Fat! The bad guy of the nutrition world. Most of us don’t have a great relationship with fat. In fact, for many of us, it’s the go -to word we use when we’re feeling negative about ourselves. Looking fat, being fat and eating fat have all been doused with negative connotations in our world that is hell bent on perfection.
But, what’s the point in demonising fat? It’s just there, going about its business. It’s not out to get you or me. The reality is we need to make smart decisions about the type of fat we consume and how much of it we include in our diet.
Fat – We Need It!
First thing’s first. Fat is an essential nutrient in any diet, that’s why they‘re called ‘essential fatty acids’. Not just a paleo diet, any diet. Whoever you are and whatever your health goals, fat must be a part of your diet. Once we get past this hang up, that we should be avoiding fat at all costs, things get a little easier.
Our body cannot make essential fatty acids and therefore we must get it from our diet. Fat is a great source of energy, there’s 9 kcal’s in every gram of fat regardless where it comes from. This energy helps our bodies to function. It fuels our brains, insulates our bodies from the cold and helps us to absorb a range of vitamins. And that’s just for starters!
However, not all fats are the same. Some are better for us than others and it is us who need to exercise control over our diet to ensure that we are fit and healthy.
Different Types of Fat
Monounsaturated: These fats are ones that have just one unsaturated carbon bond in the fat molecule. The bond is usually a double one making it more stable. Examples include avocados, almonds and olive oil.
Polyunsaturated: As the name suggests, polyunsaturated fats have two or more carbon bonds in the molecule. These bonds are usually double bonds. Examples include oily fish, sunflower seeds and walnuts.
Saturated: Saturated fats have no double bonds in the molecule. They are saturated with hydrogen molecules. Examples include beef, butter and coconut oil.
Trans Fatty Acids: Trans fatty acids are unsaturated fats that have been hydrogenated. Examples include fried foods, cakes and biscuits, and margarines.
Where can I find them?
When following a paleo diet, getting adequate amounts of good fat in your diet is crucial to ensure that you have sufficient energy to see you through the day and to support your body’s development. If we were to play favourites, omega 3’s are probably the best type of fat. They are essential for brain development, heart function and joint mobility. You can get them in oily fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel.
Lean red meat is a good source of saturated and monounsaturated fats as are egg yolks. Eggs provide a good source of vitamin E and carotenoids too – and let’s face it, they taste better when you eat the whole thing!
Avocados are a great source of monounsaturated fats and can be enjoyed in a salad or as a delicious accompaniment to a meal by making your own guacamole. Olive oil is another good source of monounsaturated fats, but remember it’s better used as a dressing than for cooking as the heat causes it to oxidise, impairing its nutritional value.
A good alternative for cooking is coconut oil. It has a higher burning point than olive oil, as it is solid at room temperature and so can endure higher temperatures before it oxidises. Coconut oil is a medium chain fatty acid which is easier to digest than others.
The so-called ‘bad fats’ include trans fatty acids and those fats which we already have too much of – generally those that are rich in Omega 6’s. Both of these should be minimised in your diet. Eliminating trans fatty acids shouldn’t be too hard on a paleo diet because these fats are industrially produced through hydrogenation of vegetable oils. As a paleo diet encourages the consumption of minimally processed foods you should not find yourself up against produce laden with trans fatty acids while you remain true to paleo.
Omega 6 fats on the other hand do fall under the umbrella of paleo foodstuffs. Traditionally, most people get a higher intake of Omega 6’s than Omega 3’s when it should be the other way around. Omega 6’s are often recommended as a good alternative to saturated fats in diets which restrict the intake of saturated fats. However, under a paleo diet which doesn’t restrict your intake of saturated fats there’s no need to stock up on omega 6’s. Omega 6 fats are found in a wide range of vegetable oil such as sunflower oil and margarine.
Good Fats – How can they help?
When we get the right amount of good fats in our diet they help us to have more energy, feel fuller, keep our skin & hair looking good and support a whole host of processes happening inside our bodies including digestion, energy transfer and the movement of nutrients around the body.
Bad Fats – How do they harm us?
Trans Fatty Acids reduce your good cholesterol levels, LDL and increase your bad cholesterol levels, HDL. This can lead to an increased risk for stroke, heart disease and diabetes.
Eating a diet that is overly rich in omega 6 fats can cause high blood pressure and can increase the risk of stroke and heart disease. Not only that, but too much omega 6 in the body can actually impede omega 3’s from doing their job.
Telling the Difference
The quickest way to tell the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats is to see what state they are in at room temperature. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. It makes sense when you think that coconut oil comes in a hard, white lump in the jar and that butter comes in a block.
Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. These include your bottle of olive oil and other liquid fats.
We can also distinguish oils based on their colour, brown fats and white fats. Brown fat is rich in mitochondria which are the energy centres of cells. It is these brown, mitochondria rich fats that play a big part in energy release and transfer in the body.
White fats, on the other hand, don’t burn off energy in the same way brown fats do. White fats store lipids and when we get too much of them, they cause us weight gain of the undesirable kind.
Putting it All Together
As we have seen, fat is just another nutrient like any other. There’s no point in demonising it, our energy is much better spent getting to know the different types of fat and, importantly, how much we need in our diet. There is no one number for any person. Your fat requirements will rise or fall depending on how the remainder of your diet is made up, your age, build, and activity levels.
If you find that you have introduced a range of good fats into your diet, exercise on a regular basis and can’t seem to lose weight it may be that you are consuming more than you need. Again, it is not about adopting a low-fat diet, rather ensuring that your body has the correct balance of nutrients for your individual needs.
Check out our range of meals and snacks to see which items may help you achieve your target in terms of adequate dietary fats.