Make friends with fat

Fat often gets a bad rap for being bad for your health, but a little good fat goes a long way…

We all need fat. Dietary fat is a major source of energy and we need it to function at our best. Fat helps your body absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K, and plays an important role in the health of your hair, skin, eyes, bones, and brain stardict Dictionary. Some fats can even lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

According to the World Health Organization, we need a minimum fat intake of 32g a day (that’s about six teaspoons). The fats you can and should eat include:

Monounsaturated fats

These can lower cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure, and slash your risk for heart disease. They’re also an excellent source of Vitamin E, known to protect against cell damage, fight inflammation, and prevent diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer. Get these good fats from olive oil, canola oil, and avocados.

Polyunsaturated fats

Like monounsaturated fats, these fats can also improve cholesterol levels and lower your risk for heart disease. There are two types of polyunsaturated fats: Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids.

Omega-3s can reduce blood pressure, lower levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides (bad fats in the blood), and prevent and treat heart disease and stroke. They can also protect against memory loss, ease joint pain, and reduce symptoms of depression. Find your fill of Omega-3s in fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, and sardines), and nuts and seeds like walnuts, cashews, almonds, flaxseeds, and chia seeds.

Omega-6 fatty acids are also known for their potential heart, brain and bone health benefits. Soybeans and most vegetable oils, including corn oil, sunflower oil, and peanut oil are replete in Omega-6s.

Saturated fat

These aren’t as dangerous as we once thought. Researchers from the University of Bergen in Norway discovered that a high intake of saturated fat isn’t unhealthy, as long as the fat is of a good quality and your total energy intake isn’t too high. In fact, saturated fat helps regulate hormone production, calcium absorption, and protects the liver from toxins, says Andrea Jenkins, a nutritional therapist based in Cape Town. Meat (beef, lamb, and pork) and dairy products like cheese, butter, and milk are healthy sources of saturated fat. Just remember to watch those portions! 

The bad guys

Trans fats are the ones we need to avoid. Researchers at Harvard University say that having just half a teaspoon more trans fat than usual will increase your risk of having a heart attack by 50%. The study was done on 33 000 women over six years. These fats are “manmade”, that is, they’re created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oils to make them solid.

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This fat is especially dangerous because it raises the harmful LDL cholesterol in our bloodstream, while siphoning off the good cholesterol (HDL). With trans fats in your system, you’re susceptible to inflammation, stroke, heart disease, and diabetes.

Trans fats are found in biscuits, pastries, rusks, crackers, pies, croissants and even microwave popcorn: basically, most products you can find in a box or packet. The American Heart Association recommends no more than two grams (less than a teaspoon) a day. This is about 20 calories a day.


Are you eating enough fats?

You’re probably not if…

  1. You’re always hungry. Fat, specifically polyunsaturated fats and saturated fats, can keep you full and regulate your appetite.
  2. You’re not losing weight. You need fat to burn fat. A study published in Diabetes Care found that a diet with monosaturated fats can reduce and prevent belly fat as it helps you feel more satisfied and fueled for longer.
  3. You’re cranky or moody all the time. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for your mental health and emotional well-being. A study of almost 22 000 Norwegians discovered that those who regularly took Omega-3 rich cod liver oil were 30% less likely to have symptoms of depression than those who didn’t.
  4. You have trouble concentrating. Your brain is 60% fat, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it needs fat to work well. Monounsaturated fats and Omega-3 fatty acids in particular, are essential for healthy cognitive function, memory, and improved mental performance.
  5. You have very dry skin. Fat is necessary for healthy skin cell membranes and the production of lipids – the part of the skin’s barrier that lock in moisture, and protect your skin from looking and feeling dry.

Fatten up!

Eating enough fat can be a struggle, especially if you have a fat phobia. Get over your fear and meet your fat needs with these top tips:

  • Aim for at least two servings of fatty fish a week.
  • Choose fattier cuts of meat, preferably from grass-fed animals. They’re tastier, tenderer, and loaded with good fats.
  • Cook with butter, coconut oil or peanut oil.
  • Garnish meals with a drizzle of olive oil, dollop of sour cream, sprinkle of cheese, slithers of avocado, or a handful of nuts or seeds.
  • Tuck into a block of dark chocolate. Go for a brand that has a cocoa content of 70% or more as it’s higher in healthy fats and antioxidants.