After years of being told you need to cut back on your fats, word on the street is fat is back! You’ve all heard about poly and monounsaturated fats — you find them in olive oil, avocado and nuts, but there are also omega-3 fats that you consume when you eat fatty fish like salmon or sardines.
While this is all nothing terribly new, nutritionists are now hinting that saturated fats have a place in a healthy diet. You’ll find saturated fats in red meat, full-fat dairy, baked goods, and fried and processed foods. In the past, such fats were blamed for clogging your arteries and raising your cholesterol levels.
As nutritionist and health coach Jan McLeod says, it is important people eat whole foods, as naturally produced as possible, while also eating foods in recommended portions that will give you the nutrients you need.
“When we often discuss food, we do so by looking at a specific food or group in isolation,” McLeod says.
“Healthier eating is best understood by starting with an understanding of the ratio of macronutrients needed, for example, carbs, fats, protein, water. Then we go to foods within the food categories and eventually decide on serving sizes. The nutrients in the food and the nutrient density of the food becomes an important consideration.”
McLeod also highlights that factors such as age, gender and your level of physical activity can all influence actual amounts, ratios and serving sizes.
“Using age as an example , we know once women pass through menopause their risk of osteoporosis increases, so you can focus on foods that offer the nutrients needed to prevent or mitigate the osteoporosis risk including those containing calcium and magnesium among others,” she says.
Fats are a core and essential element of a healthy balanced eating plan, and according to McLeod a healthy eating plan should comprise of around 25 to 30 per cent fatty acids.
Fats provide energy and are also essential to healthy cells, hormone balance, skin and hair, your immunity and they act as antioxidants protecting your health.
Key fats are Vitamin A, D, E and K, while omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids also play important roles because they are essential for brain development.
“Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids also play an important role in maintaining appropriate levels of inflammation in your bodies,” McLeod says. “It is the role of omega-3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation while it is the role of omega-6 fatty acids to promote inflammation.”
Avocado is rich in omega-9 fats and it supports healthy skin and hormone balance. It promotes digestive health and is a rich form of fibre.
A high quality bacon, such as pasture-raised, is said to be full of the nutrient choline and this has been found to ward off the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease and other chronic mental impairments. You’ll also get a good dose of the many B vitamins and zinc from bacon, which are said to help your brain produce serotonin and reduce anxiety.
Certain types of chocolate can protect your ticker. Studies show that dark chocolate is one such type that can improve your health and lower your risk of heart disease. It’s nutritious, a powerful source of antioxidants, is said to improve blood flow and lower blood pressure.
You need about 200mg (roughly 50g) of 70 to 80 per cent dark chocolate, and you should look for ‘cocoa solids’ as the first ingredient — not sugar. McLeod also says that while dark chocolate is a good fatty food you should “keep portions moderate; it is an occasional food to be enjoyed”.
“Eggs are a great whole food so you should eat them as a whole food,” McLeod says.
Eggs are an incredible source of vitamin A, selenium, B vitamins and choline. Egg yolks are said to contain higher levels of vitamin D and carotenoids. More than half the protein of an egg is found in the egg white, while lower amounts of healthy fat and cholesterol are located in the yolk. McLeod recommends you boil, poach, bake or use the whole egg as part of an omelette to get the most benefit.
Flax and chia seeds
Flax and chia seeds are very high in omega-3 fatty acids, in fact chia seeds are said to contain more omega-3s than salmon (compared gram for gram). Flax seeds (also known as linseeds) could also be beneficial for your digestion, improve the appearance of your skin, lower cholesterol, balance your hormones and reduce your sugar cravings.
Around 3 tablespoons of flax seeds are said to contain more than 6,300mg of omega-3s, 8g of fibre and 6g of protein. They also contain vitamin B6, iron, potassium, copper and zinc.
“I generally recommend full-fat dairy, however you should consume it in moderation,” says McLeod, while also highlighting that there is dairy that is higher in fats than others.
Dairy foods are known to be full of micronutrients such as vitamin D and potassium, which is beneficial for your heart, blood pressure and insulin sensitivity. A higher fat content (compared to low-fat varieties) is also said to keep you fuller longer.
If you frequently eat full-fat butter, milk research has found you are no more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes than those who have low-fat dairy.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend women over the age of 51 should consume at least four serves of dairy each day, while men aged between 50 and 70 should consume at least two and a half serves and men aged over 70 should have three and a half serves of dairy a day.
Aside from what has already been mentioned, Jan McLeod says there are a number of key messages likely underpinning why these foods are being promoted.
“Focus on whole nutrient dense foods, focus on variety, knowing that fats are an essential part of a healthy diet, focus on small or moderate amounts of foods containing fats, and an aim to obtain healthy fats from as naturally produced and/or grown as possible are all implied with this push to consume fatty foods,” McLeod says.