Fats are good. Yes, they really are! They lubricate our joints, nourish our gut lining, smooth brain function, make up most of our brain tissue, store some vitamins, and are necessary for the absorption and use of some crucial nutrients, among more processes than you can count! But the caveat is, of course, that it’s good fats that we need, not the bad ones.
Getting enough of the right fats helps to melt away any dangerous fat wrapped around our organs, especially an issue if you have a spare tyre to shift. Heightened levels of stress hormones can cause fat stores to be laid down like this, so reducing stress while ensuring good fats have a regular place in your diet can restore the balance.
There are so many ways that not getting the right fats can upset functions and processes, I can’t possibly go into them all here. Use this information to ensure your fat intake is what it should be, and you’ll feel the benefits in a number of ways.
The good fats
Essential fats are polyunsaturated fats which are required by the body – we cannot make them hence their name. There are two key types – omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids. These fats are critical for the structure of our cell membranes and as such are very beneficial for brain health, skin health, hormone health, and heart function. They can help reduce inflammation in the body and so can help prevent diseases such as arthritis, asthma, heart disease and brain and mood disorders. Essential fats also help the detoxification process by stimulating the gall bladder and the flow of bile. Bile prevents the buildup of toxins, and so are crucial for ensuring we eliminate waste and toxins efficiently.
The really crucial thing to remember is that we need to have twice as much omega 3 than omega 6 – if omega 6 predominates, or fats are turned into trans-fats by being overheated, the result is inflammation. This could show in your joints, skin, blood vessels, gut, heart, and any number of other places. Take a look at the advice and food lists below to ensure you get more omega 3 sources than omega 6 – it could be as simple as not cooking with olive oil, using avocado oil, walnut oil or organic rapeseed oil in dressings, and prioritising walnuts over other kinds of nut for eating. Foods like walnuts and flaxseeds have both omega 3 and 6, but have much more 3 than 6, making them useful additions daily to get the balance right.
There are other exceptions too – coconut oil is a saturated fat, and avocado is a mono-unsaturated fat; both are very healthy, so make them part of your diet.
Where can you find essential fats?
Omega 3 fats are found predominantly in oily fish, such as trout, mackerel, fresh tuna, sardines, salmon, anchovies and herring, plus pollock, cod, halibut, mussels and prawns. You can also find omega 3 fats in flaxseeds/linseeds, hemp, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, and to a lesser extent green vegetables such as kale. You can also find it in organic chicken, grass fed beef, and organic dairy. Organic rapeseed oil, and some nut oils, are also good sources.
Omega 6 fats are found in nuts and seeds such as walnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, pecan nuts, cashew nuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and flaxseeds. They are also found in hemp, and evening primrose and blackcurrant seed oils, as well as olive oil.
The bad fats:
Hydrogenation is a process of treating oils to solidify them and to increase their shelf life. This involves heat treatment and the use of many chemicals including some metals, the end result is a highly artificial product that has been linked to heart disease, infertility, obesity and diabetes. This type of fat is not easily processed by the body and can hinder the absorption and utilisation of the essential fats. Hydrogenated fats are often found in margarines, and many processed foods such as biscuits, cake and chocolate.
Saturated fats are found in dairy foods and red meat. Although we do need some saturated fats in our diet, excess consumption is linked to many health problems particularly cardiovascular disease and strokes. These fats also increase inflammation in the body and interfere with the metabolism of essential fats. Inflammation makes the body more susceptible to problems such as asthma, eczema, psoriasis, obesity and arthritis.
This is really only with excessive consumption though, particularly of processed meats. Health issues linked to saturated fat in dairy don’t correlate with countries where cheeses are artisan and regular parts of the diet, like France, probably due to their high intake of unprocessed food, fruit and veg. Dairy and meat have their place in a healthy diet, and saturated fats like coconut oil are unique in their structure, benefits and metabolism, so do, as ever, keep things in perspective.
Using oils in cooking:
Polyunsaturated fats are unstable, which means they are easily damaged by heat to create free radicals – molecules which can damage our cells and contribute to the ageing process. Polyunsaturated oils like sunflower or veg oils should therefore never be used for cooking. New research has shown that the conventional wisdom of using veg or sunflower oils or frying or roasting was flawed, as was the years of advice on avoiding saturated fat like the plague. So, time to make things simple, and healthier, to avoid inflammation and inflammatory conditions like heart disease – the overuse of heated polyunsaturated oils and spreads has created inflammatory conditions, not prevented them.
When choosing oil, make sure it is labelled as ‘cold pressed’, otherwise heat will have been used during the manufacturing process. Low fat spreads and margarines will also contain oils which have been heated so are best avoided. Eat organic butter, not spreads.
Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat which means it is more stable when heated, but try to keep the temperature as low as possible. You can also use unsalted butter, rapeseed oil or coconut oil for cooking at higher temperatures – these are more stable than other fats. Any other oil, especially delicate oils like nut, avocado or extra virgin olive oil should be added at the end of cooking.
So, now you’ve got your fats straight, have a go at this fabulous fat recipe, and enjoy!
Raw Walnut Cacao Fudge
This is the perfect treat is so many ways – it’s based on protein and essential fats rather than sugars, and not only that, the walnuts along with the milled flax bring the omega 3 and 6 into the necessary balance. The raw cacao adds a ton of antioxidants, magnesium, and important nutrients as well as making this a chocolate treat too! Obviously the calorie count is high, so don’t overdo it….
125g/1 cup walnuts
125g/1 cup pecans
20 pitted dates (or about 12 larger Medjool dates)
60g/1/2 cup raw cacao powder
60g/1/4 cup coconut oil (melted)
80g/1/2 cup walnut, cashew or almond butter
Whizz up the walnuts and pecans in a processor until resembling rough-textured sand, then add the rest of the ingredients. Process until combined. Line an 8×8 inch/20 cm square tin with baking paper, and spread the mixture out in the tin, pushing down to fill the corners, and flatten the top. Chill for several hours until firm, then slice into cubes.