My Super Six Favourite Foods for Healthy Fats
Contrary to popular belief, many of us are not eating enough healthy fats in our diets. We should be aiming to see some fats with each meal that we have. But how can we incorporate them? Here are my super six favourite fats:
High in monounsaturated fats and rich in antioxidants, olive oil is the keystone to the Mediterranean diet and is rightly lauded as a hero among fats. Research shows that regular consumption of olive oil may be beneficial in our fight against chronic disease. Drizzle on salads or soups, gently roast vegetables in it, or pour onto veggies for flavour.
Oily fish, such as mackerel, salmon, herring, fresh tuna, sardines, are chock full of omega 3 fatty acids, which have been seen to help fight inflammation, and may be beneficial for brain, eye and skin health.
Packed with nutrients like magnesium and vitamin E, nuts bring plenty of essential fats to the table. They make the perfect snack – eat a handful (preferably raw) with a small piece of fruit or spread a little nut butter on an oatcake (peanut butter is just for starters – try almond for a change).
Seeds are the starting point for growing plants, so they are extremely nutritious. They are full of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, as well as antioxidants and fibre. Flax, chia and hemp seeds are a good source of omega 3 fatty acids. Sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds are all rich in monounsaturated fats. All add crunch, flavour and interest to a meal – sprinkle on salads, soups or roasted veggies, or eat a handful as a snack.
You’ve got to love an avocado! They go with practically anything and are high in both vitamin E and in healthy monounsaturated fats. Slice it, mash it, or stick it in a smoothie.
There’s so much to like – where to start? Coconut oil can act as an anti-fungal (caprylic acid), when used either externally or internally. The ideal replacement for butter in baking and as your oil of choice when frying at higher temperatures. Research shows that it may also help with cholesterol balance and blood pressure.
Cooking with fat
How the fat is used (through cooking and processing) is a big deciding factor whether it is healthy or unhealthy. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) may become less healthy in the presence of light, oxygen and heat. That is because frying with oils like olive oil at high temperature leads to oxidation and the production of free radicals – highly inflammatory for the body and may increase the risk of chronic disease.
Therefore, pick oils for cooking that are more stable at a high heat, saturated fats such as coconut oil or animal fats. Use olive oil only on a low heat for sauteing.
Use these oils for cooking
Coconut oil, avocado oil, butter or ghee (clarified butter), or goose fat
Use olive oil on low heats for long, slow cooking that won’t allow it to ‘smoke’.
Use these oils for drizzling or dressings
Extra virgin olive oil, walnut oil, sesame seed oil, flax seed oil, hazelnut oil, almond oil, hempseed oil
Don’t use sunflower oil (although do eat the seeds) or vegetable oil at all.
The Mediterranean Diet has been lauded as ‘the’ healthy diet, and chances are you may have been recommended it by your doctor or nutritionist if you have a chronic condition like high blood pressure or heart disease. It is a popular dietary suggestion for many chronic health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, depression and even dementia.
The Mediterranean Diet is a way of eating based on traditional eating patterns seen in areas of Crete, Greece and southern Italy which, during the middle of the twentieth century, showed better life expectancy and lower rates of chronic health conditions than other areas with the same levels of healthcare. In 1993, the World Health Organisation, along with some other organisations, brought in the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid to help people recognise the balance of food they might try eating to mimic the traditional diets seen in these areas of longevity. It included plenty of fruits and vegetables, nuts, pulses, legumes and wholegrains, fish and lots of olive oil and other healthy fats, drinking plenty of fresh water, with smaller amounts of dairy, red wine and low red meat. It also proposed that fresh air, socialising and regular movement should be part of the daily plan and way of life as well.
But apart from the association between those areas and their traditional diets and longer living, where is the evidence that the Mediterranean Diet is good for us? How can we be certain that these dietary changes are beneficial to us?
Research shows that the Mediterranean Diet (MD) may be effective in reducing the risk of heart diseases and overall mortality. A women’s health study found that those following the MD had 25% less chance of heart disease over the 12-year study, and surmised that changes in levels of inflammation, blood sugar and obesity levels may have contributed to this.
In terms of aging and cognitive benefits, research shows that a diet high in antioxidants, such as the MD with its emphasis on fruits and vegetables and whole foods, may be protective against age-related diseases. In fact, an American study on Nurses’ Health found that women following the MD were 46% more likely to age healthily.
Finally, research into the MD has helped to dispel the myth that fat is bad for you and that we need to eat a low-fat diet to be healthy. The MD positively encourages consumption of extra virgin olive oil, oily fish and nuts, and other sources of healthy fats. One study that looked at a large group of people with diabetes and other heart disease risk factors found that following the MD with added extra virgin olive oil or nuts reduced the rates of deaths from stroke by almost 30%. Check out my newsletter later this month for information on healthy fats and how to incorporate them into our diets.
Some things to bear in mind, however, when incorporating the MD into our lives. It’s still important to think about the balance of foods and how we put together our plates to ensure that we are getting everything we need – BANT’s Healthy Eating Puzzle is a great place to start here.
Plus, it’s the eating pattern, variety and lifestyle considerations that may support the health benefits of the MD. Just eating extra nuts or more olive oil won’t cut the mustard. We need to think of this as an overhaul of the way we live – food, movement, sleep and stress reduction – and that way we can really reap the rewards.
"Men are rather reasoning than reasonable animals for the most part governed by the impulse of passion"
- Alexander Hamilton, 1802
It's January. Everywhere you go you'll see images and messages about change. Changes in diets. Changes in exercise patterns. New challenges to try - dry January, Veganuary, walking challenges, drawing challenges. It's a great time of year to start working on these new things - a time to re-assess our lives and see what we'd like to tweak. But how can we make these changes stick? How do we know we're not going to be popping those new watercolour paints into the bottom drawer with last year's hobby?
To begin with we often try to rely on willpower. Willpower can be defined as the ability to delay gratification, resisting short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals, or what could otherwise be called resolve. Secondly, it can be defined as the capacity to override an unwanted thought, feeling, or impulse, or what could be termed suppression. For example, when you find yourself heading towards that leftover box of Christmas chocolates, you resolve not to eat it so you can have the reward of not gaining weight, and you also suppress the urge to eat them all because they are delicious.
This combination of resolve and urge suppression requires a great deal of self-control. However, research shows us that when we use willpower to resist temptation, this can leave us with less self-control to tackle other challenges. In a recent report, the American Psychological Association stated "A growing body of research shows that resisting repeated temptations takes a mental toll. Some experts liken willpower to a muscle that can get fatigued from overuse". So by resisting eating those chocolates, you may find yourself reaching for a burger later on, rather than the salad that you had planned to have. In a world where we have so many distractions competing for our attention - social media, one-click shopping, online streaming - the ability to resist tempation may get sapped quite early on. And additionally, it may have a knock-on effect on our ability to control our emotions, behaviours, or thoughts.
However, this doesn't mean we should give up! What can help us to ensure we keep going with that early morning yoga practice? Recent research has shown us that building habits may help maintain an activity indefinitely. A habit may be defined as responses that develop over time when people do the same thing in the same context. Habit building can be encouraged by including some or all of the following:
So maybe if you're looking to tweak how you eat, exercise, or live your life, rather than relying on willpower and self-control to keep it going, have a look at how you can build it into a habit. Then it may last a lifetime.
Having spent five years knee-deep in textbooks and research papers studying for me BSc and Diploma in Nutritional Therapy, it is easy for me to forget that not everyone is familiar with the term. What does Nutritional Therapy actually entail? And how can it help you?
As defined by our professional body BANT (British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine):
“Nutritional Therapy is the application of nutrition science in the promotion of health, performance and individual care. Registered Nutritional Therapists use a wide range of tools to assess and identify potential nutritional imbalances and understand how these may contribute to an individual’s symptoms and health concerns.”
This basically means that as a Nutritional Therapist I work with you to try and find out what changes can be made to your diet and lifestyle to make you feel better. What foods you eat, what sleep and relaxation you get, your medical and family histories, your environment at work and home, what exercise you get, your stress levels – all of these factors and more can impact how you feel and any symptoms you may be getting.
Nutritional Therapy uses a Functional Medicine approach. This entails a client-centred and science-based approach which allows us to work together to address the underlying causes of any symptoms you may have to promote wellness. By addressing the root causes, via taking personal histories, mapping symptoms, and using functional testing, we aim to get to the bottom of what’s going on.
I keep up to date with scientific research to ensure that I have the latest nutrition science at my fingertips. And, as a complementary therapy, I work alongside your GP and other healthcare professionals to try and give you the best outcomes.
Everyone is different. Everyone has different lives, responsibilities, tastes, amounts of time and money to spend. It’s my job to help find an approach that works for you as an individual.
Please get in touch and find out more - I offer a free 30-minute exploratory call.