Despite receiving bad press over many years, fats play a vital role in the body for optimal health. Our brain is the fattest organ in the body and may consist of 60 percent fat.
Fats are a great source of energy, more-so than protein or carbohydrates. Vitamins A,D, E and K are fat-soluble, requiring fats for transport around the body. We need good fats to build healthy cholesterol (HDL) to break down unhealthy cholesterol (LDL) in our body.
Fat is required in the body for the production of sex hormones. Fat in food equals flavour!
Fats are Saturated (solid at room temperature – think butter, coconut oil) or Unsaturated (liquid at room temp - olive, sesame, rice bran.)
Plant foods contain mostly unsaturated fats; olives, avocados, nuts and seeds – their oils being high in healthy unsaturated fats; coconut and palm oil are exceptions as saturated fats. Saturated fats are mostly found in animal foods – meat, dairy and need to be limited as they contribute to inflammatory and cardiovascular diseases.
Hydrogenated fat (or Trans Fats,) are the most troublesome types – being unsaturated fats heated and treated with hydrogen and often aluminium (making them solid at room temperature.) Considered the worst type of fat for our bodies they are found in processed foods – cakes, cookies, pastries, pies, potato chips, corn chips, French fries, margarine. These are fats the body cannot deal with, leading to fatty sluggish liver, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline and cancer risks.
Choose these foods daily for top quality fats:
Oily fish – sardines, salmon, ideally small oily fishes. All provide Omega 3 healthy fats.
Avocado, a great alternative to butter.
Nuts and seeds (provide great Omega 3, use raw not roasted, a good handful a day. Also cold-pressed nut and seed oils; sesame, almond, avocado, all nut oils (do not heat, best used cool drizzled over salads.)
Coconut oil, cold pressed. Yes it’s a saturated fat, but in small quantities this is a fat the body utilises well.
Store oils in dark glass bottles and choose cold pressed. Oils are volatile, sensitive to heat and light, and are easily oxidised so keep them in a dark, cool cupboard and away from the stove and sunshine.
n Jan van der Lee is a Clinical Nutritionist based at Waipu Natural Health, 3 Cove Road, Waipu, (09) 432 1325, waipunaturalhealth.co.nz