May 16, 2012

Our war with FAT

To eat fat or to not eat fat, that is the question!! And boy am I confused! One minute we are told to avoid saturated fat like the plague and the next minute, research emerges revealing saturated fat might not be the bad guy after all. Then we are advised to chow down on avocado, nuts and olive oil to stock up those essential fats. All the while we are reminded that when it comes to your waistline, all fats have about the same number of calories (bad or good) and because fat is so calorie dense, reducing fat intake overall can help you lose weight.

The authors of 'Why Women Need Fat' discusses society's ongoing war with fat."The idea that all fat is bad and unhealthy seems to be widespread, whether it comes in our diets or is part of our bodies. One reason for this is that the label of every food product we buy starts off by listing its (usually high) percentage of our daily 'allowance' of fat," the authors say. "And most women, even many who are quite thin, would like to have less fat on their bodies. But in both cases—bodies and food—some kinds of fat are beneficial for health, while others can be unhealthy."

Not only do we need to eat fat in our diets, we need to carry some fat on our bodies, especially as women (we need it to carry babies and all that fun stuff). In terms of dietary fat, there are many different types and as most of us know, some are much better than the others. Same goes for fat deposits on our bodies, stomach fat is considered unhealthy fat while fat on the thighs and hips are healthy female fat deposits.

Most of us have heard that saturated fat is bad for your health but many researchers are now questioning whether this is true. Monounsaturated fat like that in olive and canola oil, is linked with healthy body function. Polyunsaturated fats are the only type of fat that we have to get from our diet; these come in come in two forms, omega-3 and omega-6, and both are important for your body's functions.

You may not know that our bodies can actually make saturated and monounsaturated fat out of sugar or starch, which means your body can make these components from other sources such as carbohydrates. Our bodies cannot however make the polyunsaturated fats that are essential for brain function and these fats must come from our diet. Both types of essential fats—omega-3 and omega-6—are needed for many roles in the body, especially in the cells in our brains.

Almost everyone agrees that having plenty of omega-3 fats is beneficial for the body, and there is evidence to show increased exercise and high levels of omega-3 together may also help women to lose excess weight. On the other hand, there is growing evidence that too much omega-6 fat may lead to weight gain. Interestingly, different types of dietary fat are connected to different types of body fat. Omega 6 fats, while essential for the body, are linked to weight gain. This type of fat is found in baked and fried goods. As much as possible, limit fast foods, restaurant foods, and processed foods from the supermarket, because these foods tend to have a lot of omega-6 fat. Higher levels of omega-6 are linked to higher levels of stomach fat, while higher omega-3 is linked to the healthier fat in the legs and hips (while to be honest, do we really want either...).

While some of this research can be confusing (I know I feel slightly confused) I think we have come a long way from the days of believing that eating 97% fat-free ice cream will make you thinner. But I do think we may have gotten a little carried away with eating good-for-you fats. Nuts, avocados, oil etc. were not found in abundance when we were once all wild hunters and gathers. These foods are now so accessible, and it is easy to munch on these all day long. Remember to limit your intake to a handful of raw nuts or half an avocado. While good for you, these pack a high calorie punch, and push you over your daily energy intake easily. Saturated fats will still increase your bad cholesterol levels, which leads to heart attack. I would limit these from your diet as much as you can (reserve it for treat time).

At the end of the day, what you consume, must equal what you burn, or that darned weight gain will follow.

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