Fat is there to provide you with energy, with 1 gm of fat (whatever the type) providing 9kcal. With the same calorie content regardless of the fat type, all sources should therefore be taken by you in moderation. However, some types of fat can be very good for you, while others really do very little, other than contributing to a bursting belly line and potentially conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
If you’re all about eating clean and living healthy and lean, then knowing what fats you should be consuming and cooking with is essential.
Too much saturated fats leads to an increase in cholesterol levels in your blood. There is bad cholesterol (LDL) and good cholesterol (HDL, which actually removes bad cholesterol from the body and transports it to your liver for removal from your system). Bad cholesterol can build up in blood vessels causing them to narrow and this in turn can lead to heart disease and other complications.
Food sources generally contain a mix of fat types, however, there are those with a higher proportion of saturated fats and it is these that you should avoid. What are these fatty no-goes? Fatty cuts of meat, full-fat dairy products (particularly cheese and cream) and many processed foods (including processed meats) should be crossed off your list (or at least limited). Avoid cooking in butter or lard and go for the alternatives listed below.
Now, as with a lot of things when it comes to your diet, there can seem to be contradictions. Not all saturated fat sources may be unhealthy, and some may even be of benefit. With coconut oil being an example. However, as desiccated coconut oil is incredibly rich in saturated fat, this should still be used in moderation and only a little need be used when cooking up those beautifully tasting dishes.
Trans fats occur naturally in small levels in meat and dairy products. Much higher amounts are created in the production of hydrogenated vegetable oils (foods made with these oils have a longer shelf life as partially hydrogenated oil takes longer to spoil). These trans fats have an even worse impact on your blood cholesterol than saturates. But wait, there’s more! Not only do trans fats raise your bad, LDL cholesterol levels but at the same time they reduce your good HDL cholesterol. Whatever you do, do not (!) substitute your saturated fats such as butter with trans fats like margarine. Trans fats are also found in high levels in many snack foods (potato and tortilla chips, microwave popcorn), packaged baked goods (cookies, pie crusts, cakes), fried foods (French fries, doughnuts) and non-diary coffee creamers. Some restaurants and take-away joints use partially hydrogenated oils in their deep fryers (as it doesn’t need to be changed so often).
Now we turn to unsaturated fats. These contain higher levels of unsaturated fatty acids and are more often liquid at room temperature. These include monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats which assist in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels as they are high in good HDL cholesterol which aids in lowering bad LDL cholesterol levels. They are found in vegetable oils such as sunflower, rape seed and olive oils and also avocados, nuts and seeds. In addition, polyunsaturated fats will provide you with essential fatty acids, including omega-3. Omega-3 is a polyunsaturated fat which contributes to a healthy heart through preventing blood clots and regulating your heart’s rhythm. Oily fish are packed with omega-3, and you will find this in high levels in salmon, mackerel, sardines and also pilchards, herring, trout and sword fish. To a lesser degree, you will also get omega-3 from sunflower, linseed and flax oil and also walnuts.
And now it just comes down to you applying the above. Instead of cooking in butter, make the switch to light sunflower oil. Ditch the margarines and processed foods which are not only higher in saturated and trans fats but are lower in nutrients than whole foods. And reap the additional benefits of polyunsaturated fats which are going to increase your levels of essential fatty acids.
And most importantly, Live Longer and Live Stronger.