Is it harmful or healthy? WF investigates the fat conundrum…

Low fat, low calorie – it’s been our go-to dieting rule for what seems like forever. But does cutting out the fat from our diets actually yield the promised pay-off? Apparently not, according to the latest scientific research. So, how much fat should we really be eating and what are the best sources? We help you unravel the fat puzzle.

Description: The truth about Fat & Fibre

Sorting fats from fiction

Around two thirds of the brain is made up of fat, so eating fat is essential to ensure our grey matter functions properly. Fat is also needed to help create hormones, regulate mood, lubricate joints and reduce inflammation in the body. Plus, munching on the right fats will actually help your body burn unwanted pounds by increasing satiety. And they have many more nutritional benefits than sugar-laden, low-fat foods, which can actually contribute to weight gain – and the risk of developing chronic disease.

Zoë Harcombe, registered nutritionist and author of The Obesity Epidemic: What caused it? How can we stop it? believes that all fats found in unprocessed foods form part of a healthy diet: ‘All real foods that contain fat contain all three fats:  saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. There are no exceptions to this,’ she says. These natural-fat foods (meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, avocados, nuts and seeds) are also a great source of essential proteins, vitamins and minerals, so they’re necessary part of our daily diet. 


It’s often deemed to be an artery clogger, but in many ways cholesterol is actually a cardiac helper. It’s vital for making cell membranes; hormones and vitamin D- an essential fat-soluble vitamin which helps regulate your mood and plays a major role in bone health. ‘When modern substances damage our arterial walls, it’s fat and cholesterol that are actually dispatched to save us,’ explains Zoe.

When analyzing the risk of heart disease, it’s important to look at the ratios of LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and various other lipid components in total cholesterol, rather than individual levels. If you do want to lower your cholesterol levels, try munching on monounsaturated fats – these are found in foods such as nuts and avocados.

Saturated fat

Description: Saturated fat?

If saturated fat really is the enemy, why do communities in the Pacific Islands, who consume around 30 to 60 per cent of their total daily calories from saturated fat found in coconut oil, have nearly non-existent rates of heart disease? Coconut oil has a unique make-up of medium chain fatty acids, which makes it a stable fat, and it’s great for cooking as it doesn’t turn rancid when heated. Studies also show that the tropical fruit can help to fight fat and increase calorie burn.

Many experts believe saturated fat found in animal products is a factor for heart disease, but there is conflicting evidence, so more research needs to be done to assess potential risk factors. At present, the NHS recommends we eat no more than 20g per day.

Omega fatty acids

Description: Omega fatty acids

These are a type of polyunsaturated essential fatty acids, which cannot be manufactured by the body, so they must be obtained through food or supplements. Omega-3, found in oily fish and nuts, and omega-6, found in safflower oil and borage oil, help to regulate cell activity and keep your body healthy. It’s important that your balance of these omegas is correct, but unfortunately another fatty acid, omega-9 (a non-essential fatty acid found in animal products and vegetable oils), often causes this ratio to go off kilter. The best way to ensure you get a healthy balance is to take a good supplement which contains both omega-3 and 6.

Trans fatty acids

Description: Trans fatty acids

Trans fats, which are refined fats found in foods such as margarine and processed cakes and biscuits, are the real enemy.  New research by scientists at Oregon Health & Science University shows that eating a diet high in trans fats can cause your brain to shrink, increasing the risk of some degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. These bad fats have also been linked to the development of heart disease and cancer. ‘Many of the health problems that we suffer in this day and age are caused simply by eating too much processed food, which is absolutely packed with these simple sugars and trans fats,’ explains Zoe.

To avoid falling foul of these sneaky weight-loss saboteurs, try swapping your margarine for organic butter, which is rich in vitamins A and E, and ensure you always read labels when buying pre-prepared foods.

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