We’ve always been told that fat is bad for us. But as Adam Hurrell and Deeba Hasan investigate, there could be more to this than meets the eye
For years, health professionals have been preaching about the need to reduce our fat intake due to the direct links to obesity and the associated diseases that come with being overweight. Recently, however, new studies are beginning to suggest otherwise. For decades, the line from health officials has been that saturated fats increase our chances of being overweight. But it now appears that they may, in fact, not only help you lose weight but also benefit your heart.
This year, a British Heart Foundation-funded study stated that it was unable to find solid evidence that eating saturated fats led to an increased chance of suffering from heart disease. In this somewhat controversial study, scientists from Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard universities examined the data from nearly 80 additional studies, involving more than a half million people from around the world, but were unable to find convincing evidence that eating saturated fats leads to greater risk of heart disease.
Such a finding is not only a serious challenge to established dietary perceptions, but it also has the potential to cause significant confusion among the general public as this is a conflicting message to the popular belief that, on the whole, fat is bad for you. Professor Kay-Tee Khaw, from Cambridge University’s Department of Public Health and Primary Care said that the new findings did not give people a licence to fill up on junk food, but she also accepted that the developments made the dietary picture more complicated.
As Monika Seth, a nutritionist and weight loss consultant at Al Raffah Hospital in Ghubra, Muscat, explains, some fats are needed in the diet and often it is a case of making sure that we have enough of the right ones that can make a difference to our health. “Healthy fats are those fats which contain essential fatty acids required by the body,” she says. “Two essential fatty acids are linoleic acid, an Omega-6 fatty acid, and alpha linolenic acid, an Omega-3 fatty acid. Sources of Omega-6 include vegetable oils, soy oil and nuts, while Omega-3 is abundant in cold-water fish such as salmon, herring, and mackerel. According to Ms Seth, one way of identifying healthy fats, or unsaturated fats, is that they are liquid at room temperature. Unhealthy fats, or saturated fats, are either solid or hard at room temperature. They will liquidise on heating, but solidify again on cooling. “Healthy fats, eaten in small amounts as part of a balanced diet are good for our health. They act as an important solvent for many essential nutrients in our body. They keep the heart healthy, prevent arteries clogging, lower cholesterol, improve bone strength and improve our immune systems. They are also good for the skin and help keep our brains healthy.”
Nutritionists and doctors are still saying that people need to take a considered approach to food and that we should all try to maintain a balanced diet of fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals and carbohydratesr to remain healthy. We also must ensure that we take plenty of exercise.
While the study adds a new element to the fat debate, it should be stressed that we cannot class high amounts of fat as a healthy diet. Like anything in life, too much of one thing is not necessarily the healthy option.
New studies have revealed that increased levels of fat in our diets could actually help us lose weight and benefit the heart.