How good fats do you good
For many Kiwis, the word ‘fat’ conjures up thoughts of heart disease risk, high cholesterol and obesity. But the modern reality is different. All fats are not created equal.
By Emily Jakubcik, Arvida’s national dietitian
Despite what we were led to believe in the 1990s, fat is an essential part of the human diet because it helps with many important bodily functions. Current evidence indicates that instead of looking at the amount of fat we are eating, focus should be placed on the type of fat consumed. This is especially true for people over the age of 65.
As you get older, energy requirements decrease but overall micronutrient requirements remain the same. This means the nutrient density of the foods you eat becomes increasingly important. This is particularly true of fats.
Fats to focus on
For healthy ageing, these fats are your heroes:
- Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) are linked to improved heart health, decreased inflammation and improved blood glucose level control for those with diabetes. Examples include avocado, nuts and olive oil.
- Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) have a vital role in immune response, blood clotting and inflammation. PUFA fats are divided into omega-3 and omega-6. The ratio between the omega-3 and omega-6 fats is important. It’s best to achieve a lower ratio of 6s to 3s than we see in a common western diet. Early studies show that getting the ratio right links to a benefit in cognitive function and a reduction in inflammation. To improve your ratio, it’s better to eat more omega-3s, rather than fewer omega-6s. Sources of omega-3s include oily fish, flaxseed and walnuts. Sources of omega-6s include sunflower oil, soybean oil, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds.
Fats to limit
Research is ongoing for saturated fats, but current general guidelines state to limit saturated fats and trans fats to less than 10% of overall calories for heart health and a decrease in cholesterol.
CVD risk is shown to decrease when saturated fat is replaced with MUFA, PUFA, wholegrain carbohydrates or plant proteins. Examples of saturated fat are butter, sausages, fried foods, fatty meats, and cheese. Try to replace some of these with the good fats mentioned above.
Trans fats have no health benefits and current evidence suggests trying to consume as little of these fats as possible. Examples include baked goods, frozen pizzas, processed foods and deep-fried foods.
It’s important to note that as we age and malnutrition becomes of higher concern, this advice will change. Always check in with your dietitian about what is right for you.
Don’t forget the vitamin D
Vitamin D and calcium eaten together are essential for bone health and the prevention of bone fractures. Vitamin D is fat soluble, meaning fat within the diet will ensure optimal absorption. Without fat, vitamin D cannot be absorbed as efficiently. Vitamins A, E and K have the same challenge.
Myths about fat
- Until recently, it was believed that dietary cholesterol (the cholesterol you eat) is linked to the cholesterol within your blood. This belief has changed. Now dietary cholesterol is recognised as essential for hormone synthesis and cell protection. So, eggs are OK!
- Fat can be a part of a healthy balanced diet without causing weight gain. The idea that ‘fat makes you fat’ has been proven wrong time and time again. As we discuss above, you can see that fat has multiple benefits if the right fats are consumed. So, steer away from the shelves laden with low fat options and instead embrace the nutrients that come with good fats! Keep a bowl of walnuts handy and eat avocado often.
Start with this recipe. >>>
Maybe you think of guacamole as a dip to serve with corn chips? Well, that’s just one way to eat it. Guacamole is a versatile dish that goes with almost anything savoury. It makes a delicious accompaniment for a summer salad, barbecue meal or poached eggs, and it’s amazing simply spread on toast.
- Flesh of 2 very ripe avocados
- ½ red onion (finely diced)
- 1 handful coriander (finely chopped)
- 1 lemon/lime (juiced)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Pinch chilli flakes (optional)
Mash everything together and enjoy!
 Harvard Health