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The role of fats in our diet

By Darren O'Toole | In Nutrition | on June 6, 2017

Nutrition is a confusing topic. Partially, it’s because best-selling diet books need to say something controversial in order to shift copies – but also because, quite frankly, there is no perfect diet for anyone. Our hormones, activity levels, upbringing, tolerances, fat distributions are all different and as such so are our caloric needs. However, the best starting point is two-fold.  The first is to understand the basic principle of thermogenesis ie, if you burn more calories than you consume, you’ll lose weight. If you consume more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight. The second is to truly understand what the nutrients are and why we need them.

A balanced diet consists of key macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), water and fibre. Remove any aspect of these from your diet and you will have an unsustainable, unbalanced diet. Simple! We can lower and occasionally alter the contribution of each macronutrient, but essentially each need to be present over the long-term. This month we will explore the benefits of consuming fats in your diet.

Fats

The biggest issue with fats is that their name is the same name as the blubbery stuff that we all wish we had a little less off on our body. As such, for years, people associated eating dietary fats with the subcutaneous fat that we all like to shift for our summer holidays!

However, not all fats are ‘bad’ and some are absolutely essential. Fats do the following key tasks:

– Protect our internal organs

– Thermoregulation (temperature control) as subcutaneous fat provides insulation (ask any bodybuilder a few days out from their show how they are feeling and you’ll likely get the response of ‘hungry and cold’).

– Insulation of nerve cells which enables the nerves to conduct electrical messages efficiently ie, helping us to carry out tasks which need our brains to talk to our muscles.

– Provide energy: 1g of fat will provide 9kcals of energy. We may all like to think of how life would be at 5% body fat but the reality is that living at 10-15% would make us look super lean and also have an abundance of usable energy.

– Growth, development and repair of body tissues as the cell membrane surrounding all body cells consists of a double layer of fat and protein. Fats in the skin are responsible for radiant complexions and also keep the hair looking sleek and glossy. One of the first signs of a diet low in fat is dull, dry skin. As a hint, the shampoos and conditioners which promise to give ‘life back to dull, lifeless hair’ essentially contain forms of fats and proteins as you are clearly not consuming enough in your diet.

– In women, storage and modification of reproductive hormones, particularly oestrogen, takes place in adipose tissue. If the percentage of body fat drops too low, reproductive function will be compromised. As a secondary thought, integrating a whole host of different diets over the years will mess with our hormones. Is it any wonder that in our era of constant crash dieting, the IVF requirements for pregnancies have gone through the roof?

What’s more, fats also make a lot of our foods taste nicer. So, it has got a bad press, right? Well, not exactly. Some fats are not good and we would be best served by eliminating them for the most part. These are trans fats – your biscuits, cakes, and parts of the ready meal industry. Companies use this form of fats in foods as it is significantly cheaper to process and tends to be able to last for a lot longer. I know we all love a bargain, but consider how much crap is in a packet of crisps that they have been able to sell for 20 pence?! Ok I know, it’s the tastier stuff that I am suggesting that you cut, but it is also the ones which offer instant gratification followed by lethargy and, in some cases, self-loathing. The ones that we can consume a little more of are: saturated fats (ignore some of the bad press that these used to receive), polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. These fats often come in the form of oils such as palm, coconut and olive oils. These fats also include butter, meat and meat products, eggs and avocados.

There are also essential fats that we need to consume – Omega 3 and 6 – which can come in the form of dark green vegetables, seeds, oily fish and certain nuts such as walnuts.

This article is an extract from our FREE Nutritional giveaway guide. Download it today.

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