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What are healthy fats and why should you eat them?

What are healthy fats and why should you eat them?

Healthy fats have gained a huge following over recent years and for good reason! Fats should be an integral part of our diet as they serve a range of functions within the body such as:

  • Producing hormones
  • Effective absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, E, D and K
  • Producing healthy cell membranes
  • Effective absorption of fat-soluble antioxidants such as lycopene (found in tomatoes) and beta-carotene (found in carrots)

Fats also enable healthy communication around our bodies by keeping our cell membranes lovely and flexible. Nutritious fats are also known to have a positive effect on glowing skin, hair and nails while also playing an important role in reducing inflammation within the body.

Furthermore, fats carry flavour ensuring food tastes great while also increasing the satiety value of food which means it helps to fill us up so we need less food overall to feel satisfied. Fats are also important for a healthy heart and brain and after all of this you’re probably wondering what foods you need to eat to reap all of these wonderful benefits and how often you should eat them!

I simply think of healthy fats as those found in the following foods:

  • Raw unsalted nuts (walnuts, cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, macadamias, pine nuts, peanuts*…)
  • Raw unsalted seeds (chia seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds)
  • Nut and nut butters (almond butter, cashew butter, tahini, peanut butter)*
  • Avocado
  • Olive oil and other plant-based oils such as avocado oil, macadamia nut oil, sesame oil
  • Oily fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, anchovies
  • Whole dairy foods such as cheese, yoghurt, milk and butter

*Although peanuts are technically a legume their nutritional profile is similar to nuts so they offer similar health benefits.

While focusing on including sources of healthy fat in the diet each day, it’s important to stay away from packaged and processed foods which contain saturated fat and more so those packaged foods that contain industrial Trans-fatty acids which are the most detrimental fats for our health. These Trans fats are found in many processed foods such as cakes, biscuits and deep-fried foods.

There has been some debate about the inclusion of whole dairy sources of saturated fat (i.e. cheese whole milk, butter) in a healthy diet, which was once thought to be extremely detrimental to health.

However, there is evidence to suggest that these fats are actually rather nutritious and offer a range of health benefits. It’s important to point out here that not all livestock are reared equally and as a result some do not contain good quality dairy fat. However, here in New Zealand we are incredibly lucky that our cows graze outside in the sun and eat lush green grass and as a result contain good quality dairy fat which is passed onto to our butter, cheese, milk and yoghurt.

There are a number of reasons to choose whole dairy over reduced-fat options, including:

  • They contain fat-soluble vitamins A, D and K and are more efficiently absorbed in the body in the presence of fat
  • Higher fat dairy is more satisfying which can help to control overall food intake by filling you up
  • It contains conjugated linoleic acid which is linked to better insulin control, helping to reduce the risk of diabetes
  • Dairy fat contains a specific short-chain fatty acid which is linked to improved gut health and improved immunity

Despite all of these benefits, it doesn’t mean you should sit down to eat a whole block of cheese each day! It simply means that when choosing dairy foods you can choose whole milk to add to your morning coffee or that you can add unsweetened Greek yoghurt to your berries and nuts and don’t be afraid of enjoying a few slices of cheese as part of a meal or snack if you once avoided it for fear of the fat content.

I aim to include a small amount of healthy fats in each meal and in snacks where possible, which might look like this (foods containing nutritious fats are highlighted in bold)

Breakfast: Overnight oats topped with Greek yoghurt, berries & walnuts (small handful)

Snack: Smoothie made with banana, raw cacao powder, peanut butter (1 Tbspn), water and ice

Lunch: Wholegrain loaf topped with sliced salmon (~100g), spinach, and sliced tomato

Snack: Cucumber slices topped with basil pesto (2 tsp) and sliced egg

Dinner:  Roasted pumpkin and beetroot mixed with avocado (1/2), rocket and free-range roasted chicken thigh

 

NZ Registered Nutritionist
BSc, MSc (Human Nutrition)
NZ High Performance Sport Consultant
Hope Nutrition

 

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