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Why you need to be eating more healthy fats: the 411 on dietary fat

Contrary to popular belief: fats don’t make you fat. Dietary fats are an integral component of your macronutrient requirements, alongside carbohydrate and protein. Without fats, your body would seriously struggle. That being said, it’s important to focus on the type of fat you consume, whether it’s monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated or trans fats. So here’s the deal with fats.

What is the role of fats?

Fat is needed for a number of biological processes and functions in the human body. These functions range from nutrient absorption and transportation to providing your brain's main source of energy. Omega fatty acids are linked to cognitive function and skin health. A study that examined the relationship of diet and acne found that the omega-3 fatty acid EPA prevents collagen break down, which counteracts age-related collagen loss.

Fat is also beneficial in maintaining hormonal balance, with high fat diets being used to treat conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and fertility issues. A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that fat intake supported hormone balance, regulated menstrual cycles and improved symptoms of PMS. Healthy fat consumption has been shown to reduce preterm birth and endometriosis, whereas trans fat consumption increases ovulatory infertility. So what is the difference between the types of dietary fat?

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated are healthy fats that should be consumed as part of a balanced, nutritious diet. These types of fat have been shown in research to improve blood cholesterol levels by boosting the HDL (‘good’) cholesterol and decreasing the LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol. The benefits of fat ate associated with these two types. Foods rich in these types include fish, avocados, nuts, seeds and some oils like extra virgin olive oil. Studies show that individuals who eat plenty of unsaturated fats have lower rates of disease and inflammation.

Saturated fats are a little less black and white. Preliminary research concluded that they have a negative effect on cholesterol levels, however this research has been denounced. A systematic review that examined 15 randomized controlled trials on saturated fat consumption found that it was not associated with high cholesterol, heart attacks or strokes. In fact, saturated fats are beneficial for humans but in lesser qualities. These foods include coconut oil, butter, cheese, whole milk dairy products and fatty meats.

Trans fats should be avoided at all costs. They significantly raise your LDL cholesterol levels and decrease HDL cholesterol, increase your risk of disease, affects insulin sensitivity, increases belly (visceral) fat and are highly inflammatory. A study found that artificial trans fats was associated with a 40 percent increased risk of developing diabetes in a study of over 80,000 women. These foods include cookies, cakes and processed or fast food.

So in summary: if you want to live a healthy life with clear skin, balanced hormones, a healthy heart and a functional brain, eat monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fats and avoid trans fats.

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