One of the biggest problems I often come across during my nutritional consultations in Bermuda, is persuading clients to eat more healthy fat in their diet. Fat has unfortunately been demonized by mass media, and even by medical practitioners, who claim that fat is bad for our health.

That is only half the truth. Bad fats will make us gain weight and lead to many common disorders like high blood pressure but good fats are a vital part of our health and I will explain why.

Our body needs fats to build cells and manufacture important hormones but we must consume high quality fats and oils in order for our body to effectively use them.

Good fats include essential fatty acids of EFAs as they are known. These are fats that the body is unable to produce and therefore we must get them from our diet. They can be broken down into two groups; omega-3 and omega-6 EFAs. 

Omega-3 EFAs are found in leafy green vegetables, oily fish and free-range eggs and smaller quantities in nuts and animal meats. Omega-3 EFAs are vital to the development and repair of our brain and nervous system. 

Omega-6 EFAs can be found in grain products, meats and popular cooking oils such as corn, safflower and sunflower. The ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 acids in our diet should be 1:4, yet most people consume a ratio closer to 1:16. 

There are a number of behavioural and learning difficulties associated with a lack of omega-3 EFAs or an imbalance between omega-3s and omega-6 EFAs along with several health issues. Imbalances are very common due to the high consumption on grains and the vegetable cooking oils typically used in processed foods such as corn oil.

Many medical practitioners assume that we should reduce our intake of fats, particularly saturated fats from animal sources as this type of fat contains cholesterol which has also been demonized and gets bad press. 

Dietary cholesterol has any functions within the body. It gives the cells stiffness and stability and helps maintain the integrity of the intestinal wall and is essential for hormone production. It is the low-density cholesterol that is considered to be not good for your health.

A glance at the history of heart disease reveals that it was a very rare in the 1920s but by the mid-fifties heart disease was the leading cause of deaths among Americans. Today, heart disease causes at least 40 per cent of all deaths in the US and unfortunately this figure is probably similar in Bermuda. If, heart disease results from the consumption of saturated fats, as we have been told, then we would expect to find a corresponding increase in animal fat in our diet.

Considering research, the opposite is evident. During the sixty-year period from 1910 through to 1970, the proportion of animal fat in the American diet declined from 83 per cent to 62 per cent and butter consumption dropped from eight pounds per person per year to four pounds. During the past eighty years, dietary cholesterol intake has only increased by one per cent but dietary vegetable oils in the form of margarine, shortening and refined oils increased by 400 per cent and the consumption of sugar and processed foods increased about 60 per cent. It can then be clearly argued that these bad fats are to blame.

Cholesterol build up in the arteries is not due to an increase in dietary fat consumption but rather in consistently elevated insulin levels. This can result from eating excess sugar, stimulants and stress. Increased insulin levels can lead to an overproduction of cholesterol by the body. The only way to naturally turn off this cholesterol production is to eat dietary cholesterol, yet most people are told to go on a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet which usually worsens the problem.

The fats to avoid can be found in many processed foods, even those that claim to be ‘healthy’ are laden with trans-fatty acids otherwise known as TFAs and this even includes margarine. These fats are structurally closer to plastic than fat! Consumption of TFAs has been linked to heart disease and elevated cholesterol levels. Research has shown that Americans eat between 11 and 28 grams of TFAs per day, a fifth of their total intake of food. We cannot be far behind in Bermuda as we import most of our food from the US

The human race evolved on a diet of saturated fat and cholesterol as the majority of our brains are made up of saturated fat and is the reason we developed our brain capacity during the Paleolithic Age and made us into the human beings we are today. Looking at studies in the modern day, North American Indians, Eskimos and other tribes consume as much as 80 per cent of their daily caloric intake from fat, most of which is saturated fat.

The amount of good fat we should all consume does vary from person to person but a rule of thumb is that protein, fats and oils should make up at least 30 per cent of our diet. Always try to choose organic foods too as this significantly reduces the amount of toxins stored in animal and plant fat. Good sources of healthy fats to include in your diet are the following;

• Olive oil

• Coconut Oil/butter

• Butter

• Ghee

• Organic, grass-fed animal fats

• Fish oil

• Seeds

• Nuts

• Avocados

Colin Ayliffe is a certified personal trainer and holistic lifestyle coach with over 10 years experience in training clients. He is head trainer at Court House Squash and Wellness in Hamilton. He graduated from the University of Surrey with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sport Science and is also a CHEK Practitioner, Golf Biomechanic and accredited by the National Academy of Sports Medicine.