More and more research shows fats form part of a healthy diet, but are all fats created equal?

WHEN we hear the word ‘fat’ most of us immediately think weight gain, cellulite and cholesterol. Over the years, many of us have been indoctrinated into thinking that all fats are bad and should never be consumed. However, more and more research is showing that there are ‘good’ fats and ‘bad’ fats. In fact, your body actually needs some fats.

Why your body needs fats.

Fats are essential to our bodies for building cell walls, lubricating our joints, stabilizing our hormones, maintaining body warmth, and providing elasticity for blood vessels and skin. Fats are also needed by the body for the correct metabolism of carbohydrates and protein. The important point here is that you need to consume essential fats for your body to fully function.

What are ‘good fats’ and ‘bad fats’?

There are two kinds of fats that you can consume: good fats, and bad fats. Good fats are the ones essential for good health, and bad fats are those responsible for raising harmful blood cholesterol.

The bad fats are known as saturated fats and are the products of animals. These fats are the ones that are solids at room temperature. These fats are full of cholesterol and are more difficult for your body to digest. Butter, eggs, cheese, ice cream, and poultry skin are all examples of saturated fats.

Trans fats are also ‘bad’ fats. Examples of these are margarine, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, and animal shortenings (like lard). Trans fats will increase the bad cholesterol in your blood, reduce the good, and also increase your triglycerides. These fats should be avoided at all costs and can also be found in chips and most fast foods.

The ‘good’ fats are known as unsaturated fats and are plant products, such as seeds, nuts and vegetables. Unsaturated fats break down into two categories: monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.

Unsaturated fats are liquids at room temperature (think cooking oils as an example). Sunflower oil is a good example of a polyunsaturated fat, and olive oil and canola oil are monounsaturated fats.

Monounsaturated fats, or omega nine fatty acids, are not essential to good health, but when used moderately are a much better alternative than animal fats. The essential fatty acids are known as omega six and omega three. These essential fatty acids are only found in the polyunsaturated fats.

Omega three fatty acids can be found in flax seed oil and fish (think tuna, salmon, sardines, herrings, pilchards, and mackerel).

Omega nine fatty acids can be found in sesame oil, sunflower oil, walnut oil, safflower oil, pumpkin oil, and evening primrose oil.

Essential fatty acids cannot be made by our bodies. Therefore, we need to consume some of these essential fatty acids to maintain our good health.

How much is a healthy amount?

To function correctly, your body requires the equivalent of one teaspoon of oil daily. A healthy amount to strive for is 25 per cent of your total energy needs from fats.

Many health authorities now recommend between 25-40 grams of fat daily as a healthy intake for the average adult.

While fats are essential, it is important to remember that they are extremely energy dense. One gram of fat contains nine calories. By contrast, one gram of protein or carbohydrate contains only four calories.

Always keep in mind that a little (good) fat goes a long way.