Until recently fat has been labelled as the bad nutrient in the industry with many healthcare practitioners often advising clients to go on a low-fat diet. With so much mixed opinions being given to us from the healthcare industry it’s hard to believe one article to the other. So what exactly is fat and why do we need fat in our lives?

Fats are a macronutrient which we required to consume in large amounts for energy purpose. Although so much information has been focused on blaming dietary fat for many life issues, the body does need fat to function. Fat is one of the key nutrients which is required during infancy throughout to adulthood. Fat is in fact the most concentrated source of energy which is available to the body and at adulthood we required one-third of our calories to derive from fat. Of the total one-third, one-third should be saturated, one-third polyunsaturated and one-third monounsaturated.

Different sources of fat

Fats are composed of building blocks called fatty acids and there are three main categories of fatty acids- saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. These are classified based on the number of hydrogen atoms in the chemical structure of the fatty acid.

Saturated fatty acids

These are primarily found in animal products including dairy items such as milk, cream, butter and cheese and in fatty meats such as pork, ham, lamb, veal and beef. Some vegetables oils are also high in saturated fatty acids such as coconut oil and palm oil. Many prepared foods such as pizza, desserts, sausages and pasta dishes are high in saturated fat content.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids

Polyunsaturated fatty acids are found in plant and animals foods with the greatest sources being found in corn, safflower, soybean and sunflower oils. Certain fish such as salmon, tuna and trout are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids. Polyunsaturated fatty acids contain omega-3 and omega-6 fats which are essential fatty acids as we cannot produce these. Our bodies need these fatty acids for cell growth and neural development.

Monounsaturated fatty acids

These are found mostly in vegetable and nut oils such as olive, peanut and canola. These are liquid at room temperature but can start to solidify at refrigerator temperature. Olive oil is about 75% monounsaturated fats.

Why choose coconut oil?

Coconut oil is one of the most heat resistant oils to cook with compared to vegetable and nut oils which are not resistant to high temperatures. This in turn produces a product which can be harmful to our health. The heat constancy of coconut oil is credited to the saturated fat properties in contrast to other oils which polyunsaturated fat structures.

But we’re told saturated fats are bad- well coconut oil does contain saturated fats but these behave in a different way to the saturated fats in animal foods. The majority of fats in coconut oil are from medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA’s) which go straight from the digestive tract to our liver and are likely to be turned into ketone bodies for  a quick source of energy . Many studies have found no relationship between fatty acids and health conditions such as heart disease (Tarino et al., 2010).

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Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB and Krauss RM (2010). Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease1,2,3,4,5. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: 104 (3).