The Truth About Fat

The good, bad and everything in-between. The truth about fats.

We’ve all heard the cliché, ‘A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips’. For years, fat has had a bad reputation. A victim of long-standing marketing campaigns that pushed ‘low-fat’ alternatives as the healthier option, fat was something that we were told to avoid if we wanted to stay healthy and trim. But the ‘low-fat’ shift didn’t make us healthier, probably because we cut back on healthy fats as well as harmful ones. In fact, cutting all fat from your diet means that you’ll miss out on the healthy fats that can aid weight loss and help us feel fuller for longer.

Why do our bodies need fat?

In our hunter-gatherer days, humans evolved to seek out the most concentrated supply of calories, and fat, which has 9 calories per gram (versus 4 per gram in carbohydrates and protein) was our best food source for survival. Humans are hard wired to crave the flavour that fat provides, which in today’s world can make it easy to overeat. However, fat still plays a critical role in our diets.

As a primary energy source, the body must consume essential fatty acids to support basic body functions. The body converts fat into energy, and it is used to build nerve tissue and control hormones and inflammation. It delivers key nutrients to our bodies, vitamins A, D, E and K are called fat-soluble because they need fat to be absorbed, therefore if fat is not readily available, these vitamins cannot be absorbed properly.

How much fat is enough?

At 9 calories per gram, fat in any form has more calories than proteins and carbohydrates. Even if you are eating ‘good’ fats, it can be easy not realise you are eating too much. Take olive oil, just one teaspoon has 120 calories and, unless you are meticulous about measuring, it’s easy to pour more than one serving. One way to ensure you are consuming the right amount is to count your macros using a tracking app like My Fitness Pal.

The truth about good fats and bad fats

‘Good’ fats, also known as unsaturated fats, exist in two forms, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated which are essential for the body. Good fats help with nutrient absorption and studies have found that foods with healthy fats, like avocado and nuts, take longer to digest and therefore help keep you fuller longer. They can also speed up your metabolism and help regulate blood sugar. They may also reduce the risk of obesity and diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases.

‘Bad’ fats exist in the form of saturated fats and trans fats. When eaten regularly or in excess, these cause the body to produce bad cholesterol. There is one fat that you should be particularly wary of: man-made trans fats, which have been shown to raise bad (LDL) cholesterol and lower good (HDL) cholesterol. Unlike other unsaturated fats, which tend to have health benefits, these have been chemically altered through a process called hydrogenation to make the product they are in easier to sell (for example, some packaged foods contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats to make them last longer on store shelves).

To avoid them, stay away from food which list hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredients panel.

Choose your cooking oil wisely

When it comes to choosing the best cooking oil for your recipe, there are several factors to consider. Among the most important are taste, nutritional value, and smoke point.

The smoke point of an oil or fat is the temperature at which it starts to burn and degrade. When an oil is heated past its smoke point, chemical changes occur that not only negatively affect the food’s flavour and nutritional value, but also create cancer-causing compounds that are harmful when consumed and/or inhaled. Considering the smoke point of an oil is important because at or beyond this point can transform a healthy fat into an unhealthy one.

Oils and fats with a higher smoke point are more suited to frying food than those with lower smoke points, which are more suited for cold use – such as in salad dressings. When cooking at higher temperatures choose oils such as avocado oil, safflower oil or rapeseed oil. Oils such as walnut oil or extra virgin olive oil are perfect for salads.

Storage is key

Exposure to light, air, moisture and even some metals can degrade the quality of fat or oil over time. Even ‘good’ fats will become ‘bad’ fats when rancid. The fat breaks down into smaller particles called fatty acids. This process creates a bad smell, changes in colour, and a negative change called oxidation.  Eating rancid fat may not make you ill over the short term but consuming it over time can negatively affect your health. Store fats and oils in a cool dark space in tightly sealed bottles or jars.   

It’s also worth bearing in mind that oils (especially vegetable-based oils) can lose their optimum food quality after a relatively short period of time, so keep an eye on best before dates.

Include good fats in your daily meals

Monounsaturated fats are abundant in foods such as avocado, legumes, olives, seeds and nuts. Polyunsaturated fats can be found in foods such as walnuts, flaxseeds and fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel which contain omega-3 fatty acids. Try sprinkling nuts and seeds over salads or swap out unhealthy snacks for foods such as olives to ensure that you are including plenty of good fats in your diet.

At Balance Box, we’re passionate about healthy eating and wellbeing. Our mission is to provide our customers with nutritionally balanced, perfectly portioned meals delivered straight to their door. And with different plans, there’s something for everyone no matter what your health goals are. Head over to our meal plan page and see what’s cooking in the Balance Box kitchen.