Why We Need Fats in Our Diets. Reversing the Trend of the Low-Fat Era

By Kirsty Taylor

Unfortunately many people today are scared to consume fats for the fear that eating fat will make you fat - thanks to the many years of being told this is true. As a child of the 80’s and 90’s with a mother who wanted to do her best for her children, I was fed low fat cheese, margarine, low fat yoghurts, told cereals like Nutri-Grain were good for me and had Milo at least twice a day.

Nuts and seeds

So why do we need to consume fats?

First and foremost to supply us with a boundless source of energy! Fats are broken down in our bodies into fatty acids. Fatty acids are a great source of energy for our bodies, one which many of us no longer efficiently use. Being able to use our fatty acids as a source of energy allows for an even and plentiful supply of energy across the day.

During the low-fat/fat free era we took away not only this vital energy source for our bodies but an important macronutrient that plays a critical role in the health of our organs. Fat not only helps with inflammation (discussed below), it is part of the make up of our immune system, our skin, eyes, nails and hair. It is an important messenger for our hormones and also ensures each one of the cells in our bodies outer layer is flexible. I mean how amazing are fats! They supply us with energy, help make us look good and stop us getting sick.

When fat removed from our food it was often replaced with refined sugars. Then they added salt to mask the added sweetness. This resulted in us eating more sugar and more salt than ever before.

Now I don’t want to be too controversial here but isn’t it ironic that since we demonised and removed fat we now have the highest amount of diseases that have their basis in inflammation, driven by over consuming salt and sugar….

All fats aren’t created equal

We must differentiate between types of fat so we understand which ones are beneficial for our health and which ones detract from it.

The fats that add to our health our saturated fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats and all of these can be obtained through wholefoods - nuts, seeds, grass-fed meats and butter, eggs and oily fish.

The fats we should be concerned about are trans fats and poor quality vegetable oils such as heat processed canola oil. These fats are mainly found in processed foods such as biscuits, muesli bars, foods with long shelf lives and deep-fried food. Polyunsaturated fats can become a trans fat when they are processed or heated causing the oil to damage.

The Omega’s

There is also an optimal ratio of fats we should be consuming. You may have heard of omega-3 and omega-6 fats. These are two types of fats that sit under the polyunsaturated fat banner.

Omega-6 fatty acids are found predominately in processed foods and therefore are overabundant in a typical Western diet. Too many omega-6 fats can CAUSE inflammation in our body. Whereas omega-3 are anti-inflammatory, which help PREVENT inflammation.

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, which means our body cannot make these so we must consume them in our diets. However with current ways of eating omega-6 is the predominate fat and we need swing this ratio to have omega-3 as our dominate omega source.

Omega-3 fats are broken into EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (aocosahexaenoic acid). EPA and DHA are well known and powerful anti-inflammatories. These fatty acids reside in the outer layer, the membrane, of each of our cells, keeping them flexible. DHA is found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines. EPA is found in flaxseeds, walnuts and chia seeds. Due to their chemical make up they can oxidise so we do need to make sure we are consuming lots of anti-oxidant rich foods in our diets to keep them happy.

Omega-6 isn’t all bad. The good choice here is Evening Primrose Oil which contains GLA (gamma linolenic acid) and has been shown to be help fat be taken up by the skin - really helpful to those with skin issues. Remember before self-prescribing please see a natural health practitioner.

Other ways to differentiate our fats

There is another way we can classify fatty acids apart from their saturation. This way of classifying breaks fatty acids into short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA) and long-chain fatty acids (LCFA). Or interchangeably with fatty acids is also the term triglycerides. Therefore the above can also be referenced as short-chain triglycerides (SCT), medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) or long-chain triglycerides (LCT).

Another particular type of fatty acid is Lauric Acid. This is a medium chain fatty acid or MCT that is found in coconut and good old butter. It is well researched for its effects in helping achieve a diverse and healthy gut bacteria. If we haven’t been eating butter for decades, what impact has this had on our gut bacteria? Again not to be controversial but by removing Lauric Acid from our diets and increasing sugar this has had to have changed the make-up of our gut bacteria.

The Takeaway: Nature gets it right. Fat from ‘real food’ adds to our health and is necessary for our body to function.