Fat Facts – The Truth About Dietary Fat
If you’re struggling to shed a spare tyre or finding it hard to build up muscle tone, then these facts about dietary fat could help you see where you’re going wrong.
FACT 1: Fat doesn’t make you fat
If ever a nutrient was in dire need of a re-brand, it’s fat. Carrying the same name as adipose tissue (fat cells), it’s easy to get confused about fat and to assume that eating fat will make you fat. It won’t. There is one single culprit when it comes to the laying down and development of fat cells, and that is sugar. This isn’t a theory, it’s a matter of simple biochemistry: sugary foods and refined carbohydrates (e.g. white bread, white rice, white pasta) lead to a rise in blood sugar, which generates a release of the hormone insulin. Insulin addresses the blood sugar imbalance by facilitating the storage of excess sugar as fat cells. This process has nothing to do with dietary fat. If you’re regularly consuming sugary foods and carbohydrates such as chocolate, cakes, muffins, cereal bars, white bread, white rice or pasta and drinking a lot of fruit juice, carbonated drinks or alcohol, then this will be generating the insulin response and is likely to be at the root of any problems you have losing weight or gaining muscle tone.
FACT 2: Low-fat foods won’t help you lose weight
If your fridge is full of low-fat products you probably think you’re making a big step towards keeping yourself in shape. The problem is that stripping out the fat from a product usually strips out the flavour as well, so manufacturers add sugar instead. Low-fat fruit yoghurts are a case in point – the small Activia strawberry yoghurt pot contains just over 4 teaspoons of sugar. A skinny blueberry muffin from Starbucks actually contains more sugar (a whopping 7½ teaspoons) than the classic blueberry muffin, which may come as a big shock if you thought you were treating yourself to something that wouldn’t do too much damage. So if you think that a low-fat product is supporting your goal to get in shape, you need to think again. Check those labels to see how much sugar is in any of these products – 4g of sugar is about 1 teaspoon, so it’s easy enough to do the maths and to work out which products to avoid.
FACT 3: Saturated fat isn’t all bad
A number of studies have associated high levels of saturated fat with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease which may be making you understandably cautious. The NHS recommends a limit of 20g of saturated fat per day for women and 30g per day for men, which is actually quite a reasonable amount of saturated fat (a typical steak, trimmed of excess fat, would contain about 3g of saturated fat) and allows a lot of flexibility in what you can eat. If saturated fat was an overwhelming danger to our health, then the NHS would be managing the public message very differently, but the situation is a bit more complicated than that. The truth is that we need fat for a number of things: vitamins A, D, E and K can’t be absorbed successfully without fat and as they play a key role in immunity, reproduction, mental health, bone health and blood clotting, you don’t want to be missing out on them. The body needs fat to support the action of cholesterol which is vital for cell and brain function, digestion and the production of sex hormones. Make sure that you’re not being over-cautious and stripping out all the saturated fat from your diet, as you could be doing more harm than good.
FACT 4: Eating nuts won’t make you fat
Many people are concerned about snacking on nuts and seeds, or eating foods such as avocado, as they worry that these are high in calories and may pile on the pounds. The first thing to note is that these foods don’t contain sugar and so won’t contribute to fat gain (see FACT 1). They are nutrient-dense foods that are rich sources of essential fatty acids (omegas) and have a number of health benefits. In order to derive maximum benefit, you need to opt for unsalted and unroasted nuts such as walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts or hazelnuts as these contain the highest levels of omega 3 essential fat. As the brain is made up of fat, it’s not surprising that we need essential fats for optimal brain function and mental health. They also support vascular health by improving blood flow and play a key role in hormone balance. There’s certainly nothing about them that will make you fat and a small snack of raw nuts mid-afternoon could be just what you need to keep you going.