Park that notion that fat is bad. It is not. In fact, most of us aren’t eating enough of it. Fat can help you lose weight, protect against heart disease, absorb vitamins and boost your immune system. Do you know which fats to eat and which to avoid?
These are the fats that have the worst reputation, and they’re found in animal fats and coconut oil.
Here’s the controversial bit because it goes entirely against what we have been told for decades (and we are still being told by government agencies) … these saturated fats that you eat – the dietary saturated fats – don’t raise cholesterol.
The fats that are ‘bad’ are the trans fats, which cause cell membranes to become stiff and hard, and they no longer function correctly. Trans fats are harmful to cardiovascular health (lower good cholesterol – increase level of bad cholesterol). Some trans fats are contained naturally in dairy products, but particularly in processed foods (i.e. hydrogenated oils, margarine).
These are the kinds of fats associated with the Mediterranean diet – particularly olive oil -, and populations that eat a lot of these fats, like the people of Greece and Italy, have some of the lowest rates of heart disease in the world. Many cardiologists advocate the Mediterranean diet, as higher intakes of this kind of fat are linked to lower cholesterol (or, to be more accurate, a better ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol).
You will probably know these as omega-3 and omega-6 – the essential fatty acids. ‘Essential’ relates to the fact that the body cannot make this kind of fat; you need to eat it as part of your diet – or take it as a supplement.
They fulfil many roles in the body, and sufficient levels have implications for cell membranes, hormones (they regulate insulin function), managing inflammation and immunity, mood and memory.
As a rule, omega-6 fats are not as good for you as the omega-3 fats, which are all anti-inflammatory. It’s not that omega-6 fats are inherently bad, just that it’s less good when the balance between the omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids gets disturbed.
Historically, humans ate a good ratio of omega-6 to 3 – ranging between 1:1 and 4:1. The modern western diet has changed things for the worse, and the ratio is frequently 20:1 thanks to processed foods, vegetable oils and conventionally raised (rather than grass-fed) meat.
What happens is that you get more of this…
- Increase in inflammatory conditions/ autoimmune disease
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol
Here’s why fat is essential in the body…
- It’s a concentrated energy source. Gram for gram, fat is twice as efficient as carbohydrates in energy production.
- Fat can be an energy store. Excess fat is stored for future energy production (excess calorific intake).
- Protection – internal (visceral) fat protects your internal organs, like the kidneys and spleen.
- ‘Subcutaneous adipose tissue’ (that’s code for the fat that you can feel by pinching your skin) helps to maintain normal body temperature and provides padding.
- Fats regulate inflammation, mood and nerve function.
- Every cell membrane in our body is made of fat – the brain is 60% fat.
- Many hormones are made from fat. These are known as steroid hormones and they govern stress, sex, and immune function.
- Fats are actually essential for survival (experiments on rats in the 1920s showed that, then fat was removed from the diet they died).
- Fat is the preferred fuel for muscles and the heart. The brain can also burn fat for fuel.
- Essential fatty acids are required for healthy skin, healthy cell membranes, healthy nerves, healthy joints and to help with absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
How did fat get such a bad name?
Fat has got a bad reputation. Over the last 70 years low-fat products have been marketed as the saviour of our health. And the message from governments and the media was – and largely still is – that, when eaten, fat gets stored as fat in the body and puts us at greater risk of heart disease.
Part of the problem, of course, is that we use the same word for the fat we DON’T want (on the hips, around the middle and so on) and the fat we eat.
The demonization of fat began when an American scientist called Ancel Keys produced the first ‘evidence’ linking saturated fat to heart disease in 1953. He based his scientific opinion on observational data of heart disease, death rates and fat consumption in six countries (ignoring statistics from a further 16 countries because they contradicted his hypothesis) and assumed a correlation between heart disease and eating fat. (As an aside, when another scientist looked at the same research, this time considering ALL 22 countries’ data, no correlation was found).
Although there might have been correlation (there was a relationship), it was not causal (didn’t actually cause the situation).
A further study on rabbits compounded Ancel Keys’ hypothesis: The rabbits were fed cholesterol (which doesn’t normally form a part of their 100% veggie diet) and went on to develop fatty deposits in their arteries. And then, guess what happened? Poor bunnies!
Governments (and their health care agencies) across the world began advocating a low fat diet. They told us to fill up on bread, rice, cereals and pasta, and opt for low-fat or no-fat alternatives wherever we could.
Soon, the food industry jumped on board to create products that better satisfied this new advice. They replaced saturated fats with ‘healthier’ vegetable oils, like margarine and shortening – ironically trans fats are now one of the few fats research shows ARE linked to heart disease. The biggest problem is that, when you remove the fat from foods, you need to replace it with something else to make those foods palatable – and this replacement is sugar. This was a REALLY bad move.
My favourite fats
AVOCADOS They go with practically anything and are high in both vitamin E and in healthy monounsaturated fats. Slice it, mash it, love it!
COCONUT OIL There’s so much to like. Apart from helping reduce bad cholesterol and blood pressure, coconut oil is an anti-fungal (caprylic acid) when used both externally or internally. The ideal replacement for butter in baking and as your oil of choice when frying (though we think it works best if you’re cooking something with an Asian influence).
NUTS Packed with nutrients like magnesium and vitamin E, nuts bring plenty of essential fats to the table. They make the perfect snack – eat a handful (preferably raw) with a small piece of fruit or spread a little nut butter on an oatcake (peanut butter is just for starters – try almond for a change).
OILY FISH are chock full of omega 3 fatty acids, which are the building blocks of your sex hormones, so are essential for hormone balance. We love them all!
OLIVE OIL Use cold pressed organic oil as a dressing on salads rather than to cook with as the high temperatures reached when roasting or frying can turn the oil rancid.
Cooking with fat
How the fat is used (through cooking and processing) is a big deciding factor whether it is healthy or unhealthy. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) become free radicals in the presence of light, oxygen and heat.
That is because frying with oils like olive oil at high temperature leads to oxidation and the production of free radicals – highly inflammatory for the body and may increase the risk of heart disease or cancer.
Use these oils for cooking
Coconut oil, avocado oil, butter or ghee, or goose fat (clarified butter).
NOT extra virgin olive oil or sunflower oil. Don’t use sunflower oil at all (although do eat the seeds) and save extra virgin olive oil for dressings on salads.
Avocado is known by its botanical name Persea Americana. It is also known as alligator pepper. Today, over 80 varieties of avocado exist most of which is HASS avocado.
Avocado is extremely nutritious.
It is loaded with high amounts of healthy fat, essential minerals and vitamins including fibre, vitamins K, B6, B5, C, E, folate, magnesium and potassium.
Did you know that avocado is one of the few fruits that can provide you with high amounts of good fat and protein? Did you know that avocado offers amazing number of benefits? Let’s take a look…
Here are 21 amazing benefits of avocado
1) Avocado enhances your body’s ability to absorb nutrients from plant food
Enhancing your body’s ability to absorb nutrients from plant food is one of the amazing benefits of avocado.
It is important for your body to be able to absorb the nutrients from the food you eat where they can be used. Some nutrients need to be combined with fat in order to be absorbed meaning they are fat soluble.
A recent research carried out by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that adding fresh avocado or avocado oil to salad increased the body’s absorption of carotenoid antioxidant from the salad.
So, when avocado is eaten with other foods, your body is better able to absorb nutrients such as beta-carotene and lutein.
2) Avocado helps to protect your eyes
Protecting your eyes is one of the amazing benefits of avocado. Avocado is rich in the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin which are essential for eye health. They protect the macula area of your eyes responsible for short range vision and detail.
A study published in the Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science Journal showed that lutein and zeaxanthin significantly reduced the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration which is common in the elderly.
3) Avocado helps to lower cholesterol and triglycerides levels
Lowering cholesterol and triglycerides levels is one of the amazing benefits of avocado. A number of blood markers including high total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides levels are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
A study suggested that a diet rich in mono-unsaturated fats using avocado as their major source reduced the total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol levels. It also reduced triglyceride levels and increased the HDL-cholesterol level by about 11%.
The soluble fibre in avocado also helps with lowering cholesterol.
4) Avocado helps to reduce your homocysteine levels
Helping to reduce your homocysteine level is one of the amazing benefits of avocado. Homocysteine is a consistent marker for cardiovascular disease. High homocysteine is linked to an increase risk of cardiovascular disease. Avocado is high in folate and vitamin B6. Research has shown that vitamin B6 and folate reduces homocysteine level in the blood.
5) Avocado helps with weight loss
Helping with weight loss is one of the amazing benefits of avocado. Avocado is high in fibre, a plant matter that is not digested by the body.
High fibre foods make you feel full, reduce your hunger and cravings so you do not eat more than you need. This helps with weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight.
A study published in the Journal of Nutrition showed that a diet high in fibre promotes satiation, prolongs satiety and encourages healthy food choices and eating habits. It also encouraged weight loss and maintenance.
6) Avocado has anti-inflammatory properties
Its anti-inflammatory properties are one of the amazing benefits of avocado. Avocado and avocado oil is high in good fat. It is rich in the healthy mono-unsaturated fat called oleic acid which is also the main component of olive oil.
Oleic acid has anti-inflammatory properties, it has been linked to reducing inflammation. A study published in the Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology Journal found that oleic acid reduces the biomarkers of inflammation.
7) Avocado helps to support healthy blood pressure levels
Supporting healthy blood pressure levels is one of the amazing benefits of avocado. Avocado is very rich in potassium. It contains about 14% of the recommended daily amount compared to 10% found in bananas.
Potassium has been linked to reducing high blood pressure. A systematic review published in the BMJ showed that an increased potassium intake reduced blood pressure in people with high blood pressure.
8) Avocado helps to stabilize blood glucose levels
Stabilizing blood glucose levels is one of the amazing benefits of avocado. Avocado is high in soluble fibre which helps to stabilize blood glucose levels.
9) Avocado helps to nourish and moisturise your skin
Nourishing and moisturising your skin is one of the amazing benefits of avocado. Avocado is rich in antioxidant carotenoids such as beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin which helps to protect your skin from free radicals that can cause damage and aging.
Avocado is also rich in vitamin C and E, strong antioxidants which also prevent free radical damage. Vitamin C is also important for the formation of collagen and elastin which helps to maintain the structure and firmness of your skin and Vitamin E is important for the maintenance of healthy skin.
10) Avocado helps to build healthy bones
Helping to build healthy bones is one of the amazing benefits of avocado. Avocado is high in vitamin K, an important nutrient for building healthy bones and the proper metabolism of calcium.
11) Avocado is a great conditioner for your hair
Conditioning your hair is one of the amazing benefits of avocado. It’s natural oil acts as a hair mask and helps to revitalise the scalp.
12) Avocado helps to improve your digestive health
Improving your digestive health is one of the amazing benefits of avocado. Avocado is rich in dietary fibre. About 75% of the fibre is insoluble while the remaining 25% is soluble.
Insoluble fibre helps to prevent constipation. It bulks up your stool and helps to maintain food moving through your digestive tract while soluble fibre helps to feed the healthy bacteria in your digestive tract helping to increase their numbers. This will boost your digestive health.
13) Avocado helps to boost your immune system
Boosting your immune system is one of the amazing benefits of avocado. Avocado is rich in vitamin C which is important for a healthy immune system. It is also high in antioxidants which help to reduce inflammation as a result boosting your immune system.
14) Avocado may contribute to cancer risk reduction
Contributing to cancer risk reduction is one of the amazing benefits of avocado. Avocado contains various bioactive carotenoids.
A study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry found that these bioactive carotenoids are likely to be absorbed into the blood stream, where in combination with other diet-derived phytochemicals they may contribute to the important prostate cancer risk reduction linked with a diet of fruits and vegetables.
15) Avocado helps with balancing your hormones
Helping to keep your hormones balanced is one of the amazing benefits of avocado. Avocado is rich in mono-unsaturated healthy fat which are essential building blocks for hormone production and keeping your hormones in check.
16) Avocado helps to build lean muscle mass
Helping to build lean muscle mass is one of the amazing benefits of avocado. Avocado has a high protein and low sugar content which can help to build lean muscle mass and burn fat.
17) Avocado helps to maintain cellular health
Maintaining cellular health is one of the amazing benefits of avocado. Avocado is rich in magnesium which is important for maintaining cellular health.
18) Avocado pits can be used for arts and craft
Using avocado pits for arts and craft is one of the amazing benefits of avocado. Avocado is so flexible, you can use the pit for arts and craft.
19) Avocado can be used as a natural food dye
Using avocado as a natural food dye is one of the amazing benefits of avocado. You can use the ink from the pit as a natural food dye.
20) Avocado helps to improve your mood
Improving your mood is one of the amazing benefits of avocado. Avocado is rich in the healthy mono-unsaturated fat which can help to improve your mood and your sense of wellbeing.
21) Avocado supports healthy pregnancy
Supporting healthy pregnancy is one of the amazing benefits of avocado. Avocado is rich in folic acid (folate) which is an important nutrient for forming your baby’s brain and nervous system. It is also rich in vitamin B6 which is important for your baby’s growth.
As you can see, avocado’s amazing benefits are great and so is its taste.
1) Fulgoni V, Dreher M, Davenport A. Avocado consumption associated with better nutrient intake and better health indices in U.S. adults (19+ years): NHANES 2001-2006. Abstract #8514. Experimental Biology, Anaheim, CA. April 28, 2010. 2010.
2) Delcourt C, Carriere I, Delage M, Barberger-Gateau P, Schalch W, POLA Study Group (2006) Plasma Lutein and Zeaxanthin and other Carotenoids as Modified Risk Factors for Age-Related Maculopathy and Cataract: The POLA Study. Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science, 47: 2329-2335.
3) Carranza J, Alvizouri M, Alvarado M R, Chavez F, Gomez M, Herrera J E (1995) Effects of avocado on the level of blood lipids in patients with phenotype ii and IV dyslipidemias. PUBMED 65:342-348.
4) Burton-Freeman B (2000) Dietary Fiber and Energy Regulation. Journal of Nutrition, 130: 272S-275S
5) Basu A, Devaraj S, Jialal I (2006) Dietary factors that Promote or Retard Inflammation. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, 26: 995-1001