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The Fats of Life: The lowdown on the good, bad and the ugly world of fats

April 13, 2018



Our fat phobia began way back in the 1950’s when a study by Dr Ancel Keys suggested a link between fat and heart disease.(1) This reasoning is based on the belief that saturated fat increases the level of cholesterol in the blood, predisposing to cholesterol deposition in arteries and ultimately Heart Disease. The message was received loud and clear and governments around the world started recommending we reduce the levels of fat in our diets. Fat free and low fat products were centre stage in all our supermarkets and fat was shunned. Fast forward to the present day, heart disease is still prevalent.


We’ve listened to advice cut back on fat but as a result increased our consumption of refined carbohydrates, especially sugar. The mind-set about dietary fats is ever changing making it really confusing as a consumer which fats and oils we should actually be eating.


Why we shouldn’t fear fats?

  • They are needed for nutrient absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.2

  • Cholesterol is needed for the manufacture of steroid hormones including cortisol and sex hormones (3).

  • They are an important energy source (4).

  • Most of our body tissues are lipid based. Our brain is made up of 60% fat (5).

  • There is strong evidence to suggest they improve body composition, have a cardioprotective and neuroprotective effect (5)


Which are 'Good Fats'? 


  •  Monounsaturated Fats. These are found in olive oil, tree and peanuts, avocados. Studies on people adopting a Mediterranean diet which includes plenty of monounsaturated fats has been shown to be beneficial in improving cardiovascular health (6).

  • Polyunsaturated Fats (PUFAS).These are essential fats found in oily fish, nuts, seeds and their oils. Our bodies do not synthesize these fats so we must get them from our diets. These fats perform many important functions in the body and are vital for reducing inflammation, cardiovascular health, and immune system functioning (4).

  • Saturated Fats in moderationSince the dawn of time we have been eating unprocessed forms of saturated fats. We evolved on diets comprising of marine life, wild game a, which provided ample omega-3 and other unprocessed fats. Saturated fat should not be feared but be included in the context of a healthy, balanced diet. Good sources include eggs, grass-fed butter and meat and cold pressed unrefined coconut oil. 


The Bad…and the Ugly!


Hydrogenated Fats/Trans Fats


These are fats that have been industrially produced with the sole intention of being non-perishable. Think products in the supermarkets with long shelf lives – cakes, biscuits, cooking oils. In margarine, the fat’s structure is changed by bubbling hydrogen ions through liquid fat to harden the fat. These fats interfere with how our bodies process the good fats. Trans fats raise LDL-C (bad cholesterol), raise triglycerides, lower HDL-C (good cholesterol), and increase inflammation. Based on these effects, the recommendation is to limit their intake as much as possible!


If you are still unsure about what you should and shouldn’t be eating, and are looking for some guidance, we would love to hear from you. Contact us at The Nourished Tribe here.




  1. Keys A. Obesity and Degenerative Heart Disease.(1954) American Journal of Public Health and the Nations Health; 44(7):864-871.

  2. Albahrani AA, Greaves RF. (2016) Fat-Soluble Vitamins: Clinical Indications and Current Challenges for Chromatographic Measurement. The Clinical Biochemist Reviews; 37(1):27-47.

  3. Haffner, Steven M. et al. (1995. Endogenous sex hormones: Impact on lipids, lipoproteins, and insulin. The American Journal of Medicine, Volume 98, Issue 1 , S40 - S47.

  4. Liu AG, Ford NA, Hu FB, Zelman KM, Mozaffarian D, Kris-Etherton PM. (2017).  A healthy approach to dietary fats: understanding the science and taking action to reduce consumer confusion. Nutrition Journal; 16:53.

  5. Orth, M. & Bellosta,S., (2012). “Cholesterol: Its Regulation and Role in Central Nervous System Disorders,” Cholesterol, vol. 2012, Article ID 292598, 19 p.

  6. Tapsell, L.C. (2014). Foods and food components in the Mediterranean diet: supporting overall effects. BMC Medicine, 12:100




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