Do Low-Fat Diets Work?
For a long time fats have had a bad rep, we were told to cut them out and follow a low-fat diet, switching to low-fat/fat free foods to improve health, but has it done that?
The current obesity epidemic in the UK would suggest otherwise. What was the problem? Well we cut back on the healthy fats as well as the harmful ones and replaced them with highly processed carbohydrates high in calories.
Fat is essential in the body, it is necessary to build new cells and is critical for normal brain development, hormone regulation and nerve function. It is also needed to carry and help absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and carotenoids. It protects vital organs in the body by acting as insulation and can also be converted into energy if needed.
However not all fats are created equal, there are “good fats” and “bad fats” and those in-between fats. Let’s start with the good fats because that’s what we want to focus on and those are the unsaturated fats of which there are 2 types- polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. We need them in our diet to help to improve your blood cholesterol levels by lowering the levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and keep our HDL (good cholesterol) levels high.
Polyunsaturated fats are divided up into fatty acids which include Omega-3 and Omega-6, we need to find these from food sources as the body is unable to produce them and for this reason they are referred to as “essential” fatty acids. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines as well as flaxseeds, walnuts and canola oil. Monounsaturated fats are generally liquid at room temperature, but turn slightly solid when chilled. They are found in avocados, nuts and olive oils and have the added benefit of being high in Vitamin E and play a vital role in maintaining and developing cells in the body.
Saturated fats are fats found mainly in animal sources, like meat, cheese and eggs however coconut oil is the exception to this. Eating foods that contain saturated fats raises the level of cholesterol in your blood. Research has shown that high levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Trans fats – probably a good idea to avoid if you value your health. They are a by product of hydrogenation a process used by the food industry to turn healthy oils into solids to stop them from going rancid. These “delightful” fats are linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions and also contribute to insulin resistance, which increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Don’t fear fats in your diet, they have an important role in a healthy lifestyle so the phrase “Everything in moderation” sums up the debate on fats in the diet for us. The occasional doughnut is not going to ruin your health but it is important to be aware of your total fat and calorie intake. All fats, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats have calories. Try to replace saturated fats for unsaturated fat rich foods in the diet, not in addition to them.
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