Be Smart About Fats
By Louisa Zhang, Nutritionist
“Man is a food-dependent creature: If you don’t feed him, he will die. If you feed him improperly, part of him will die.”
- E Cheraskin, pioneer in nutrition and health
Most of us would like to pursue the goal of a holistic lifestyle, but our diet often gets in the way. We feed ourselves improperly and probably far too much, resulting diseases of affluence such as heart attack, cancer, diabetes and stroke.
For a long time cholesterol had been demonised as the culprit but now fats have taken its place
Fats for Health
It is a fact that fats are an essential nutrient in our diet. They play an important as they are needed to
- to absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K
- Provide a life-sustaining energy store,
- provide a cushion for our vital organs,
- Protec our nerves and cell membranes, and
- Provide Insulation
The downside, however, is that any surplus fat gets accumulated in the body, leading to weight gain and obesity. This, in turn, raises the risk of diseases such heart attack, high blood pressure, diabetes and even cancer.
Types of fats
To better understand the impact of fats on our body and better manage our intake, let us take a look at the different types of fats out there - the good, the bad, the ‘in-between’, and the unique.
1) The Good – Unsaturated Fats and Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Good fats include vegetable oils such as rice bran, sesame, olive, sunflower, and omega 3 fatty acids found in salmon, tuna and plant products such as walnuts and flaxseeds. Good fats can help thin the blood and contribute to a healthier heart.
2) The Bad – Trans Fat
Trans fats are found in many baked foods. They are considered “bad” fats because they raise the level of bad cholesterol and reduce the good cholesterol in the body. Intake of trans fat should therefore be kept very low.
3) The ‘In Between’ – Saturated Fat
A moderate amount of saturated fat in the diet is acceptable, for example, putting some butter on your toast. However, foods that are full of saturated fat – such as the skin of poultry and visible fat on meat - are definitely not healthy and should be avoided.
4) The Unique – Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs)
Medium Chain Triglycerides or MCTs are a unique category of fatty acids that do not behave like typical fats – they do not accumulate in the body as fat cells or circulate in the blood where they could potentially clog up arteries. MCTs can be absorbed and metabolised very quickly in the body to produce energy. They are also known to improve cognitive functions and mental alertness.
What makes MCTs unique
During the digestive process, MCTs from the diet are mixed with bile from the gall bladder to form an emulsion which triggers enzymes from the pancreas to start the process of digestion. The digested fat then travels to the small intestines for absorption.
With their shorter triglyceride links, MCTs can diffuse through the intestinal wall into the blood stream and are transported directly to the liver. There, they are converted into ketones which are small molecules that provide an alternative energy source for the body.
Benefits of ketones include increased mental alertness and a boost in energy levels and performance. There have also been reports that a ketogenic diet may have anti-seizure properties and is useful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s.
Making informed choices
Fats are an important part of any diet but given what we know about the various types of fats, it is important to make sure that our intake is properly managed. There must be a concerted effort to lower our intake of bad fats and ensure that even good fats are taken in moderation to avoid adverse effects on the body.
While we learn more about the science of food we have to go back to basics with regards to healthy eating.
Our body needs about 45 essential nutrients daily for optimal health. There is no one nutrient that is responsible for all health problems and there is no one nutrient that will turn us into the pink of health.
At the end of day what is sensible is your overall Dietary Pattern rather than individual nutrient that holds the key to better health.
Healthy eating is a turn off when you have to choose to eat nutrients. We should all enjoy our food and eating should be above all a pleasurable activity.