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Long gone are the days when “low-fat” products were all the rage, now you don’t need to go far to hear people recommend that you put butter in your coffee for best results. While we don’t recommend that you ruin your morning cup of Joe, there are many reasons why you should focus on consuming plenty of healthy fats in your diet.

Key takeaways

  • Fat comes in at 9 kCal per gram and is the most calorie-dense macronutrient.
  • Fat is a key energy source and vital for optimal hormonal function.
  • There are three main types of dietary fat: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
  • Most fatty foods contain a mixture of all three and they each have a place in a balanced diet.
  • Saturated fats are found in animal products like meat, egg yolks and dairy fats. While they aren’t “unhealthy”, we want to keep their intake balanced.
  • Aim to get the majority of your fat from monounsaturated fats in meats, olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.
  • Incorporate 1-2 portions of omega-3-rich foods per week.
  • Avoid “trans fats”, found in processed foods, wherever possible.

Know your fats: Good and Bad

There are three main types of dietary fat, which all have different chemical structures and effects on your body: saturated fatty acids (SFAs), monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).

Most fat-rich foods contain a mix of all three but are typically higher in one type, which determines their physical properties. Fat sources proportionately higher in SFAs are solid at room temperature, whereas those higher in unsaturated fats tend to be softer (or liquid).

Saturated Fat (SFA)

Fat sources high in SFAs include animal products like meat, egg yolks and dairy fats. Coconut oil is one of the few plant sources high in SFAs.

SFAs have a bad reputation and some research studies have associated high intakes with an increased risk of heart disease. However, if you exercise regularly, control your calorie intake and include a balance of fats in your diet, the risks are minimal.

Completely removing SFAs from your diet would be very difficult and require extreme dietary changes, that would most likely result in an insufficient protein intake and several micronutrient deficiencies.

Monounsaturated Fat (MUFA)

Fat sources high in MUFAs include various meats, olive oil and the oil in avocados, nuts and seeds. Most health organisations label MUFAs as ‘healthy fats’. Research suggests that they may help lower levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol. MUFAs should make up most of your total fat intake, as sources like nuts and oils are easy to add to your meals.

Polyunsaturated Fat (PUFA)

The two main types of PUFAs are omega-3 and omega-6. Unlike other fats, they are essential nutrients, and you must include them as part of your diet. Most people naturally consume enough omega-6, but it is a lot more common for people to get suboptimal amounts of omega-3.

Research on the positive health effects of omega-3 mostly focuses on two specific types, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are collectively known as fish oils. Fish oils have wide-ranging effects on the body and can help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and several other negative health outcomes.

Most of the beneficial effects of fish oil occur over weeks and months. Therefore, it is better to think of it as a nutritional insurance policy rather than a ‘magic bullet’. Fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel, are the best sources and we recommend including them as protein sources in your meal plan two to three times per week.

Plant sources, such as flaxseed and walnuts, contain a type of omega-3, called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which converts to EPA and DHA in the body. However, the conversion process is not very efficient, and we recommend focusing on marine sources for the greatest benefit.

Fish oil supplements can help simplify your meal planning and are a viable alternative for anyone who does not like the taste of fish. For vegetarians and vegans, there is a range of supplements derived from sources such as algae, which is comparable to seafood in its EPA and DHA content.

For more information on optimal fish oil supplementation dosage, head to the store to read about our Omega-3 Concentrate.

‘Bad Fats’ – Trans Fatty Acids (TFAs)

TFAs are man-made artificial fats, found almost exclusively in processed foods to extend their shelf life. Examples include cakes, biscuits, ready meals and fast foods. TFAs have no associated health benefits, and you should keep your intake to a minimum. Look out for the terms ‘partially hydrogenated’ and ‘trans-fatty acids’ on nutrition labels to spot foods containing them.

When eating a diet based on whole and minimally processed foods, you do not need to worry about consuming too many TFAs. Most companies are reformulating their products to reduce or eliminate TFAs, now that they must declare TFA content on nutrition labels.

Extra Considerations

Fat is the most calorie-dense macronutrient and therefore easy to overeat. We strongly recommend paying close attention to nutrition labels and using digital food scales to measure your serving sizes.

Another common pitfall that many people encounter is failing to measure fats during cooking. The primary use of oils is to prevent sticking during the cooking process. To free up extra calories to use elsewhere in your diet, try cooking with non-stick pans or a minimal amount of low-calorie cooking spray.

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