After years of being advised to steer clear of all fats by major public health bodies, it seems this advice is in need of a ‘major overhaul’. Instead, the National Obesity Forum and Public Health Collaboration argue that ‘eating fat does not make you fat’, and that a diet rich in healthy fats can actually prevent weight gain and aid weight loss.
Do we really need fat?
The simple answer is, yes. Along with carbohydrates and protein, fat is an important macronutrient that your body uses as an energy source and in absorbing fat-soluble vitamins. Without fat, your body would not be able to function properly. Dietary fat also:
- Provides energy for most of our basic functions
- Provides essential fatty acids that the body cannot produce itself
- Protects your organs
- Helps the nervous system and the brain function properly
- Maintains cell membranes and healthy tissues
- Transports fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K round the body
How can fat keep me slim?
A diet rich in fats, particularly unsaturated fats, can help maintain a healthy body-mass index and encourage weight loss. This is because fat:
- Releases hormones that boost your metabolism and breaks down stored fat
- Lowers insulin levels and stabilises blood sugar levels
- Takes up space on your plate that would otherwise be filled with carbohydrates
- Keeps you fuller for longer, making you less likely to snack
- Boosts serotonin levels in the brain, improving your mood and motivation to eat well
But surely some fats can make me fat?
Whilst most fats are good for you, some are not. Although ‘trans fats’ are found naturally in small amounts in animal products, artificial trans fats found in processed foods like cakes and biscuits can have health implications and lead to weight gain.
Saturated fat, found in red meat and dairy, has been linked to high cholesterol levels in the past, although this has been contested by the NOF in their most recent report.
It is important to remember that fats, healthy or not, are generally a more calorie-dense food. Eating more calories than you burn ultimately leads to weight loss, regardless of the source of food.
Which fats should I be eating more of?
Most of the fat that you eat - especially if you want to lose weight - should come from unsaturated sources. Some examples of these ‘healthy fats’ include:
- Olive oil
- Oily Fish
So what does this mean for ‘low-fat’ foods?
Unfortunately for anyone who has been filling their trollies with low-fat products in an attempt to lose weight, findings suggest that this diet is ineffective and potentially harmful. Most low-fat products contain high amounts of sugar, which the body goes on to store as fat once consumed anyway. Sugar can also play havoc with cravings, learn why here.
Like all dietary advice, it is important to take a healthy and balanced approach. Ultimately, a diet rich in whole foods along with regular exercise is the best way to maintain a healthy lifestyle and weight. Although some people now follow very high fat ‘Keto’ diets, you should always consult your GP before drastically changing your diet.