Good fats and bad fats Q&A

When looking to slim down or improve our diets for our overall health, sugar, alcohol and fatty foods are usually the first on the list to go. But cutting certain types of fat can actually work to our detriment, specifically unsaturated fats because of their association with heart health.

We've asked Dr Ali Khavandi, Consultant Cardiologist at BMI Bath Clinic about types of fats and their effect on our diet, to help separate facts from fads and make the right choices.

Dr Ali Khavandi
Saturated fats are defined by their molecular structure. In real terms, they tend to be fats from animal sources (the notable exception being ‘tropical oils’ from coconut or palm) and are solid at room temperature.

Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, are typically from plant sources and are liquid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats can be further divided in poly- and mono-unsaturated fats. In food terms, lard or dripping is a typical example of a predominantly saturated fat. Olive oil is rich in mono-unsaturated fats and omega-3 fish oils are a good example of a poly-unsaturated fat.

Dr Ali Khavandi
Saturated fat has been portrayed as the Big Dietary Baddy since around the late 1970s/ early 1980s. Recent evidence has started to challenge this view. This may explain the traditional ‘French paradox’ - a population that enjoys butter, cream and red meat but who have a low rate of heart disease.

What is starting to emerge is that high quality saturated fats like good quality butter are a perfectly acceptable component of a heart healthy diet and are certainly better then processed margarines or low quality veg oil.

Dr Ali Khavandi
Marbled red meats and full fat dairy will generally contain the most saturated fats. Skinless poultry and lean meats will have the lowest levels of saturated fats. Oily fish are rich in protective unsaturated fats.

Dr Ali Khavandi
Nuts and seeds are very good for heart health. Studies indicate that people who eat nuts on a regular basis tend to live longer and have fewer cardiovascular problems compared to those who eat nuts rarely (although there are limitations to this kind of evidence!). This includes all unrefined tree nuts and even peanuts (strictly a legume rather than a nut) – unfortunately nuts covered in salt or sugar don’t count.

I particularly like walnuts and almonds. One of the reasons why nuts and seeds may be beneficial is due to the protective nutrients, fibre and unsaturated fat content rather than just their micronutrients. Try to incorporate a diverse variety of different seeds and nuts into your diet.

Dr Ali Khavandi
Industrial trans fats (or partially hydrogenated fats) are one of the most damaging/evil things you can consume! I’ve seen robust evidence that now confirms their association with multiple cardiovascular diseases.

Low-quality processed foods and the original margarine formulation were common sources of industrial trans fat, but as a result of health concerns there has been a general reduction of it, even in processed foods. Some trans fats do occur naturally in animal products.

Dr Ali Khavandi
Once hydrogenated, unsaturated fats like cotton or vegetable oils would become solid at room temperature. The thinking was that because these trans fats were made from unsaturated ones, they were healthier than saturated fats. It was a misconception!

There was a peak of heart attacks and strokes during the 1980s and 90s. Eating them, it turns out, can also increase your risk of type-2 diabetes, so there’s little wonder that manufacturers, at the behest of governments, have been reducing the amount of trans fats in their products.

Dr Ali Khavandi
Unsaturated fats from whole food sources are associated with better heart health. This should not be confused with processed vegetable oils (with a damaging omega 6 ratio) or margarine. Omega 3 fats particularly are ‘essential’ meaning that they need to be contained within your diet. These fats a used from brain/ nerve and heart maintenance and health.

Dr Ali Khavandi
I would suggest quality is more relevant than quantity. Most low-fat products are bad and as a result of stripping out the fat, they have been infiltrated by sugar (low fat fruit yogurts are a classic example). The same concept is true when avoiding dietary fat – you tend to replace the gap with usually refined carbs and sugary foods. Eat a diet that is rich in protective fats and avoid low fat products!

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