Nutrition advice promising everything from weight loss to healthier living and even cures for diseases, spreads like wildfire across social media. In the era of ‘alternative facts’ and fake news, ‘the latest, greatest nutrition advice’ from dubious sources can tempt many people away from accepted dietary guidelines and recommendations based on years of research and evidence.
There’s so much information (and misinformation) out there about fat, and what we should and shouldn’t be eating, that we asked registered dietitian and ADSA spokesperson, Lila Bruk, to tell us what we should know about fat.
1. Not all fats are created equal
Although ‘fats’ are often spoken of collectively, there are several kinds of fats.
First, there are saturated fats and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats mostly come from animal sources (with the exception of palm and coconut oil) and unsaturated fats mainly come from plant sources.
Unsaturated fats are then further subdivided into omega 3 fatty acids, omega 6 fatty acids and trans fats. Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are essential fatty acids in that you need to take these in through your diet. Omega 3 fatty acids have various health benefits (e.g., anti-inflammatory, anti-clotting, hormonal regulation, etc).
Trans fats are industrially produced from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils that have been processed and thus result in having detrimental effects such as raising one’s cholesterol levels and therefore should be avoided.
Read more: How to beat the dreaded winter weight gain
2. You don’t need to supplement with omega 6
Most people choose to supplement with a combination product which has both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. However, it isn’t necessary to supplement with omega 6 (found in plant oils and seeds), as we generally get enough from our diets.
Most of us don’t eat enough omega 3 fatty acids, which are found in walnuts, flaxseed and fatty fish (particularly good sources are pilchards, mackerel, sardines and salmon). As a result, by supplementing with omega 6, we shift the balance to too much omega 6 and not enough omega 3 in the body. This can result in a pro-inflammatory rather than anti-inflammatory state in the body. So rather stick to supplementing with just omega 3.
3. Butter vs margarine
The question often arises: which is better margarine or butter? The answer, unfortunately, isn’t straight forward.
Choosing hard brick margarines that are high in trans fats are worse for your health than butter; while soft margarines made from plant oils such as olive and canola oil are low in saturated fats, free from trans fats, and a much better options for heart health. A good way to determine the best spread option is to read the label and go for types that are high in mono- and poly-unsaturated fat, low in saturated fat and free from trans fat.
Instead of deciding whether butter or margarine is better, why not try spreads like hummus, guacamole or simply dip your bread in olive oil?
4. Coconut oil isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
Coconut oil is the new ‘wonder food’ and has been touted as being the cure-all for everything from dry hair and bad breath to Alzheimer’s and urinary tract infections. However, we don’t have strong data from human studies with respect to the effects of coconut oil on heart disease and other conditions. And it’s important to remember that coconut oil is still very high in saturated fats.
What’s interesting about coconut oil, is that it increases both LDL (bad cholesterol) and HDL (good cholesterol). If you’re choosing between coconut oils and other vegetable oils, such as olive oil (which consist of mainly unsaturated fats, and lower LDL and increase HDL), olive oil is still the best choice for heart health.
If you want to consume coconut oil, it should be done sparingly and it should not replace all other unsaturated plant oils in your diet.
5. It’s not about ‘low fat’, it’s about the right type of fat
Instead of cutting out all fat from your diet, the type of fat you eat is what matters most for your health. Consuming a moderate amount of unsaturated fats is encouraged by health professionals. Some dietary patterns that are associated with good health, such as the Mediterranean diet, inlude up to 40% of energy from fat, mainly from unsaturated fats like nuts, seeds, olive oil and fatty fish.
Whatever your total fat intake, there is strong evidence which shows that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats or wholegrains lowers your disease risk.
Dietary guidelines have started moving away from a focus on single nutrients, to a focus on dietary patterns — the amounts and combinations of different foods, drinks, and nutrients in diets. The preferred dietary patterns that are being recommended (internationally and in South Africa) vary in the amounts of carbohydrate, fat and protein, but identify the same healthy dietary patterns in terms of recommended food, which includes a variety of whole grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes, healthy oils, proteins like lean meat and seafood, and reduced intake of red and processed meats, salt and sugar-sweetened beverages.
For more information about everything diet related, and to find a dietitian in your area, please visit adsa.org.za.
Dietitians, who interpret nutrition science and dietary guidelines to customise nutrition advice for different people, are important because whether you’re looking to lose weight loss or deal with your diabetes, there is no ‘one size fits all’ best eating plan.
In the hopes of steering us clear of the latest trumped up nutrition trends and promoting a return to genuine expertise and evidence, dietitians countrywide are suggesting that we ‘Eat Facts Not Fiction’.