Dr Libby on good oils and fats
Nutrition tends to move in cycles. Whether the current focus is on decreasing carbohydrates or increasing protein, one thing seems to remain constant: many people have a fear of fat.
Questions have arisen in scientific circles about whether excessive fat intake is a major attributing factor to the obesity epidemic, heart disease, high blood pressure and in the risk of developing colon cancer — it is no wonder people are confused and some are shunning fats in droves.
However, what is commonly misunderstood is the essential role fats play in our diet. Not all fat is created equal. Fats are composed of building blocks called fatty acids, just as proteins are made up of their building blocks, amino acids. There are three major categories of fatty acids: saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Of concern more recently is the generation of trans fats, found mainly in processed foods, such as cakes, biscuits and muesli bars. Research suggests that the type of fat you eat is actually more important than the total amount. Consuming adequate fat helps you to manage your mood, stay alert and even assist with weight management. Fats are also needed for helping us absorb essential vitamins like D, E, K and A, as well as for maintaining healthy skin. They are an integral part of our immunity and brain development. Fat is also our most concentrated source of energy and helps keep us warm and protect our organs and nerves.
The Mediterranean diet is high in monounsaturated fats, which are found in olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds. The Mediterranean diet is linked with low blood pressure and lower incidences of heart disease. It also appears to reduce blood levels of the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) (“bad” cholesterol) without affecting the levels of our protective cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
Choose low human-intervention foods, eat real food as often as you can and limit the food you eat from packets. That way you will naturally avoid poor quality fats such as trans fats. If you don’t eat much fat but struggle with sugar cravings in the afternoon, start adding more fat to your meals, particularly at lunch, in the form of avocado, olives, nuts, nut butter, seeds, tahini (sesame seed paste), coconut or oily fish. Observe if your desire for sweet foods midafternoon diminishes. Many people have become scared of using oils and nuts due to their high-energy content but good fats slow down the release of glucose into your blood stream, meaning you stay full for longer.
- Add olives or use ample olive oil when dressing your salads (like Italians)
- Macadamia nuts are full of beneficial fats - they also make a delicious pesto in place of pine nuts and are also great added to salads
- A simple and nourishing dressing is the juice of half a lemon with tahini (sesame seed paste)
- Mash half an avocado with a squeeze of lemon juice, add some salt and pepper and add your own quick, simple guacamole to your lunch. Or simply chop half an avocado into a salad or leftovers.