Thursday, March 19, 2009

Practical suggestions for ways to include more healthy fats in your diet

We need fat in our diet for a wide range of reasons; it is the type of fat we consume that is important.

Fat is needed for manufacturing hormones, for building cell membranes, for immunity, and for the receptors in our brain which are involved in mood regulation, memory, movement and a host of other vital bodily functions.
Fat is also important as a source of energy.
The last National Diet and Nutrition Survey in the UK showed that, on average, people are consuming 13 per cent of their energy as saturated fat, when the guideline maximum is 10 per cent.

Societies in the world which are noted for their healthy longevity typically consume less than 10 per cent of their energy as saturated fat. Instead, they eat more of the healthy unsaturated fats, mostly found in plant oils and in fish.

Here are some practical ideas for incorporating more of the healthy unsaturated fats into your diet:

  1. Use virgin olive oil, canola (rapeseed) oil or avocado oil for cooking as they are more stable than other oils and also contain beneficial antioxidants. 
  2. Mix flax seeds in a jar with hemp, sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds in equal portions. Take out 2 heaped tbsp daily and grind in a coffee grinder or food processor. Add to smoothies, soups, porridge.
  3. Add 1 tbsp cold-pressed polyunsaturated oils to your salads daily, e.g., flax, walnut, pumpkin, sesame. Keep oils in dark bottles in the fridge and use within 8 weeks of opening.
  4. Eat three portions of oily fish a week. The best choices are mackerel, sardines, salmon, anchovies, pilchards, pink trout, tuna. Canned fish is fine, except for tuna which, during canning, is rendered low in healthy fats. There is concern about pollutants in fish but current research suggests that the benefits of eating oily fish outweigh the potential disadvantages.
  5. Spread choices to use instead of butter: hummus, tahini, pumpkin, almond, sunflower nut butters, guacamole, vegetable pâtés.
  6. Limit fat from meat and dairy sources by trimming visible fat, choosing lean or low-fat versions and limiting yourself to one portion a day. Choose leaner meat options such as skinless fish, chicken, turkey or game. Preferably avoid meat and dairy produce altogether.
  7. Avoid hydrogenated fats in margarines and processed foods - check the food label to see whether it says "contains no hydrogenated fats". If it doesn't, avoid it.
  8. Also avoid cooking with sunflower, corn or oils other than olive, canola, or avocado oil, unless they are the high oleic acid varieties.
  9. Deep-fry food only occasionally. High temperatures change the nature of fats and create carcinogenic (cancer-generating) compounds.
  10. The quantity of fat is nearly as important as quality. The recommended intake of fats is 30-35% of calories. For a woman eating 2000 calories per day, this equates to about 70g fat. Of this, no more than 22g should be saturated fats. Check food labels to find out how much of the different types of fat your food contains. 


It is always best to obtain nutrients from food. It can, however, be helpful to use supplements therapeutically for a while.

GLA (gamma linolenic acid) is found in oil of evening primrose and borage oil and is helpful for hormonal conditions such as PMS and hot flushes.

EPA/DHA in fish oil capsules are useful for conditions such as inflammation, heart disease, breast cancer, arthritis and mental health problems. We should aim for at least 1g per day of EPA. Check the label of the bottle for the concentration of EPA.

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