Not all fats are created equal, but this isn’t new information. Case in point? Percentage-wise, almonds are far higher in fat than plain croissants, though the latter has little nutritional value while the former is considered a ‘superfood’.
So which foods contain the most beneficial fats, how much should you actually be consuming and what role do they play in your body?
The misconception that fats should be avoided for their high kilojoule content has diluted over recent years. Here and now in 2017, we understand that healthy fats aren’t the absolute enemy. In fact, there are entire diets (the paleo, the ketogenic) that pivot on high fat consumption. While we’re not endorsing either of those (balance is the goal) there’s a whole host of reasons that healthy fats are beneficial.
These five points form a compelling case for including more in your diet
While all bodies are different, and no two diets are the same, you may have trouble putting down the fork sometimes. That’s where fats can help. Foods rich in monounsaturated fats take longer to digest, allowing you to experience less overall hunger.
2. Brain health and mood
Your brain is composed of 60 per cent fat and will always benefit from being ‘fed’. So, what should you feed it with? Foods rich in Omega-3 fats are the best choices for overall brain health: they build cell membranes, minimise inflammation and promote the formation of new cells.
As an energy source, fat yields an incredible 9 calories per gram—significantly more than protein and carbohydrates, which are each said to provide only four calories per gram. Carbs have traditionally been sold to us as the best source of energy, particularly when physical activity is concerned. However, the slow release energy that fats provide make a strong argument for including them in each meal.
4. Optimal vitamin absorption
Did you know that some vitamins actually require fat to be absorbed properly in the body? Primarily, try to consume these vitamins with fats:
- A, for bone and teeth growth and its antioxidant properties
- D, for absorption of calcium and promoting brain integrity
- E, for its antioxidant properties
- K, for maintaining bone health and blood clotting
5. Healthy skin
If glowing skin is on your wish-list, the consumption of—you guessed it—healthy fats can assist. The right kinds of fats can stimulate the skin’s collagen production, act as a powerful antioxidant and reduce inflammation.
Now: which fats, which foods and how much?
Nutritionist and founder of Brunchfast Club Kate Levins advises that “Daily fat intake should account for between 20-35 per cent of total kilojoule intake each day.” Australia’s health and medical research governing body, the National Health and Medical Research Council, agrees.
Kate continues: “The lower end of this margin looks like half of an avocado, one egg, one teaspoon of olive oil and a small handful of almonds,” she says. “This margin, however, assumes you’re not a very active person. A greater intake of fat is not a problem, so long as that fat is being utilised within the body.”
Almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, avocado, olive oil and vegetable oils are all rich in polyunsaturated fat. This kind of fat can assist in lowering your LDL cholesterol levels, supply nutrients that develop and maintain your body’s cells and contribute vitamin E to the diet—a vital antioxidant.
This category incorporates precious omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Because our bodies aren’t able to make these naturally, these essential fatty acids can only be acquired via our diets. They aid in optimal brain function (including treating depression and improving memory), lowering blood fat (triglycerides) and treating conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. Eating oily fish like wild salmon or fresh tuna two to three times per week should deliver adequate levels for most people.
Unsaturated fats are predominantly beneficial ones—although trans fats (artificial fats with precisely zero health benefits and links with heart disease) are technically unsaturated. You’ll know the difference—healthy unsaturated fats take liquid form at room temperature, while trans and saturated fats are solid.
Bolstering your intake of unsaturated fat can be as simple as choosing nuts (especially walnuts) or sunflower seeds for snacks instead of biscuits, and replacing some meat meals with oily fish (eg. salmon, tuna, mackerel or herring), and using polyunsaturated or monosaturated oils for cooking.
With such an array of choices and associated benefits, healthy fats can be embraced to better serve the body and enhance quality of life.