The facts about fat in your diet

Posted on 19 December 2016

Fat is a loaded word. When is it good and when is it bad? Dietician Ilsabé Spoelstra separates fat from fiction for us.

Do we need to eat fat?
Yes, because our bodies cannot function properly without it. ‘Fat is an important source of energy and also helps with the construction of cell membranes and the synthesis of prostaglandins – the lipids that help repair the body at sites of tissue damage or infection,’ says Ilsabé Spoelstra, a dietician at Mediclinic Bloemfontein. Fat keeps the cogs in your body well oiled, but it is also vitally important for brain health and hormones. Without any fat in your diet, you’re also likely to feel hungry often.

Good fat vs bad fat
You need to include fat in your diet, but this is not a free pass to load your plate with bacon at breakfast. There are different categories of fats and they provide different health benefits.

If the pig was raised on a natural diet, then you can eat a bit more of its bacon. Ilsabé explains, ‘Fat from an animal that has been “grass fed” contains more omega-3 fatty acids. If the animal was “grain fed” you’re better off eating a good vegetable fat like avocado.’

However, it’s not about vegetable fat being better than animal fat – it depends on how a fat is processed. A ‘healthy’ fat is one that is consumed in its natural form. ‘Technology and processing can transform fats and we get transfats and hydrogenated fats and those should be avoided,’ says Ilsabé.

How much fat should I be eating?
If you’re looking for a number, it’s unfortunately not as simple as that. ‘No two people’s genotypes and phenotypes are the same; therefore, everyone should be treated as an individual,’ says Ilsabé. It’s a good idea to consult a dietician to make sure you’re eating the right diet for your body.

The profile of coconut oil has recently been raised as an alternative to cooking with vegetable oil or olive oil. ‘Coconut is a stable oil when heated and it’s a saturated fat with a high percentage of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are easy to turn into energy. However, I recommend the new Vergezocht HO (high oleic) oil on the market,’ says Ilsabé. It is approved as part of the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s eating plan.

Olive oil is a good fat, but it’s better consumed cold. Its low smoke point (the temperature at which volatile compounds are released from the oil), means it can become unstable when heated.

Ilsabé’s top dietary fats are avocado, olives and nuts – all ingredients that work well in salads.

Published in Healthy Life

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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