Fats - What Type And How Much?
Nowadays, most of us know that fat is a necessary part of a healthy and balanced diet. Many of us however, still struggle to associate adequate consumption of (plant based) fats with weight maintenance and good health. And if the Mediterranean populations continue to outlive the rest of us, we may have an excuse to eat even more of it!
So let’s start with the basics. We need fat for a few really important physiological processes within the body; cell growth, the absorption of nutrients and the production of hormones.
It’s also a great source of energy - fat is the most energy dense macronutrient which means just a small portion induces satiety or feeling satisfied.
There are two main types of fat in our diet, saturated and unsaturated.
Saturated fats are termed “bad” fats because they increase LDL cholesterol (low density lipoprotein or bad cholesterol) which can result in an increase in overall cholesterol levels and may increase the risk of developing heart disease.
Unsaturated fats are termed “good” fats because they increase HDL cholesterol (high density lipoprotein or good cholesterol). If they replace saturated fats in the diet, they can decrease overall cholesterol levels and may reduce the risk of developing heart disease.
There are two main types of unsaturated fats; monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Polyunsaturated fats can be divided into two groups, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These fats are important for brain function, heart health and reducing inflammation. The ratio between these two fatty acids is really important, and in the western world, most of us consume far more omega-6 than Omega-3. Trans fats are unsaturated fats that have been manipulated to behave like saturated fats in the body. They raise LDL cholesterol and may increase the risk of developing heart disease.
So the recommendations around fat consumption are to consume 2-3 serves of unsaturated fats per day, to increase the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and limit consumption of saturated and trans fats.
Finally, where does coconut oil fit in here? Coconut oil is comprised of mainly saturated fat, 92% in fact. The hype around coconut oil stems from the fact that it behaves differently to other saturated fats in the body. Firstly, it is a medium chain fatty acid, which means it’s broken down and digested quicker than typical long chain fatty acids. And unlike other saturated fats, it increases HDL (good) cholesterol, as well as LDL (bad) cholesterol. So while coconut oil certainly appears to be a “better” option than some other saturated fats, at this point in time there isn’t evidence to suggest it should replace unsaturated fats like extra virgin olive oil.
|Type of Fat||Dietary Example|
|Saturated||Red meat, cream, cheese, coconut products|
|Unsaturated - Monounsaturated||Peanuts, canola oil, avocado|
|Unsaturated - Polyunsaturated - Omega 3||Oily fish, walnuts, flaxseeds|
|Unsaturated - Polyunsaturated - Omega 6||Margarine, soy bean oil, brazil nuts|
|Trans Fats||Cakes, biscuits, some margarines|
Aim to consume 2-3 serves of unsaturated fats per day, to increase the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and limit consumption of saturated and trans fats.
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