The truth about fat: part one

You typically see the average shopper scrutinising the back of packaging reading the handy figures quoted on the nutritional value labels, but focusing on one number more than any other there. I’m sure you know what I’m getting at – the one that’s usually found between carbohydrates and fiber which is…..you guessed correctly FAT. It is true that although we have become more nutritionally aware and increasingly health conscious, but we still view fat in poor light and in poor taste. Developed countries regard fats as foods that should be avoided because of their perceived role in the development of coronary heart disease and obesity.  Fat is a topic that has been too long misunderstood and people are often left feeling quite confused even in today’s society regarding our good friend fat and are quick to condemn it.

Just chewing the fat on this one and over the next few weeks I am hoping I can shine some light on why fat isn’t so bad.

So how and where did fat get its poor reputation from?

Since as long as I can remember fat has always had bad press, so much so that I once believed the hype and would steer clear of it as best I could. The grudge against fat has long been held and it has come from many years of eating a diet rich in various types of fat – good fat (monounsaturated) and bad fats (saturated).  Society began to consume and perhaps overindulge in high quantities of flavorsome and tasty foods which were often rich in saturated fat. Eventually the saturated fats were being consumed far more than good fats at the expense of people’s health as people often grew over-weight, and fitness and health deteriorated. The increased level of Saturated fats will in turn increase the level of bad cholesterol (referred to as Low Density Lipoprotein) in the bloods, which often lead to heart disease, cancer and hypertension due the increased number of clogged arteries. It was because of this association with fatal health problems that fat collectively became stigmatized– both the good and bad fat.

The correct interpretation is that saturated fats are considered to be bad in large quantities, but monounsaturated fats are seen to be good for you in moderation. It’s like having a dozen eggs in a tray, six of them are good and six are just rotten, but the rotten eggs ruin the whole basket. In a way fat can be viewed just the same.

The six good eggs – the good side of fat.

Let’s take a closer look at fat, and get to grips with some of the terminology that will help you to understand fat a little more positively.

Fat or lipids make a significant contribution to adequate nutrition – some of which are important in reducing the risk of heart disease: they are needed for a range of metabolic and physiological processes and to maintain the structure and functional integrity of a cell membrane. Lipids provide insulation; help to manipulate body temperature and physical protection to the internal organs.

Enter lipids

Lipids, including fatty acids, are needed by the body to do various vital functions including the transporting of nutrients or simply contributing to a healthy nervous system. Lipids also help to lubricate the joints. Lipids can help food move through the digestive system more easily also will also bind to certain toxins and escort them out of the body. These kinds of healthy fats that can be found in nuts like almonds or macadamias, in avocados and they have the added benefit of being good for your skin and helping muscular strength and growth.

It’s really the amount of fat and the type of fat that is the problem. The average UK diet is in the form of saturated fats, from foods like dairy and meat.  The rest of Europe eats much more of their fat in the form of unsaturated vegetable fats such as olive oil.  Interestingly the amount of heart disease suffered by people in Europe is a lot lower than in the UK.

Cholesterol

Cholesterol, like fat has been given a bad name but it too has an important role to play in our health and in the functioning of the body – a benefit that needs full appreciation. Cholesterol is a principle sterol of animal tissues and is found in eggs, meat, dairy product and fish. Cholesterol is found in every single cell in our body! It is carried to each cell by something called lipoproteins – a lipid that combined to a protein, as lipids typically do not travel in the blood alone to their desired destination.  There are various lipoproteins that exist but the main two spoken of are the ‘good’ high density lipoproteins (HDL) and the ‘bad’ low density lipoproteins (LDL).

An important role of cholesterol is that it helps in the production of steroid hormones – a steroid that behaves as a hormone and is important in controlling metabolism, sexual characteristics, bone health and immune functions. Cholesterol is also fundamentally significant in digestion as it aids the liver to create bile to better digest fat; if fats go undigested then they can enter the blood stream and cause further complications, blockages and even heart attacks.

LDLs are commonly referred to as the ‘bad’ cholesterol. They are lighter than HDLs and are mainly responsible for carrying cholesterol from the liver to organs and tissues of the body. These particular lipoproteins are a little more unstable because they comprise of less protein and more lipid, which makes them more prone to breaking apart. Since they don’t bring cholesterol back to the liver, LDLS tend to hang around in the blood because they do not take cholesterol back to the live and so they sometimes attach themselves to inflamed vessels. This could eventually cause atherosclerosis, leading to heart disease. It is recommended to keep the levels of LDLs low to maintain good health.

Foods high in LDLs are found in animal food sources or processed meat like marbled meat, beef, lamb, pork, poultry fat, cold cuts, bacon, whole fat milk, butter and most cheeses.

HDL is commonly called the ‘good’ cholesterol. HDL helps keep your blood flowing freely and your arteries open by carrying away LDL cholesterol. HDL are the heaviest of the two lipoproteins and are primarily responsible for carrying cholesterol from various organs and tissues to the liver for recycling or degradation. HDL is associated with heart health because they help to clear excess cholesterol from the blood.

 Foods high in HDL would be nuts, fish, extra virgin olive oil, fiber, dark chocolate, green tea, yogurt, legumes to name but a few.

Next week we’ll be talking about saturated v unsaturated fats and 6 great tips for a healthier balanc