Without Googling, can you identify which food has fat in them?
a) Sushi b) Hamburger and fries c) A glass of milk d) Pumpkin seeds
If you answered any of the above, you are right! All those food has fat in them. Fat is present in your diet, whether you realise it or not. It can come in the small amounts used in your stir-fried vegetables, the shortening used in your store-bought cookies, and in the salmon on your sushi.
Conventional wisdom has made it such that fat has earned a bad rep, as a diet of fatty food like processed meats and fast food are precursors to high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack. Latest developments, however, are starting to evidence that the consumption of good types of fat can have positive effects. It can even contribute to lowering blood cholesterol and help decrease the risk of coronary diseases.
Of course, there are some things to take note of before gorging ourselves. Let’s start with what is fat, and do we really need it?
Fat, together with carbohydrates and proteins, is one of the essential nutrients for all living things. Fat provides energy, promotes healthy brain function and cell growth and helps our bodies absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K (basically, all the vitamins we need). The fat we typically consume in our daily lives come from poultry, processed meats, nuts, milk, cheese, eggs, cakes and fast food, to name a few. Herein lies the essential difference between the good, the bad and the ugly.
Let’s start with the good, the unsaturated fats a.k.a. The good fat. There are two types of unsaturated fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, where the difference lies in each of their chemical compositions. Studies have shown that a diet rich in these good fats help to improve blood cholesterol levels, thus decreasing the risk of heart disease. Sounds surprising, but you will realise this makes sense once you find out the sources of unsaturated fat.
Unsaturated fat is mainly made from plant sources (vegetables) but can also be found in certain types of fish. The main source of good fat comes from vegetable oils, like canola oil and olive oil. In fact, olive oil is one of the primary sources of fat for people living in the Mediterranean (think Italy, Greece, Spain), and is seen as the reason for the low levels of heart diseases in those countries. Other plant-based foods you can get your good fat from are avocados, nuts and edible seeds like pumpkin seed and sunflower seed.
The other source of good fat is from fish, but they are from fatty or oily fish, so called because of the high amount of oil in their tissues. Some examples of fatty fish are mackerel, trout, and most popularly, salmon. Salmon contains high levels of the polyunsaturated fat, omega-3 fatty acids, and is known to lower blood pressure in people with a history of high blood pressure.
You can eat as much of these good fats as you want, but take note that the nuts you eat must not be salted or processed. Likewise, choose healthier cooking methods for fish like steaming or baking instead of deep frying.
Saturated fat, a.k.a. Bad fat is the types of fat you should be keeping an eye out for. Saturated fat is mostly animal based. Think: fatty meat, milk, cheese, butter, lard and the like. The danger with bad fat is it provides taste to your food, making it delicious to eat and leaves you feeling satisfied afterwards.
Saturated fat not only increases blood cholesterol levels but also increases your risk of contracting type 2 diabetes. Dieticians recommend limiting the intake of saturated fats. You can do this by substituting saturated fats with unsaturated fats where possible, or else opt for low-fat or fat-free dairy products
Trans-fat is found in commercially made processed and fried foods such as fast food, where hydrogen is added as an additive to keep it solid at room temperature. The consumption of trans fat can increase bad cholesterol levels. It doesn’t help that most processed food is also laden with salt or sugar, besides trans-fat. Similar to consumption of saturated fat, trans fat also increases the risk of other illnesses such as diabetes and kidney failure. The recommendation is to limit the consumption of trans-fat foodstuff.
Fats – you can’t live with them, and you really cannot live without them. Its function of helping your body absorb the essential vitamins A, D, E and K cannot be replaced by any other food group, and it is important in the development of bodily functions. The key to managing your fat intake is really simple – consume bad fat in moderation, otherwise cut it out completely; and don’t be shy with good fats.