It’s not uncommon to hear people say that they are on a low fat diet, choosing this way of eating for multiple reasons, but is this the right thing to do for your body? We are seeing a greater prevalence of high cholesterol diagnoses, which in turn we keep seeing people shunning dietary fat; thinking this is the healthy choice and the answer to their rising cholesterol problems. However, although many start swapping real cheese for the plastic kind and butter for margarine, nothing changes.
The bottom line is… We do need to consume healthy fats in moderation. We also need healthy levels of cholesterol to keep our bodies functioning properly.
So, what does fat do for us? And why do we need it?
Many hormones are derived from cholesterol, including Glucocorticoids which regulate blood sugar levels, Mineralocorticoids that regulate mineral balance and blood pressure, and our sex hormones – critical for many processes in the body and especially important as we age.
It would be safe to say that all diets work due to one factor – a reduction in caloric intake thereby inducing a calorie deficit.
But the way you lose weight through your food is also really important for other reasons. By creating a more balanced diet through lowering carbohydrate intake and moderately increasing protein and fats not only aid in weight loss, but helps increase insulin sensitivity. This increase in insulin sensitivity may lead to a possible reduction in cholesterol levels and ensures healthy hormone synthesis, thereby making it superior from a metabolic perspective.
It also means weight loss is a lot easier to maintain, as satisfaction is higher with foods rich in fats and protein, and far higher in actual nutrient value compared to the empty calories found in many highly refined carbohydrate-based foods.
Effects on Cholesterol
When it comes to cholesterol, the first thing people demonize is fat, however studies have shown that by lowering carbohydrates and modestly increasing intake of fat and protein you can actually improve cholesterol readings by increasing HDL and lowering LDL cholesterol.
This is because eating fat doesn’t make you fat…. Carbohydrates can actually cause inflammation by stimulating the body to make more cholesterol, which the body sees as its ultimate band-aid in treating areas of inflammation that would otherwise cause immediate problems – especially to the cardiovascular system.
The link between fat intake and raised cholesterol levels - especially the notoriously ‘bad’ type LDL (Low-Density-Lipoproteins) - is highly controversial, but not many people know that. What happens to be closely associated with raised cholesterol levels is inflammation, and if looking from a dietary perspective, this is usually the result of sugar and refined carbohydrate intake.
An abundance of carbohydrates causes inflammation by spiking insulin, which is not good for brain health. Eating a diet rich in good fats however, is important for proper brain function, mood control and hormone regulation.
Unsaturated vs Saturated Fats
Of course Unsaturated and Omega-3 fats will always win in terms of being good for your health. Most forms are plant - or sea- based and contain a plethora of other nutrients including vitamins, minerals and antioxidants – hence why the Mediterranean-style diet is often seen as one of the most beneficial ways of eating.
It is therefore important to base the bulk of your fat intake from these sources, focusing on foods such as avocados, fish, seafood, olive oil, nuts etc. Saturated fats from dairy and meat are not as beneficial but are still ok in small amounts, and are much better than opting for trans-fats found in items such as margarine and shop-bought cakes and the like.
So it’s time to stop treating fat like the bad guy! Healthy fats including those from Omega-3 and Monounsaturated sources are critical to overall health and well-being, and there is also a role for saturated fats too. The key is to eat a ‘whole-foods’ diet and stay away from packaged food – this will naturally lead you to consuming the most well-balanced diet possible!