As a PR consultant, I handled many campaigns to “reposition” a brand that was dogged by negative connotations. In terms of positioning, I can’t think of another food group that has received such an unduly bad rap as fat. Tragically, this is one marketing disaster that’s translated into an epic health crisis.
Ever since the 1960s, when saturated fat was incorrectly demonised as the cause of heart disease, fat has been cast as the bogey man of foods. The theory that eating fat makes you fat has stuck around ever since. Hence, the supermarket shelves groaning with low-fat products that just perpetuate the myth that fat is something to avoid at all costs.
Decade after decade, fat has been maligned from all sides. Meanwhile, sneaky sugar – the real culprit behind the meteoric rise in obesity and type 2 diabetes, not to mention a host of other chronic diseases – has quite literally got away with murder.
Back in the days when I worked in food processing PR, I balked at the amount of additives, not to mention sugar, that were crowbarred into low-fat products just to make them palatable. You see, stripping the demon fat out of food threw up a big problem for food manufacturers. No fat equals no taste and no “mouthfeel”, as it’s called in the industry.
After years of misleading advice, no wonder everyone’s confused. So is dietary fat good or bad? Well, the answer is both because not all fats are created equal.
Some fats are unhealthy. They include vegetable oils (sunflower oil, for instance) and heavily processed, hydrogenated “trans” fats used in many snack foods and spreads like margarines. These are highly damaging to the body. They can compromise the cardiovascular system, immune system and contribute to behavioural problems. They lead to inflammation which has now been shown to play a role in nearly all chronic diseases. They can also lead to weight gain, skin breakouts, high blood pressure and liver strain.
And now, to return to that marketing parallel, let’s look at fat’s USPs (unique selling propositions).
Fat is one of the body’s most basic building blocks. We each have more than 10 trillion cells in our body and every single one of them needs high-quality fat.
The right fats (with the emphasis on the word “right”) increase your metabolism, stimulate fat burning, keep hunger in check, improve your cholesterol profile and can protect against type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia and cancer.
They help to keep hormone levels even and they nourish our skin, hair and nails. Our bodies need fat for insulation, vitamin and mineral absorption, and to protect our organs.
One fat fact that I think most people miss is that your brain is about 60 percent fat. High quality fats will not only aid learning and memory but also boost your mood. Meanwhile, a lack of omega-3 fatty acids has been linked to depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
So, time to step away from those low-fat nasties and give your body the good fats it’s craving.
Here’s where you can find them:
- Avocados and coconuts
For frying or cooking at high temperatures, go for coconut oil which has a particularly high melting point. You can use the odourless, flavour-free version if it’s a dish where you don’t want a coconut taste.
- Fatty fish, including sardines, mackerel, herring and wild salmon that are rich in omega-3 fats
- Whole nuts and seeds and their butters, like almond butter or tahini
- Omega-3 rich organic eggs
- Extra virgin olive oil or other cold-pressed oils such as flaxseed, sesame, walnut, and pumpkin seed – all best used unheated in dressings
- Grass-fed or sustainably raised animal products.
Have you been you depriving yourself of fats for the sake of an outdated myth? If so, now’s the time to rethink your relationship with fat – just make sure you plump for the good sort!