The second component on my POWER plate is Oils & Fats. Despite the demonisation of fats, most fats are actually good for you and a great source of energising fuel to help keep cravings at bay and boost your performance at work.
What’s so good about fat?
Did you know that the brain is made up of around 70% fat? Which means adequate healthy fat in the diet is essential for keeping you alert throughout the day. And like protein, fats are way more satiating than carbs, keeping you fuller for longer and keeping those dreaded cravings at bay.
In fact, every cell in our body is enveloped in a membrane of fat, and even the much-maligned cholesterol dwells in this membrane without which the cell would not survive.
We need fat to protect and cushion us, for healthy hormones, healthy brain chemicals, healthy heart, healthy joints, radiant skin... and the list goes on.
Fat is also needed to transport and absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K which are all critical to optimal health and wellbeing. You’ll find that fat-rich foods are high in the fat soluble vitamins e.g. vitamin D in oily fish and vitamin E in avocado.
So don’t be fat phobic and make healthy fats part of your daily eating plan.
Sources of healthy fat
There are different types of ‘good’ fats depending on their molecular structure but the following are all beneficial to our health:
Monounsaturated fats: these include avocados, olives and their oils ie staples of the ‘Mediterranean’ diet.
These include Omegas 3 and 6, the essential fatty acids that the body cannot manufacture itself and must therefore come from the diet.
Omega 3 sources: SMASH ie the oily fish salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring. It's also present in fresh tuna (not canned) and pasture-raised eggs. Plant sources include flaxseeds, flax oil, chia seeds and walnuts.
Two Omega 3 essential fatty acids are EPA and DHA which are particularly high in fish, shellfish, and some algae. While EPA is best known for its anti-inflammatory effects, DHA is a major part of the brain’s structure and used to build new brain cells - further evidence that your brain needs fat to stay healthy.
Omega 6 sources: most nuts and seeds such as hazelnuts, almonds, sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds.
Top tip: Soaking nuts in the fridge overnight makes them more digestible. Then bake nuts e.g. almonds in oven on low temperature (around 150ºC, 300ºF, Gas mark 2) for 30-40 minutes until crisp and crunchy.
Saturated fats e.g. meat, poultry, butter, eggs and coconut. Contrary to popular belief even saturated fats are beneficial for human health in moderate amounts and after years of demonisation studies have shown no association between this class of fats and heart disease. In a systematic review (2014) it was found that "only trans fatty acid intake was significantly associated with a risk of coronary disease".
Ditch the low fat and enjoy full fat
Time and again I advise my clients to eat a natural full-fat yoghurt and add some nourishing berries and a sprinkling of seeds, and once they're over their initial fear of gaining weight (it doesn't happen), they never look back! If you're used to having a low fat yoghurt, you may be surprised to learn that it contains far more sugar than its full fat counterpart, and is likely to leave you feeling hungry and sluggish. You'll find out what the body does with that extra sugar in the next episode...
I admit it: I am a total coconut addict! It has a high burning point so doesn’t get damaged when heated and I happily add a teaspoon of coconut oil to my stir-fries, scrambled eggs, curries and even porridge! The fat in coconut is known as a medium chained triglyceride (MCT) and rather than getting stored in the body as fat, it travels directly to the liver where it is converted into energy.
Avoid the ‘bad’ fats
Whilst the above fats are essential for good health, there are some harmful fats that need to be avoided. The most dangerous are artificial trans fats, also known as hydrogenated oils, which are cheap vegetable oils that have had their molecular structure altered to become more solid, such as margarine. Note that if a fat is liquid in its natural state, then it is an oil, and that’s how we should consume it.
Steer clear of deep-fried fast foods, margarine, crisps, shop-bought biscuits, cakes and baked goods. These bad fats increase the risk of heart attacks (see WHO), heart disease and strokes, plus they contribute to increased inflammation, diabetes and other health problems. So there are some fats that you do need to be phobic about after all.
How much fat do we need?
On my POWER Eating plate I have represented fat as around 15% of total energy intake, but remember that a lot of protein foods also contain fat, e.g. oily fish, meat, chicken, yoghurt etc – so it could amount to around 30% of your daily intake. For a daily calorie intake of around 2,000 this would translate into around 75 grams of fat - unless you want to go keto, in which case fat would make up around 60-80% of your diet but that's for another blog!
How much fat is in my food?
So take your pick from the following, especially the oily fish and the plants, with the red meat once or twice a week max.
5 g of fat in a 150g pot of full-fat yoghurt
16 g of fat in 10-12 walnut halves
20 g of fat in 20 macadamia nuts
15 g of fat in an avocado
14g in a salmon fillet
21g total fat in a lamb chop
10g total fat in 2 squares of 70% dark chocolate (or go for 80% or even 90%).
But doesn’t fat make me fat?
This is a myth. The essential fatty acids, particularly Omega 3, can actually help you lose weight as they increase your metabolic rate, your sensitivity to insulin and your ability to burn fat.
So think Mediterranean diet and you’ll be super healthy, super energised with a brain that will thank you for years to come!