The Importance of Fat

Throughout my Nutrition studies, the necessity of good fats in the diet was consistently emphasised as essential for optimising health. Gone are the days of the low fat diet despite many foods still marketed as low fat or fat free. There is now a clear line between what constitutes a healthy fat and a bad fat.

Fats are composed of building blocks called fatty acids. There are three major categories of fatty acids: saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated.

Every single cell in our body requires fatty acids for their very structure. Our brains are comprised of almost 60 per cent fat. Research shows us that fatty acids are some of the most important molecules in determining the brain’s integrity and ability to perform.

Fats are also needed for helping us absorb essential vitamins like D, E, K and A, as well as for maintaining healthy skin. They are an integral part of our immunity and brain development. Our body absorbs them better in the presence of fat. So adding avocado or olive oil to your vegetables can enhance your absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins they contain. Fat is also our most concentrated source of energy and helps keep us warm and protect our organs and nerves.

Fats also support the immune system, enhance brain and nervous system function such as mood, intelligence and behavior, greatly reduce cardiovascular disease, increase energy and performance, grow healthy skin, hair, and nails, regulate body weight, and improve organ and gland function.

A diet high in monounsaturated fats, which are found in olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds is linked with low blood pressure and lower incidences of heart disease.

While the liver can synthesise enough cholesterol to carry out its important functions in the body, Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are needed for optimal health and body function, but cannot be made in the body. Therefore, it is crucial to include the right balance of EFAs in our diet from specific foods.

They play an integral role in promoting cell health. Repair and regeneration of the cellular membrane is vital for keeping the body biologically young and enabling it to retain mobility and vitality throughout life. Contributing to our cells’ ability to receive nutrition and eliminate waste, EFAs help keep the cellular regeneration process moving. Our body’s ability to fight off infection and reduce inflammation is in part dependent on having an adequate supply of EFAs in the diet.

EFAs also provide energy for our body, protect against cancer, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, skin diseases and numerous other health issues. Polyunsaturated fats are essential components of nerve cells and cell membranes. One of the major therapeutic benefits of EFAs is their powerful ability to reduce inflammation in the body that can lead to allergies, eczema, psoriasis, arthritis and atherosclerosis.

A diet high in monounsaturated fats, which are found in olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds is linked with low blood pressure and lower incidences of heart disease. It’s a great idea to include a serving of one of these foods in your diet each day. While nuts and seeds contain substantial levels of calories from fat, they are mainly derived from healthy EFAs.

But, of course, not all fats are created equal. For optimal health, it is important to eliminate intake of trans-fatty acids. These have been linked to heart disease, allergy, auto immune disorders, chronic inflammation and many types of cancers and strokes. The problem is that these trans-fatty acids have been shown to interrupt the body’s ability to properly use EFAs, which greatly reduces their many benefits.

Choose unprocessed foods that don’t come from packets. Try to eat real food as often as you can. That way you can avoid poor quality fats such as trans fats.

People have become scared of using oils and nuts due to their high-energy content but good fats slow down the release of glucose into your blood stream, meaning you stay full for longer. There is no need to fear fat. The key is to choose the right type of fat to include in your daily food choices and reap the many health-promoting benefits of EFAs. Your body and brain will thank you.

Try this:

  • Add extra virgin olive oil to your salads
  • Add some Greek yoghurt to berries for a snack
  • Sprinkle chia seeds or flaxseed over your breakfast
  • Add avocado to your salad or make guacamole to eat with your vegetables
  • Eat nut butter in place of margarine
  • If you don’t eat much fat but struggle with sugar cravings in the afternoon, start adding more fat to your lunch.