Detailed Look at the Different Types of Fat

After two very detailed blog posts about Carbohydrates and Protein, it would be rude for us not to address the third and final macronutrient and most definitely one our favourites; Fat! 

To refresh your memory, a macronutrient is a group of foods that provide us with energy.

Fat is actually the most energy-dense macronutrient. It contains 37 kilojoules (9 calories) per gram whereas Carbohydrates and Protein contain 16 kilojoules (4 calories) per gram.

For this exact reason, there was a negative connotation associated with fat for quite sometime. This is because diet mentality enthusiasts believed that if we significantly reduced the amount of fat in our diets, we would be eating less calories and therefore lose weight. It sounded pretty straight forward at the time and goes back to the old phenomenon: calories in < calories out = weight loss. It made sense! Nevertheless, after years of extensive research in the field of nutrition and biology, we know that the types of food we eat are just as, if not more predictive of our health outcomes than the number of calories we consume.

Fats are an essential part of our diet. Not only do they provide us with energy but they also keep us full, increase the absorption of other vital nutrients and assist in producing hormones. Even better, 60% of our brain is actually made from fat!

Put simply, they are broken down into 2 categories:
1. Unsaturated (Healthy)
2. Saturated (Unhealthy)

Despite these two types of fats containing the exact same amount of energy per gram, they react entirely differently within the body and result in opposing health outcomes.

As a result of this, gone are the days of low-fat diets. Instead, we welcome and encourage a  Mediterranean style of living that prioritises adequate amounts of healthy/quality fats every single day! 

Let's start with saturated fats. 

Rather than referring to these guys as ‘bad fats’, we like to call them ‘less nutritious’. Labelling foods as ‘good’ and/or ‘bad’ can generate poor relationships with food and result in associated food guilt, so let’s leave those words at the door.
Saturated fats have been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and strokes) because they raise our LDL (negative) cholesterol. Consuming small amounts of saturated fats is totally fine in collaboration with a healthy balanced diet, however we generally want to keep our consumption to a minimum to avoid detrimental health outcomes. These types of fats are commonly found in animal products (meat, cheese, butter, cream), coconut oil and coconut-based products, energy-dense takeaway foods and baked goods (biscuits, pies, pastries, cakes etc).

There is another type of fat called ‘Trans Fats’ that belong to the saturated family. Not only do trans fats increase our LDL (negative) cholesterol, they simultaneously reduce our HDL (positive) cholesterol that is proven to be protective against heart disease. 

Again, these types of fats are found in animal products and a range of processed foods. 

You can significantly reduce your saturated fat intake by trimming the fat off your meat and limiting your intake of processed foods and baked goods. According to the Australian Heart Foundation, full-fat dairy products do not have as much of an effect on our cholesterol as other saturated fat food sources. Something to keep in mind! 

Before we move onto unsaturated fats, let's talk a little bit about Cholesterol.

Cholesterol is another type of fat that is found in the foods we consume. It is also a fatty substance that can build up in our arteries and cause heart disease. Sounds grim, I know! Surprisingly though, and despite popular belief, the cholesterol we consume through our diet has a very minimal effect on the cholesterol in our blood. Poor old eggs received a bad wrap for so long due to their cholesterol content.
However now that we know dietary cholesterol doesn’t effect blood cholesterol, bring eggs back into your diet because they are a source of protein, choline and essential fatty acids.

Unsaturated fats are broken down into 2 categories once again:

  1. Monounsaturated Fats 

  2. Polyunsaturated Fats (Essentially Fatty Acids - Omega 3, 6 & 9) 

    Both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats have the ability to reduce our negative cholesterol. Polyunsaturated fats perform this role to a slightly greater extent, however both varieties (if consumed in appropriate amounts) can reduce our risk of heart disease and associated conditions. 

    Monounsaturated fats are found in avocados, cooking oils made from plants and seeds (olive, peanut, sesame etc), olives, nuts and nut butters (yay for peanut butter – the number one ingredient in all of our bars!). 

    Polyunsaturated fats are found in oily fish (salmon, maceral, sardines, herring), sesame seeds, flaxseeds/linseeds, soybeans, walnuts and brazil nuts. 

    We generally refer to polyunsaturated fats as the ‘gold standard’ of fats because they contain our Omega essential fatty acids, all lights shining on the Omega 3’s in particular.

    What sets Omega 3’s apart from the rest of the fats in our diet is that they have an effect on our health that goes far beyond those benefits we have mentioned throughout. Consuming adequate amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids is not only linked to greater heart health, but also reduced inflammation, increased neurological development, reduced risk of degenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and lower rates of anxiety and depression. 

    They also can’t be synthesised by the body which means we can only get them through diet alone, making our fat choices all the more important. Omega 3 essential fatty acids can be found in oily fish, walnuts, eggs, linseeds, chia seeds and soybean oil.
    Omega 3 supplements are generally not necessary, unless you find in difficult to consume the foods mentioned. 

    5 daily tips to transform your fat-intake: 

    1. Aim to consume fish 2-3 times per week. 
    2. Cook with extra virgin olive oil as opposed to coconut oil. 
    3. Prioritise meat-free meals a few times a week. Try tofu as an alternative to beef or chicken.
    4. Snack smart. Swap cakes, biscuits and chips for olives, nuts or yoghurt.
    5. Top your toast with peanut butter more often than butter. 

    Written by Accredited Nutritionist and Accredited Practising Dietitian Millie Padula, founder of Dietitian Edition.