over. Lift out and place in seeds and turn to coat
  • Place on a baking tray and bake for 15min depending on the size. The seeds should be golden and crisp. OR place on a baking sheet and freeze uncooked. Can be cooked from frozen but allow 30min.

Seed mix

Another really easy way to include some essential fats in the diet is to make a seed mix. Simply mix roughly equal quantities of pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds in a pot with some walnut pieces and some chopped dried apricots and use as a snack.  This is very satisfying and nutritious. Highly recommended.

Blog originally written by Caroline June 2012

Get cancer support near you

To find your nearest Maggie's centre, enter your postcode or town below.

Sign up for our newsletter

Stay up to date with our news and fundraising by signing up for our newsletter.

Sign up