People largely associate fat with getting fat so they opt for a low fat diet, which can be detrimental to health. They will typically experience fatigue, mood swings and sugar cravings because fat facilitates the absorption of vitamins, A, D, E and K (the fat-soluble ones). In addition, fat slows down the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, thus regulating blood sugar levels.
The body runs on glucose for energy, once the body has used enough glucose for energy, the excess is converted to body fat. Carbohydrates, fats and protein are converted to glucose for energy. Sugar (carbohydrates) is converted fastest and easiest, whereas fat takes longer to convert, leaving us feeling fuller for longer.
It is widely acknowledged that the “bad fats” are trans-fats and saturated fats as these are commonly known to increase the risks of coronary heart disease by increasing “bad” cholesterol, and the “good” fats are unsaturated fats (poly and mono).
The main sources of saturated fats are fatty meats; animal fats such as lard; fatty dairy products like butter, cream, whole milk, and cheeses; vegetable fats for instance palm, palm kernel and coconut oil; and fatty snacks like cakes, pastries and crisps.
Although saturated fats have a bad reputation, they do perform some essential functions within the body and are thus required in moderation in the diet. They are important for heart and bone health (aids calcium absorption) and they are a constituent of the cell’s membrane (maintaining its structure).
Unsaturated fats are vital as they cannot be produced by the body; they need to be sourced from the diet. Omega-3 and Omega-6 are polyunsaturated fats. These are crucial in the diet as a deficiency in these can lead to many adverse symptoms. These include, behavioural and learning problems, dry skin and hair, joint pain, depression. Omega-6 is readily available in the diet but the main source of Omega-3 is oily fish. It is important to maintain a balance of these in the diet as Omega-3 has anti-inflammatory qualities, whereas Omega-6 is pro-inflammatory.
Sources of unsaturated fats include vegetable oils like rapeseed (canola), soybean, sunflower, avocado and olive oil; fatty fish, fish oil, nuts, seeds and products made from these such as soft margarines and mayonnaise.