Fat: Help or Hindrance?

Contrary to what some might tell you, not all fat is bad!

Image by Will McPhail

Getting the Balance

We need a balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fats in our diet for optimum health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 intake to be 5:1. That means we need to eat 5 molecules of omega-6 for every 1 molecule of omega-3.

The crazy thing is, most Australians eat 20 molecules of omega-6 to every 1 molecule of omega-3! That’s four times more omega-6 than is recommended!

When our omega-6 is so high in comparison to omega-3, that’s when our LDL (“bad”) cholesterol goes haywire and our risk of cardiovascular damage increases. It also can result in a significant increase in inflammatory mediators being produced throughout the rest of the body as well – this can drive any and all inflammatory conditions; particularly pain-related issues.

So how do we increase omega-3 fats?

Eat a serve of oily fish at least twice per week. The best sources are salmon, sardines, mussels, oysters, anchovies, and mackerel.

It’s also a good choice to load up on vegetarian/vegan omega-3 sources like avocado, walnuts, hemp seeds/oil, flaxseeds/flax oil (also labeled as linseed) and spirulina or other algae.

Sometimes, supplemental support may be required – fish oil, in particular, is a good choice, but it’s very important to get professional advice about it first – there are a lot of terrible quality fish oil supplements out there!

About “Bad” Fat

Fats have been getting a bad rap for decades, but, as already discussed, not all of them are equal.

So what do we need to stay away from?

Margarine

Margarine was hailed as an amazing new health food in the 70’s that was meant to be better than butter for your arteries. It had been shown to lower cholesterol within a period of 2-3 months, which made everyone very excited about the implications for cardiovascular health.

In the 40 years since new information began to come to light about margarine and cholesterol and how the two operate within the body. Sadly, nutrition science was wrong about this health food – margarine does more harm than good because it is made of hydrogenated oil.

We now know that hydrogenation of healthy oils turns them into oxidative stressors in our arteries when consumed. This leads to increased damage, not the reduced damage that nutrition scientists predicted would happen.

The unrefined, cold-pressed versions of the canola, sunflower and olive oils used in these kinds of margarine are the way to go – use these polyphenol-rich oils in their natural form and enjoy the benefits!

Saturated Fat

This kind of fat has been the one demonised since the 70’s – and, to a degree, that is with some good reason.

Saturated fat definitely does increase cholesterol levels.

However, when compared with margarine, it is by far the lesser evil. Limited amounts of full-fat foods provide all-important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, which are essential for various functions within the body, including cardiovascular protection.

What sources of saturated fat should you to limit?

  •         Coconut oil – only use this oil for cooking at very high temperatures. Otherwise, stick to using this oil on your skin, not eating it. Coconut cream and coconut yoghurt will also be high in saturated fat, so limit these, too.
  •         Dairy – if you need to use something on your bread, switch back to grass-fed, full-fat butter or use extra virgin cold pressed olive oil. Use full fat dairy milk, yoghurt, ghee etc. as needed, but use them sparingly and choose the least processed option you can find.
  •         Red Meat – choose leaner cuts of red meat and restrict this to two serves per week.

Trans Fat

Trans fat, much like margarine, has been shown to increase damage to the arteries when we eat it. Unlike margarine, though, this source of fat has always been on the nutrition science “naughty” list and should be avoided whenever possible! Our major source of trans fat is deep fried food. Spring rolls, hot chips, beer battered fried fish – choose the grilled, steamed or baked version instead.

Will Eating Fat Make Me Fat?

This is a tricky one – a diet high in the “Bad Fats” listed above will absolutely contribute to obesity, no question about it!

However, eating lots of good fat every day is essential for good health – we need it to help us absorb fat-soluble nutrients and mediate the creation of inflammatory markers. When it comes to recommendations of how much omega-3 to eat, I don’t like to be restrictive – considering that the average Australian diet has so much omega-6 in it; go nuts with the walnuts!

If you want to make sure you’re doing the right thing by your body and getting the right fats in at the correct ratio, a meal plan from a naturopath or nutritionist is the way to kick your fat-fuelled goals!

  Lauren Booth

Lauren Booth

Naturopath