2005-11-22

Health: The Right Fat

'A Moment on the lips a lifetime on the hips' is every dieter's mantra. It's not that we actually believe every square of chocolate we eat will literally stick to our love handles, but there is a common enemy: fat. However, it's not that simple because fat is not always the baddie it is assumed to be. There are a number of different types of fat, each with their own role to play in our wellbeing. Instead of being concerned about eating too much, we should ask ourselves: Are we eating too little? 'We do actually need some fat in our diet,' says Ms.Claire Williamson, a nutrition scientist at 'The British Nutrition Foundation' ('The BNF').
'It is a vital source of energy and nutrients. 'It is generally recommended that women should have about 70_g of fat a day and men should be consuming 95_g.'
This isn't a licence to start eating unlimited amounts of burgers and chips, though. Many saturated fats (the stuff found largely in meat and dairy products) can still be bad for us or, more precisely, our hearts, so consumption of them should be kept to a minimum. We should instead be eating 'monounsaturated' and 'polyunsaturated' fats. These 'good fats' are found in olive and sunflower oils, nuts, avocados and oily fish, and can help our bodies in a myriad ways. This is a perplexing concept for some of us raised in the era of low-fat food fascism, so if you need help embracing foods with a high fat content, here's a guide to what fat can do for you, and how to get it. THE HEART
'Eating the right type of fat is actually essential for a healthy heart,' says Ms.Williamson. 'A diet containing mainly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats will benefit our hearts because it is thought that they help lower cholesterol levels.'
We should also make sure there are enough 'omega-3 fatty acids' in our diet. Although scientists are still investigating the effects of 'omega-3' on the heart, 'The American Heart Association' says this 'polyunsaturated fatty acid' can lower the risk of heart arrhythmias and prevent the build up of atherosclerotic plaque (the accumulation of fatty deposits on the arteries). • EAT: oily fish such as mackerel and salmon, Columbus eggs (which are fortified with 'omega-3') and flax seeds. THE BRAIN
'"Omega-3 fatty acids" are essential for healthy brain, eye and nervous system development and should be a crucial part of the diet during pregnancy,' says Ms.Williamson.
Essential fatty acids such as 'omega-3' (EFAs) are beneficial not only at the embryonic stages of development, but can also aid cognitive performance all the way through life. In a study conducted by 'Oxford University' and the local education authority in Durham this year scientists found that 'omega-3' and 'omega-6 fatty acids' improve children's behaviour and performance at school. According to Professor Basant Puri, the head of the lipid neurosciences group at 'Imperial College London', who has tested the effect of EFAs on brain function, they can also improve degenerative conditions such as 'Alzheimer's Disease' and 'Huntington's Disease'. • EAT: oily fish, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds and cod liver oil. THE SKIN
'Our skin and hair needs EFAs because they are a component of these organs and dieters who follow an extremely low-fat diet can end up with dry skin and hair that's in bad condition,' says Ms.Williamson.
Those who suffer from acne should specifically try and increase their intake of EFAs, which feed the skin and act as anti-inflammatories. • EAT: Flaxseed oil, or take evening primrose oil and cod-liver oil supplements. THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
'Fat provides the fat-soluble Vitamins -A, -D, -E and -K.
'Not only is it important that we eat fat to deliver these vitamins into our systems, but fat also helps us absorb them,' says Ms.Williamson.
'Vitamin-A' aids the function of our immune system and, as it promotes the growth of new tissue, can also improve the speed at which injuries heal. 'Vitamin-E' acts as an antioxidant to help prevent damage of cell membranes by free radicals and so plays an important part in preventing diseases and keeps the body healthy. • EAT: Liver, butter and cream for 'Vitamin-A', and cook with vegetable oil for a dose of 'Vitamin-E', or snack on nuts, seeds and avocados. THE BONES Calcium is essential for both the growth and renewal of bone cells. However, as Ms.Williamson points out, the 'Vitamin-D' carried by fats is needed to absorb calcium and is therefore crucial for healthy bones. A lack of 'Vitamin-D' in our diet can lead to rickets (a bone disease which can result in skeletal deformities) and osteoporosis (where the bones become fragile and prone to fractures). • EAT: Tuna, sardines, eggs (in particular the yolk) and dairy products (which are often fortified with the vitamin). 'Are you chewing the fat?', Jessica Kiddle, The Scotsman, 2005-11-22, Tu

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