Learning about the fats of life Food for Thought by Catherine Burns Fat has such a bad reputation! And in many ways it deserves it – obesity is, after all, one of Bermuda's biggest health concerns. However, there is a huge difference between "good" fat and "bad" fat. Good fat is incredibly useful: Sixty percent of the human brain is made from fat. Recent research also shows that good fats help to protect us from Alzheimer's, cancer, heart disease, allergies, arthritis, eczema, depression, fatigue, infections and PMS. The good fats are also known as the "essential" fats. Very simply, these essential fats are divided into two families – Omega 3 and Omega 6. You are probably more familiar with these than you realize. One of the best sources of Omega 6 is evening primrose oil and fish oil is a great source of Omega 3. As you can see from the table, both of these good fats are essential for good health – the fats of life indeed! Omega 3 helps to boost metabolism, which encourages weight loss. Both help to thin the blood (good for those with high blood pressure) and also help to reduce the inflammation in those suffering from inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, eczema and irritable bowel. By contrast, bad fats cannot be utilized in the body and are therefore stored instead – unfortunately resulting in weight gain. Bad fats cause the blood to become sticky, impair nerve function and cause inflammation in the body. They include saturated and monounsaturated fats, trans-fats and hydrogenated fats. Trans-fats/hydrogenated fats are commonly found in refined foods and have been processed to the point that they can't be used in the body. They also prevent the uptake of omega 3 and omega 6 – imagine a key that fits the lock, but then breaks in the lock, and won't let you get a working key in! Common sources of bad fats are: fatty red meat, anything fried (e.g. chips, fries, fried chicken), roasted nuts, margarine, cake, cookies, milk chocolate, ice cream and full-fat dairy cheeses. You don't need to avoid these entirely (life is for living after all!), but bear in mind that the ideal diet contains 20 percent fat, of which only sic percent can be bad fat. Although many of us are familiar with good fats, most of us simply do not get enough – especially of Omega 3. As well as reducing the bad fats in your diet, aim to have fish (broiled or baked) three times a week. Nuts and seeds are also fantastic. As long as they are unroasted, they maintain their good fat content. They are also rich in protein, vitamins A, B, C and E, and the minerals calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron, selenium and manganese. Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds/linseeds, sesame seeds, almonds, cashews, pecans, brazils and walnuts are especially rich in good fat and nutrients. Here are some tips for including nuts and seeds in your diet: -Mix your favorite nuts/seeds with some raisins and keep in a jar at work for snacks -Sprinkle seeds onto salads -Add flax seed/linseed to oatmeal or cereal, or buy a brand that already contains it -Try natural yogurt with chopped kiwi and pecans for breakfast. However, simply eating a daily serving of good fat is not the whole picture. We need to consider that 68 percent of people in affluent societies such as ours die from just three health conditions. These are cardiovascular disease (43.8 percent), cancer (22.4 percent) and diabetes (1.8 percent) – and all are associated with too much of something called "fatty acid degeneration". It's not just a question of eating the right kind of fats, it's also about protecting fats once they are in the body. Fats are vulnerable to damage within the body – for example from blood sugar imbalance, alcohol and pollution. However, the good news is that they are also easily protected! Try following the steps below: 1. Do all you can to keep your blood sugar balanced e.g. avoid caffeine, sugar and processed foods. 2. Reduce your alcohol intake. Your liver secretes enzymes that help digest fats. If the liver is overloaded, fat digestion may be incomplete. 3. Avoid pollution where possible. Try not to spend too much in smoky atmospheres, in traffic, or exercising by busy roads. 4. Try to include ginger, turmeric, onions and garlic in your cooking. These encourage fats to become anti-inflammatory substances and are protective against degeneration. 5. Have plenty of fruit and vegetables. These are rich in antioxidants – substances that protect good fats from fatty acid degeneration. See next weeks article for more information on antioxidants . So you see there is really no need to be fat-phobic! Essential fats do play a vital role in achieving and maintaining good health. However, please note that some health conditions (e.g. epilepsy) and medications (e.g. blood-thinners) are contraindicated with the use of good fat supplements. If you have a health condition or are on medication, check with your GP or Clinical Nutritionist before taking a supplement. The advice given in this article is not intended to replace medical advice, but to complement it. Always consult your GP if you have any health concerns. Catherine is a fully qualified Clinical Nutritionist who trained for four years with the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in London, UK. She now lives in Bermuda.