They can give you better skin, improve your mood and boost your immunity. But don’t go reaching for the doughnuts just yet – there are rules. Here’s how to do fats the right way

All fats are not created equal

Brace yourself: fat is vital for a healthy, balanced diet. Essential for energy and insulation, it is also responsible for carrying fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) through the bloodstream and keeping the skin and immune systems working properly. The real difficulty is deciding – from monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated and Trans fats which are good and which aren’t. To do so you need to understand the importance of cholesterol and the effects different fats have on it. Two types of cholesterol exits: bad cholesterol – LDL – that can clog up your arteries and lead to heart disease; and good cholesterol – HDL – that can prevent heart disease and transports protein and carbs through your body.

Description: Most products rich in trans fats are also rich in refined carbohydrates which might contribute to the diabetes risk but trans fats are definitely not the sole cause.

Most products rich in Trans fats are also rich in refined carbohydrates which might contribute to the diabetes risk but trans fats are definitely not the sole cause.

‘Monounsaturated fats reduce bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol. These are liquid at room temperature – olive oil, canola oil and peanut oil are great sources’, advises Shabir Daya, pharmacist and co-founder of online health store victoriahealth.com. Polyunsaturated fats – found in nuts, corn and leafy greens – reduce cholesterol levels overall; great if your LDL levels are especially high. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and made from animal fats (think cheese, butter and fatty meat), but despite their bad reputation, nutritionist Ian Marber says they are important to bodily function (protein, which is essential for building and repairing body tissues among other vital jobs, is found in many saturated fats). ‘I always say don’t go looking for saturated fat; it generally find you’, say Barber. Finally, Trans fats – found greasy, fast food – are without merit at all. ‘They’re unnaturally made and chemically treated by the food industry, which means they can’t be processed effectively by the body and block absorption of the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that the body needs’, says Marber. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

The holy grail of eat

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) omega-3 and omega-6 are, as the name implies, crucial, because our bodies can’t produce them independently. They help improve brain and mood function and allow for normal growth and development. Oily fish are a great source of omega-3, while most plant oils are rich in omega-6. Our bodies need both, but according to Daya just a little omega-6 is enough – too much can lead to heart disease and arthritis because it has inflammatory properties. Omega-3 is, happily, the opposite, as it has potent anti-inflammatory properties. ‘We can never have too much omega-3 because it’s active in so many processes in the body. Somewhere between 1,000mg and 2,000mg daily is a good place to start’, says Daya. Note – you may have heard of omega-9, but this is not an ‘essential’ fatty acid because of the body’s ability to produce it in small quantities. Nonetheless, olives, avocados and almonds are all good dietary sources and have healthy, immune-boosting properties.

Salmon is not the only fish

Fish oils from cold-water and oily fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel are excellent sources of omega-3, but recent studies have found that krill oil (extracted from the tiny shrimp-like crustaceans that live on the bottom of the ocean) is the easiest form of EFA for us to digest, plus there’s no aftertaste to contend with. When you also consider krill is bottom of the food chain and doesn’t contain any of the toxins that some oily fish do (which is due to a lack of purity in their diet and environment), it makes sense. Try Power of Krill, $37.5 for 60 capsules, by Life-Flo.

Description: Power of Krill, $37.5 for 60 capsules, by Life-Flo

Power of Krill, $37.5 for 60 capsules, by Life-Flo

Eat fat, look good

‘Good fats are vital for good cell function and integral for your skin barrier which helps protect against the elements, bacteria and water loss’, says consultant dermatologist at University College Hospital Dr Emma Edmonds. A layer of fat just underneath the surface of your skin (known as subcutaneous) is also responsible for giving your face a more rounded, healthy appearance and protects against the appearance of wrinkles. EFAs, in particular, are vital for good skin. Dr Edmonds says, ‘There’s evidence to suggest that the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 can help reduce skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis’, which is why it is a key ingredient in many skincare range because its topical anti-inflammatory properties are second to none’, agrees David Delport, Ren’s training and events manager. ‘The oil in Omega 3 Night Repair Serun ($51, an Elle skincare staple) comes from vegetal plankton and Camelina Oil, which both work together to boost lipids (essentially your skin’s own fat) in the skin, protecting and supporting cell membranes. This ensures skin can heal and replenish itself, so you’re left with a plump, healthy complexion’. Omega-3 in topical form is ‘bio-available’, meaning that the skin recognizes it as natural, ensuring it’s absorbed easily.

The low-fat debate

Just because the label reads low fat, it doesn’t mean it’s better for you. ‘Historically, the idea of eating a low-fat diet was a simple and rather naïve way of gauging calories and weight loss – it became shorthand for healthy, but this isn’t the case’, says Marber. Low-fat foods, particularly ready meals that claim to be healthier choices, are often packed with salt, sugar and flavour-enhancers and are more detrimental to your health. According to Daya, ‘those who eat low-fat foods generally have a higher calorie intake than those who go for full-fat foods’, precisely because of all the hidden additives. Fat is converted into glucose slowly by the body – roughly translate, this means the calories last and you feel fuller for longer. As Marber also points out, ;full fat has good – what the food industry has coined – “mouth-feel”, the experience you get when eating something satisfying, coupled with the spots it hits on your taste buds and receptors it pushes in your brain. With low-fat food not only is there poor mouth-feel, but you’re also more likely to feel hungry sooner and reach for something else to fill the void’.

Read the label

The nutritional content on every label is based on a Food Standards Agency guideline of a 100g serving. Although the newer traffic-light systems on packaging don’t distinguish between essential and non-essential dietary fats, Marber suggests a basic rule of thumb when it comes to understanding how much fat you should consume: ‘3g or less of total fat per 100g is considered low, while 20g would be high – you should aim to be somewhere in the middle. In terms of saturated fat, a low percentage is less than 1.5 per 100g, while more than 5g per 100g is high. In order words, stick to the lower have to be labeled as such, but look out for ‘partially hydrogenated’ or ‘hydrogenated’, as that’s how recognize them and be able to steer clear.

‘Just because the label reads LOW FAT, it doesn’t mean it’s BETTER for you’

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