Understanding Fats

Understanding Fats

Published: July 30, 2014 Last Updated: January 21, 2024

Society has long been told that saturated fat, the type found in meat, butter and cheese, causes heart disease. Fat has a stigma, it’s now a dirty word, and these days many people have a fat phobia, making sure that it is removed as much as possible from the diet, or making sure that the Heart Foundation has placed their tick of approval on a product.

But obesity rates are increasing , and weight-related illness like heart disease is at an all time high. So where are we going wrong?

It all began in the 1960’s when a researcher by the name of Ancel Keys had a theory that fat consumption caused heart disease. He completed epidemiological studies throughout 21 countries with varying results. He then picked the through results to match his hypothesis. These results became the groundwork of the low-fat revolution when Ancel Keys summarised his findings to the American Heart Foundation, which in turn became the basis for normal dietary advice.

Good Fats Bad Fats

Recently, a large and exhaustive new meta-analysis by a team of international scientists found no evidence that eating saturated fat increased heart attacks and other cardiac events. The new findings are part of a growing body of research that has challenged the accepted wisdom that saturated fat is inherently bad for you and will continue the debate about what foods are best to eat.

For decades, health officials have urged the public to avoid saturated fat as much as possible, saying it should be replaced with the unsaturated fats in foods like nuts, fish, seeds and vegetable oils. But the new research, published in the journal The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, did not find that people who ate higher levels of saturated fat had more heart disease than those who ate less. Nor did it find less disease in those eating higher amounts of unsaturated fat, including monounsaturated fat like olive oil or polyunsaturated fat like corn oil.

The Heart Foundation has also come under fire for not revising its message with the emerging research, being featured and investigated on television programs such as A Current Affair and ABC’s Catalyst. Brands promoting products with the Heart Foundation “Tick of Approval” are paying a small fortune to show that they are low in saturated fats; however the Heart Foundation does not have a system for monitoring foods high in sugar, preservatives or other colours and flavours.

Fat is a very important component of our diets and without it we would not be able to make hormones, vitamin D, vitamin K, new cells and brain tissue. Fat is also required for energy, and in fact, fat is a better quick energy source then sugar and satiates the appetite.

There can be much confusion about the type of fats that we consume, for example, Essential Fatty Acids, Omega 3, 6 and 9, Polyunsaturated, Monounsaturated, Saturated, EPA, DHA, GLA, AA, Trans Fats, animal fats, vegetable oils and fish oil.

Essential Fatty Acids

So let’s break it down . It is absolutely necessary to eat essential fatty acids, as the body is unable to make these on its own. There are two types of Essential Fatty Acids - ALA (Alpha Linolenic Acid) also known as Omega 3 and LA (Linoleic Acid) also known as Omega 6. From these two essential fats the body is able to make every other fat which is required for synthesis in the body. By consuming a wide range of fish, nuts, seeds, good quality oils and meats, we can boost the enzymes and cofactors required in the biochemical process of synthesising fats, which may be missing or limited.

The research is showing once again that the macronutrient approach, as in looking at fat in isolation to other nutrients, is an outdated approach which is not serving the health of the community. Instead, we should also be taking into account sugar and refined carbohydrate content, the level of processing of food we consume, as well as the quality of the meat, dairy and oils we are using, the amount of refined salt, and additives like colours, flavours and preservatives in our foods.

A balanced diet is common sense

Common sense should prevail, with a focus on a balanced diet containing real foods such as the recommended five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit per day. It is also important to consider how much you are using vegetable oils such as corn, soybean and canola (rapeseed) oils, which are actually unnatural for the body to consume in the large amounts which are recommended. This does not apply to oilier plants producing oils such as coconut and olives.

For more information on the actual study, please see http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2010/01/13/ajcn.2009.27725.short

If you would like diet and nutrition advice from the experts in natural medicine, contact our experienced Brisbane naturopath team today.

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