The right fats are a must for brain development and heart health.
Experts in the fields of dietetics, nutrition and health met in Johannesburg this week under the auspices of the International Union of Nutrition Sciences (IUNS) to discuss exactly what the role of dietary fat is, and how it can play a part in preventing major nutrition-related chronic diseases. Yes you read right, it can help prevent certain chronic diseases.
South Africans are still very confused about dietary fat – what it is, how much is too much and what the difference is between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fat. And the proof the experts say, is evident from a quick glance at our poor food choices.
According to Dr Ali Dhansay, it’s this confusion and general ignorance that is contributing to a growing trend of chronic and degenerative diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
‘Dietary surveys indicate that many populations around the world (both in developed and developing countries) consume excess saturated and trans fats, and a low proportion of essential polyunsaturated fats. This has serious consequences for the health and well-being of children and adults,’ he said. Separating the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’
The good news however, is that we’re not alone in our confusion, as Dhansay pointed the general consensus worldwide appears to be that fat is viewed negatively. It’s seen as bad, fattening, lacks in nutrition and is key cause of cholesterol problems and heart disease – a dangerous perception that’s even led some to exclude fat completely from their diets.
So what is a good fat and a bad fat, and why do we need them at all? Different types of fat are classified according to their chemical composition and the effect they have on human health when consumed, explains dietician Smalberger.
According to her, fat is very important for the body to function optimally. ‘The right fats are an essential part of the diet and are vital for vitamin absorption, energy and brain development and functioning. Polyunsaturated fats can in fact lower the risk of heart disease,’ she said.
However, the key is to know which are ‘good’ fats and which are not so good – and how much to eat of each. It’s tricky but not impossible. Although all the experts agreed that labelling of foodstuffs was indeed still an issue that needed to be urgently addressed in order to help consumers read and understand food labels.
Quality over quantity
‘Fat quality refers to the type of fats in the food that we eat. Foods with a low fat quality are foods with a relatively high content of saturated (unhealthy) fat as compared to good and essential (healthy) fats, whereas other foods have a more desirable fat quality, or a relative high content of good and essential fats as compared to saturated fats.
‘One can recognise products with a good fat quality by the fact that they are spreadable or liquid even straight from the fridge, whereas foods with a low fat quality are usually even solid at room temperature, with coconut milk as the exception,’ Smalberger says.
This is why, she adds, it’s vital for consumers to familiarise themselves with the various food sources of dietary fats. This way one should be able to separate the ‘good’ from the ‘bad’.
However, she strongly advises against cutting out all fats from the diet since fats play an important role in the body. ‘The emphasis should rather be on limiting the bad ones, and making sure that you do have enough of the good ones in the diet.’
For more about the benefits of the right fats, visit Health24