We need to get over our love/hate relationship with fat and develop a much more sophisticated understanding of fats that are good and how much is appropriate, and also avoid certain fats as much as possible. We now know that it is not as simple as saying all fats are bad, because some of them are critically important. Dietary fats play an essential role in our health, development and wellbeing.
Dietary fat provides flavour to food and is very important for the absorption of lipid-soluble vitamins like A, D and E and provides building blocks for all cells in the body. Fat helps to maintain cell structure integrity. They regulate all function and gene expression and function as signally molecules.
The real issue is that people are eating too much of the wrong kinds of fats and not enough of the right kinds. The type of fat you eat is very important.
The ’bad’ fats are trans-fatty acids and saturated fats. The saturated fats are for instance, the well known cholesterol. Most NZ diets have too much saturated fat found in meat and dairy products and ‘trans’ fats most commonly found in margarine and baked goods like shortbread, biscuits and cookies. Trans fats are also found in many processed foods. They are poor metabolized in the body because of their man-made chemical structure causing harm to body functioning.
The “good” fats include polyunsaturated essential fatty acids (EFA). EFA’s are considered essential because they are needed throughout the human life cycle. They cannot be produced in the human body and therefore must be provided through the diet.
The good unsaturated fatty acids are found in nuts or vegetable oils. The scarcest fat of all –but, one very important for good health – is the Omega 3 polyunsaturated fat found at some of the highest levels in fish.
We are well aware that high fat diets and obesity can lead to heart disease, diabetes and other serious health problems.
History tells us that past populations suffered les physical degeneration than we do and a smaller percentage of them died of cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. This is because we are now dealing with ‘fatty degeneration’ which is the cause of the above killer diseases.
To be in optimum health we need to have satisfactory consumption of essential fats. Surveys have repeatedly shown that members of the affluent countries like New Zealand are consuming too little of the essential substances leading to degenerative diseases. The good news is that reversal of this process is possible by making good food choices – one of them being the consumption of essential fatty acids.
So in a nutshell – replacing the saturated fats like meat or dairy with fats high in Omega 3 activity like fish and nuts and cooking with olive oil, is a healthy change to the ‘fat’ content of our meals.