Why we owe fat an apology

I’ve noticed a bit of a craze going round our class lately.  At every lunch time, at least half the class can be found tucking into an avocado.  There are 4 of us who frequent the bar at the end of Arab Street, and can be found every lunch time tucking into the smashed avocado, feta and mint toast.  Then there are at least 3 people who bring a whole avocado and eat it raw with a spoon.  And let’s not forget those who cut it up and put it on a piece of bread.

It’s interesting because avocados are a high fat food, yet all of us tuck in, regardless of fat being vilified since the 1970s. Perhaps it’s because they have often been referred to as the perfect food, despite being high fat as the nutritional benefits of fat vastly outweigh the poor reputation it has had for the last 40 years. So here’s a brief exploration of “good” and “bad” fat and why we need it so much.

Our brains are made of 60% fat.  It therefore follows that are brains are unable to function without the right amount of fat properly.

Luckily our class seems to be pretty clued up on this as avocados contain around 3g of monosaturated fat which benefits brain function and promotes healthy blood flow.

That said only around 0.5g of the fat that avocados have are polyunsaturated fats which contain the essential fatty acids (EFAs) omega-3 and omega-6. Studies have shown that eating high quantities of omega-3 fatty acids are linked to reduced rates of severe depression, bipolar disorder and ADHD.  Our bodies are unable to produce these fats, so it’s crucial that we include these in our diet.  The best sources are fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel.  For vegetarians, flaxseed oil is a great option.

Another omega 3 fatty acid is DHA which has been shown to aid memory, speaking ability and motor skills.  It helps to build the brain, nerve and eye tissue and has been associated with healthy fetal development. It’s found again in fish, fish oils and dairy such as eggs and milk, although a great source for vegans would be walnuts.

Finally, the fat that has had the worst press of all: saturated fat.  Saturated fat is actually one of the main components of brain cells and is therefore necessary for healthy brain function.  In one study it was found that people who ate more saturated fat reduced their risk for developing dementia by 36 percent. Saturated fat also benefits the liver and immune system and helps maintain proper hormone balance.  I guess the best rule here is not to go crazy – we all know that many of the acidic “exciting” foods are high in saturated fat, but again our good friend and staple the avocado has saturated fat in small amounts as does butter.

It really does seem quite strange that this amazing nutrient was completely vilified for decades, yet is something that we literally can’t function without.  I guess the moral of the story is to be discerning with the stories that you’re being exposed to and when it comes to food, enjoy everything in moderation.

FT