For many years, a large majority of Australians have been under the impression that a low fat diet has been the key to maintaining a healthy and successful lifestyle. Low fat food products flooded the shelves and before we knew it, 99% fat free confectionery became a guilt free trip to pleasure town.
Why would we believe otherwise? Health practitioners and popular diet books condoned this theory and the only reference to fat by Australian Guide To Healthy Eating was to avoid it. It’s safe to say we believed that the low fat way of life would not only lower our risk of disease and cholesterol, but help us lose weight and improve our overall health status.
Despite this, the prevalence of obesity, cancer and cardiovascular diseases has continued to rise and the average Australian diet has evolved to include a frightening amount of processed foods, with minimal whole and fresh produce.
So where have we been going wrong? We trimmed the fat, yet we don’t seem to be becoming a healthier nation. Thankfully, evidence has unfolded and experts are now suggesting that perhaps fat isn’t so bad and the culprits are highly processed and refined sugar rich foods.
This news has been somewhat alarming to Australians who frequently load up their trolleys with low fat food products and “health foods”. As in actual fact, many of those foods are laden with added sugars, artificial sweeteners and potentially harmful preservatives.
In favor of this revelation, the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating has recently amended its guidelines to recommend fat in small amounts. Hooray, fat is back! But before anyone starts binging on bacon and scoffing down donuts, these guidelines refer to the consumption of healthy and quality sources of fat, including nuts, seeds, oils and fish.
The World Health Organization have also recently published articles which state that fat, consumed as part of a healthy diet can be beneficial when it comes to promoting health status.
But fat is fat, right? Nope. There are different types of fats, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated saturated and trans fats. The difference lies within their chemical make up and the way the body metabolises them. Typically, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the good guys and saturated and trans are the bad.
As part of a balanced diet, healthy fats have a number of important and functional roles within the body. This includes cell and energy production, supporting our immune system, the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, balancing hormones, the prevention of sugar cravings, maintaining energy levels and improving cognitive function.
So now that the fear of fat has calmed, we can ask the question: Which fats should we be consuming and how much? In order to reap the health benefits of these fatty delights, I recommend having a source of healthy fat alongside protein and carbohydrates with every meal. This can include full fat dairy products, nuts/seeds, avocado or quality oils including olive and organic coconut oil. Snacking on almonds is also an excellent way to get your daily dose as their natural fat and protein content can help keep hunger at bay and diminish sugar cravings.
The inclusion of healthy fats into the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating also reiterates that a balanced diet can be beneficial and trends/fads are not. Going back to basics and focusing on a diet that is rich in whole and natural foods is fundamental. We can also continue to hope that the “healthy fat, food movement” will inspire, educate and encourage those to make healthier food choices. It is time to eliminate processed foods with little nutritional value from the diet and embrace those loaded with nutrients and a healthy fat content.