Here is one topic that is confusing the hell out of people. Fat in a diet.
Is fat bad? Should we have any fat in our diet? How much, if so? What kind of fat? What about keto diets? Etc.
We used to believe that fat is bad and diets should be low-fat… I know. I was there myself. Luckily, I had an awareness of protein and knew that cereals, bread, pastas are of no good to me, so I focused on protein and veg. And this worked really well. However, it WAS missing a healthy fat element and luckily science has moved on and with that, the way we now think of a properly balanced diet.
Low fat diet frenzy started in the 70s and it took decades before we realised that it was not fat, but sugar and simple carbohydrates, that are a true enemy. Many low-fat produce, like yoghurt as an example, were just added sugar to taste better. Same with baked goods: they reduced fat, whilst increasing sugar to compensate and sold us the notion that low fat was healthier. Think of muffins, cakes, etc.
Recent study, published in the British Medical Journal, confirmed that we will burn more calories and lose more weight following a low carb/ high fat diet than a conventional low-fat, high carb diet (with a decent protein level set at 20-25%) despite eating the same number of calories. This confirmed what we have known for some time: fat (and by fat I mean Healthy Fats) is not a problem. Simple carbohydrates are the problem (such as bread, pasta, cereals, etc.) and not only the usual suspect carbs with added sugar like cakes, biscuits, ice creams, candy, etc., because we know already that those are bad for us.
On a practical level, losing or maintaining weight by starting your day with toasts or cereals of whatever kind of carb, then having fruit alone as a snack or a piece of granola, having sandwiches or pasta for lunch and then another “carby” dinner is not a recipe for success. It is not balanced and will not boost but rather bust your metabolism. And many still eat this way with carbohydrates comprising 60-80% of their diet. Many of those come to me for help.
What the research also has shown us is that we need to move away from evaluating our meals in terms of calories. Calories are important and, at the same time, irrelevant. If you know how to balance your meal properly – you do not need to count calories and you can rest assured that body will burn it off!
This rests on a tried and tested science that perfect balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat in every meal will control blood sugar levels and, consequently, insulin levels. When there is excess sugar in blood after a meal, mainly from excess carbohydrates (read sugar) – insulin, hormone that helps control blood sugar levels, removes excess sugar and turns it into fat and stores it as fat in the body. And that is how the cycle keeps happening and we gain excess weight.
Let’s talk about Healthy Fats!
As you know by now, fats are back in fashion as of recent and it is not surprising that some took even that to extremes by promoting fats constituting even 75% of our diet. This kind of approach will leave very little for protein (important for metabolism and muscle maintenance, growth and repair) and carbohydrates (good carbohydrates, that is – our vegetables, legumes, fruit, etc. – important for fibre (digestive & heart health) and vitamins & minerals (immunity & cell health)).
So, how about we leave protein at 25-30%, reduce carbohydrates from 60-80% current consumption down to 40%, which leaves a healthy amount of fats at 30% of our diet?
I think this sounds a lot better and more balanced as we now have enough protein for all the important stuff that it does as well as enough healthy carbohydrates to provide body with optimum amount of fibre and nutrients.
Happy with this balance? I know I am as I have been living it for well over a decade and many nutritional experts would agree. This is also basis of Herbalife Nutrition’s Global Nutrition Phylosophy.
What fats shall we focus on?
There are different kinds of fats and some are good for us and some not so much!
Let’s start with the good guys: the unsaturated fats: those include polyunsaturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fats and when they are eaten in moderation and when they are used to replace the bad guys (saturated or trans fats), it can help lower cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease.
Saturated fats I may have mentioned above as the bad guys, however, they are not that entirely. Coconut oil is a saturated fat, however, it has been found to be one of the healthiest cooking oils. Saturated fats are found in animal meats and what I would avoid are processed meats as they have been found to cause cancer and they contain high levels of saturated fat. If consuming meat – it is highly recommended to consume grass-fed kind. Because, as we are what we eat, so are the animals what they eat.
Trans fats are the worst kind of fats and body’s tolerance for trans fats is virtually one big fat ZERO. They raise your bad cholesterol levels and lower your good cholesterol levels. Eating trans fats increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke and those are also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. While they can exist naturally in red meats and dairy products, there is less evidence that those are harmful. However, there is a high evidence of the industrially made trans fats. They are formed when fats and oils are hydrogenated or deodorised and transformed into solid and semi-solid fats. This process changes the molecular structure of the fatty acids which results in anything from 30 to 60 per cent of it being transferred into a trans fat form.
Foods that are high in trans fats and should be avoided are pop corn, biscuits, crackers, cakes, pastry, packet cake mixes, doughnuts, cookies, potato crisps, any deep-fried foods like chips; well, most commercially made baked goods. Avoid also deep-fried foods. World Health Organisation estimates that every year, trans fat intake leads to more than 500,000 deaths from heart disease (May 2018).
Monounsaturated fats are healthy fats found in avocado, macadamia nuts, olives as well as olive oil. They support insulin sensitivity and health in general. Less healthy choices would be peanuts as they can be high in molds, which produce aflatoxin known to cause cancer. The same toxin has been found in our bodies when we consume animal protein (The China Study). I would also avoid canola oil simply as it is highly likely to come from genetically modified source and is highly processed (well, canola plant does not exist, Canola oil is simply a trade name for low-erucic acid rapeseed oil)
Polyunsaturated fats include Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats. Omega 3 fats are absolutely crucial in our diet as they reduce inflammation in the body as well as support healthy hormone levels and cell’s membranes. Omega 6 fatty acids are important to support healthy brain and muscle functions, however, when ratio of Omega 3 v Omega 6 is out of balance and when we have way too many Omega 6 in diet – they can promote inflammation in the body. Considering Omega 6s are in the most baked goods, packaged foods like cookies, chips, crisps, breads and many other snacks – Western diet is notorious for high Omega 6 consumption. Any food fried, baked, or microwaved when using these oils will oxidize and create an inflammatory response in the body.
The best advice is to increase your Omega 3 fats and best sources are flaxseed, chia seeds, soya beans, organic/ocean caught salmon and other oily fish such as mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies, etc. Also, reduce Omega 6 sources I mentioned above and use olive oil, whilst avoid corn & soya oil as they are most likely to be genetically modified.
When it comes to Omega 3 suggested daily amounts, it would take about 6 ounces of salmon daily to meet our suggested 2.5 grams per day. Most people do not eat that much fish and salmon, in particular, is controversial and we should only buy ocean caught.
While I use healthy oils and foods containing healthy oils in my diet each day, personally, I also supplement with high quality Omega 3 each day and so does my entire family, including children (HerbalifelineMax, Herbalife Nutrition). Quality of Omega 3 supplements vary and is a different subject entirely as low quality kinds can easily go rancid and cause more problems than benefit. However, good quality Omega 3 supplement can ensure body is getting enough of Omega 3 fatty acids and it is also helping towards achieving the healthy 1:1 ratio between Omega 3 & Omega 6s in a diet to prevent inflammation (Ratio in Western diet is as high as 1:15 and even 1:25 in American Diet).
Omega 3 provides anti-inflammatory molecules that defend us against allergy, autoimmune disease & chronic diseases.
Benefits of Omega 3 are multiple and include its benefits for heart health including blood pressure & healthy cholesterol, eye health, mental health, healthy pregnancy & early life, weight management, fighting inflammation, bone & joint health, skin health.
So, like not every carbohydrate is made equal, not all fats are made equal either and we need to focus on those that are kind to our bodies as their benefits are enormous.
Whilst doing research on healthy oils, quite frankly – it is a mine field and we will be hearing more about it as currently lot is yet being researched. I certainly believe we are moving in the right direction in understanding fats and oils.
My wish for you is to ensure 30% of your diet are healthy fats, in particular high quality Omega 3s.
I hope this was interesting and of a value to you and, if it was, please share, it might be to others too.
Feel free to reach out if you have questions about nutrition or would like me to help you with making sense of nutrition or with your weight management goals.
I believe that health is our greatest wealth, health is happiness, so wishing you to be healthy and happy, always
Yours in health,