Macronutrients are where you get your energy from and they include FATS, PROTEINS and CARBOHYDRATES (alcohol is also thought of as a macronutrient even though it shouldn’t ideally contribute a lot to your nutrient intake). Macronutrients (for the sake of this series we will stick to macronutrients being the fats, proteins and carbohydrates) provide energy and this form of energy is what is commonly known of as CALORIES.
We need macronutrients for our bodies to function optimally and are substances that our bodies need in substantial amounts daily in order to survive and thrive. There are two fuel sources that the human body uses and they are glucose and fat. Usually a combination of the two is used and it’s our nervous system that dictates which of the two, or if both, are needed.
If your body can efficiently use fats as a fuel source then you’ll get a powerful and even supply of energy throughout your day. So many people aren’t able to do so and rely instead on using glucose as fuel. They are essential in our diet as they are needed for the proper absorption of fat soluble vitamins, support proper brain development and plays a role in hormone synthesis (just to name a few!).
So many of us are afraid of consuming fat, under the assumption that eating fat will make you fat. I’m not surprised really, after all, for years we were told to eat low-fat diets, that fat would make us ill, cause disease and that to lose weight we had to cut fat out completely. There are different types of fat and the quality and type plays a big role in our health. There are 3 main categories to be precise – monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated. To quickly give you an indication of how the type of fat plays a role in our health, let’s look at monounsaturated and trans fats (I’ll go into more detail about each in a moment).
Monounsaturated fats are found in the Mediterranean diet and have been shown to reduce the risk of chronic disease and support longevity, whereas trans fats can create inflammation in our bodies and therefore can make us more prone to illness. It’s not only the type of fat that may cause issues in our bodies, but also the ratio of which fats are consumed. But does fat make you fat? No.
Monounsaturated fats are ‘heart healthy’, help to support ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL) and lower ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL). These are typically liquid at room temperature.
These are again typically liquid at room temperature and are what are known as the ‘essential fatty acids’. They include Omega-3 and Omega-6.
There are 3 main types of Omega-3’s: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). The body can convert ALA into EPA and DHA but this conversion isn’t always efficient enough in some people and therefore it is important we consume these fats regularly and include adequate amounts of these fats in our diets.
EPA and DHA are powerful nutrients for our bodies. They reduce inflammation, support heart health, reduce symptoms of depression and the risk of cancer (just to name a few). They can however, oxidise easily and therefore are best consumed as part of a balanced diet full of antioxidants which are found in fruits and vegetables.
Omega-6 LA (linoleic acid) is converted to GLA (gamma linolenic acid) in the body and is found abundantly in Western diets. In fact, maybe too abundant. They are found in processed foods, baked produce and grains. Typically we generally consume too much Omega-6 and our ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 is off, causing inflammation in our bodies.
These are solid at room temperature and are most commonly associated with obesity and cardiovascular disease. Having said that though, this depends on how much we consume and the quality. For example, coconut oil is a plant based source of saturated fat but is a great source of lauric acid and has beneficial antibacterial, antifungal effects and cholesterol-lowering properties.
These are the most concerning fats, such as poor quality vegetable oils, and can be found mainly in processed foods, deep fried foods, in restaurants, takeaways and foods with longer shelf lives. They are formed when some types of polyunsaturated fats become damaged from high heat and processing and are associated with atherosclerosis (the hardening of artery walls) and heart disease. Trans fats should be avoided whenever possible.
As well as the 3 main types, they are also classified into their molecular size:
Triglycerides are three fatty acids that join together and you will also find short-chain (SCTs), medium-chain (MCTs) and long-chain (LCTs) triglycerides. Most of the fats we eat come from LCTs, however coconut is mostly made of MCTs. MCT’s are broken down almost immediately during digestion (even at the start of digestion in the mouth) and are mostly sent immediately to the liver where they can be used as fuel. They are an efficient fuel supply AND tell your nervous system that it’s safe to use fat as fuel. These are unique in this way as all other fats get packaged into lipoproteins, (bundles of fat and protein), and circulate through the body until they are small enough to picked up by the liver.
It’s important to eat the right amount as too much fat may create a distressed digestive system and may cause feelings of fullness and prevent us from eating other important and vital nutrients.
Eating too little will also lead to impaired health as they are vital for optimum health and essential for life. For example, fat is needed to maintain the health of our organs as well as help us absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. There is also a tendency to crave more sweet foods if we don’t consume enough fat. Not only that, but most foods that are ‘low-fat’ are normally higher in added sugars, sweeteners and salts to improve the taste.
It is recommended to eat oily fish 2-3 times a week so that we get that Omega-3:6 ratio spot on and promote reduced inflammation in our bodies.
Eating the right type of fat will help boost your mood, balance inflammation in the body, improve the health of your skin, eyes, nails, hair and keep you fuller for longer.
The Mediterranean diet has a reputation as one of the world’s healthiest diets. Even though there is a higher consumption of fat in Mediterranean countries like Italy and Greece, research has shown that there is a lower rate of heart disease and cancer. Here is a list of some of the fats found in the Mediterranean diet and why they are good for you.
A good source of monounsaturated fat and high in antioxidants & polyphenols, olive oil is used for dressing food and cooking on low heats. Look for extra virgin, cold or expeller pressed oils in dark containers and ones that show a ‘harvest’ date instead of a ‘best by’ date. It has shown to lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and help to support the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Almonds, cashews, pine nuts, tahini, pistachios, walnuts and hazelnuts are good sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, protein, magnesium and iron. These should be stored in cool, dark places to prevent them from going stale and their oils from oxidising. These are highly nutritious but also high in calories and therefore it’s important to be mindful of serving sizes.
Fatty fish such as salmon, herring and mackerel are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids which help reduce inflammation. They are also high in protein and are natural dietary sources of vitamin D.
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