Is Fat a Friend or Foe

Historically, fat has been unfairly demonised by health professionals and probably society in general. This has led to fad diets and unhealthy alternatives, such as sugar laden low-fat substitutes. But the word ‘fat’ is a catch-all term given to a family of nutrients where there are both good and bad; indeed even the bad are not always bad (well, apart from Trans-fats I guess 😉

Here I want to redress the balance and hopefully help you to see the benefits of fat in a balanced diet. perhaps avoiding that low-fat diet mentality which seems to be popular still today.

Dietary fat, also known as Fatty Acid, can be found in both plant and animals foods. It can be a major source of energy and helps with the absorbtion of vitamins and minerals. Fat is also essential for muscle movement, blood clotting and reducing inflammation. Conversely, consumption of high-levels of fat is considered responsible for 2.8 million people dying eat year world-wide from being overweight and can be indirectly attributed to countless of other health issues.

But it’s all about what the ‘type’ of fat you eat. See below for a summary of each type and its relative merits and dangers.

Not all Fats are not the same

Saturated Fat

Eating too much saturated fat will be bad for you, since it can raise blood cholesterol which in turn increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Yet again, too much of anything is bad for you, by definition (hence the phrase ‘too much’). This should not be confused with ‘any’ of something. Indeed in my article ‘optimal diet needn’t be a mid-life crisis‘, I put a good case for including saturated fats (particularly mono-saturated fats) in your diet to help retain testosterone, especially in later life. Testosterone helps to retain muscle-tone, which in turn helps to burn calories. So moderation is the key here. The optimal balanced diet for any sportsperson should include at least some saturated fat.

  • Sources: Dairy products, meat and tropical oils and avocado
The truth about Cholesterol

But shouldn’t cholesterol to be avoided at all costs? Whilst true that there is ‘bad’ cholesterol (aka LDL), there is a common misconception that dietary cholesterol, including HDL (aka ‘good’ cholesterol) raises the risk of heart disease also. This has led to a now out-dated assumption by many that such foods as eggs (especially the yolks) are to be avoided due to their cholesterol content. Actually for most, consumption of the ‘good’ cholesterol found in egg yolks can actually have a positive effect. Indeed including HDL in your diet actually helps to reduce blood cholesterol by assisting the liver in its disposal.

Unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fats tend to be liquid at room temperature. They are found mostly in oils, plants and fish and come in essentially two forms: mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated. Unlike Saturated Fats, they do not increase cholesterol levels in the blood, and could actually help to reduce it.

Unsaturated fats are a good addition to a balanced diet, since they are a great source of energy, help to lubricate the body and can aid in weight-loss due to their affect on appetite. Ketosis diets, such as Adkins and Halford, exploit this latter property to great affect by replacing high-carb foods with fats.

Equally poly-unsaturates are a good source of omega 3 and 6. The benefits of which are numerous from helping brain function to assisting in the absorption of protein.

  • Sources of mono-unsaturates: olive oil, avocados and nuts
  • Sources of poly-unsaturates: oily fish, sunflower oils and some nuts.


This is without doubt the ‘trouble child’ of the family. Trans-fats are manufactured from unsaturated fats using a process called hydrogenation, to help preserve them for longer. Solid at room temperature, these fats are predominently found in commercially baked foods, such as donuts, biscuits (cookies) and fast food.

Although present naturally in meats, it is the industralised derivatives such as partially-hydrogenated fats which pose the greatest risk to your health. Studies have shown these to increase the risk of heart disease and are responsible for certain types of cancer.

Trans-fats are to be avoided as much as possible.

So hopefully, you feel better informed about fat and its different forms. On balance it is not the evil substance is it sometimes portrayed as. In fact, in the right quantities, fat can improve health and aid in weight-loss. Personally I prefer to include fat in my diet and instead try to avoid low-fat alternatives. Frankly, these are often laden with sugar, taste pretty awful and cost alot more as well.

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