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Fabulous fats

We all need fats, but it’s easy to choose unhealthy options. Rude Health asks the experts for their best facts on fats

The human body needs fats, not just to function but to survive,” says Angela McGlanaghey from health store Simple Simon in Donegal. “They are absolutely essential for a person's wellbeing. We need healthy fats from oily fish, nuts and seeds. The body needs essential fatty acids which cannot be manufactured in the body, so they need to be part of the daily diet. Particularly for brain health and energy.”

“Fats may have had bad press in the past due to their association with heart disease and weight issues, but we do need them in our diets,” says Gerald Colfer of health store Only Natural in Wexford town. “Fats help give your body energy, protect your organs, support cell growth and hormonal health, keep blood pressure and cholesterol under control and help your body to absorb vital nutrients as well as being important for skin, hair and nail health. On the whole having the right kind of fats in sufficient quantities in our diets is pivotal for good health.”

Types of fats in your kitchen

Polyunsaturated fats – can be found in flaxseed oil, oily fish such as trout, mackerel, sardines, salmon, anchovies, nuts such as walnuts, almonds, seeds such as flaxseeds or chia seeds.

Monounsaturated fats – olive oil, sesame oil, avocado oil, sunflower oil, nuts, avocadoes and olives. Help decrease cholesterol and prevent cardiovascular disease.

Saturated fats – butter, cheese, red meat, baked and fried goods. These fats can raise levels of cholesterol in the body and consumption should be kept under 10 per cent.

Trans fats – margarine and in biscuits and chocolates; fats that have been hydrogenated and have been linked to inflammation, obesity and heart disease.

Choosing the best fats

Best oils for high heat cooking – almond, avocado, ghee (clarified butter), coconut, rapeseed.

Best oils for moderate heat – organic grass fed butter, macadamia, refined olive oil, peanut, sesame, walnut, olive, sesame.

Best oils to eat raw – grapeseed, hemp, extra virgin olive oil, rapeseed, sunflower.

Keep in the fridge – oils such as avocado, hazelnut, flax and hemp should be kept in the fridge.

Read the label – look for terms like’ cold-pressed’, ‘raw’ or ‘virgin’ on the labels which describe oils that have not been heavily processed and retain their natural flavour and colour.

What about fish oils?

“The ideal way to get fish oils is by eating high quality oily fish such as mackerel, etc twice a week,” says Angela McGlanaghey. “However most people do not include enough oily fish in their diet. Taking a fish oil supplement may be necessary. If someone is a vegetarian or vegan there are alternatives, but ideally the fish oil supplements are the best.”

“Essential fatty acids are called essential because the body can't manufacture them, they must come from our diet or from supplementation,” says Gerald Colfer. “We get lots of omega-6 from meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds and oils like sunflower and corn oils but our diets tend to be lower in omega-3 essential fats. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines are a great source as are eggs, nuts and seeds. Ways to increase the omega-3 content of your diet include adding a dessertspoon of flax and chia seeds to your porridge or breakfast cereal, eating a handful of walnuts as a snack or incorporating oily fish into mealtimes three times a week.”

“The really important fatty acids are the ‘essential fatty acids’-the body cannot make them, and they must be obtained through diet,” says Olive Curran a Galway based nutritional therapist from PPC. “Both omega-3 and omega-6 are considered essential, however the western diet contains sufficient levels of omega-6 and very little omega-3. Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are the building blocks of every living cell in the human body. They play a role in overall health, including heart, brain and eye health, and a healthy pregnancy, and their benefits are supported by thousands of published scientific studies. The European Food Safety Authority state that you need 250mg EPA and DHA daily to support heart health and 250mg DHA daily for brain function and vision. Eating oily fish twice a week, such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, tuna or sardines, provides a healthy dose of omega-3 EPA/DHA. Surprisingly, an IPSOS/MRBI survey found that 89% of Irish people are not consuming sufficient oily fish in their diet, so there is often a need to supplement with a high-quality fish oil. Check your preferred supplement to see that you are getting adequate DHA, as often supplements can fall short.”

Health benefits of omega-3

Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA have numerous health benefits approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA):

  • Heart: EPA and DHA contribute to the normal function of the heart.
  • EPA and DHA contributes to the maintenance of normal blood triglyceride levels.
  • DHA and EPA contribute to the maintenance of normal blood pressure.
  • Brain: DHA contributes to the maintenance of normal brain function.
  • Vision: DHA contributes to the maintenance of normal vision.
  • Pregnancy: DHA maternal intake contributes to the normal brain and eye development of the foetus and breastfed infants.
  • Children: Essential fatty acids are needed for normal growth and development of children.
  • Omega-3 DHA is needed for healthy brain function and vision in children.

What fats can vegans eat?

“For vegans, incorporating regular amounts of nuts and seeds, avocados and olive oil will all help with essential fat consumption,” says Gerald Colfer. “There are also lots of vegan supplements based on algae which are rich in DHA and EPA to help maintain healthy levels.”

“There are lots of healthy fats we can include in our diets, such as avocados, olive oil and nut butters,” says Angela McGlanaghey.

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