health trends

The Truth About Fats

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As I’m sure you know by now, I don’t eat gluten – or very little of it anyway (I say, sitting at my desk with a large piece of gluteny, dairy-filled chocolate mousse cake in front of me….Cake Fridays are cheat days!). Earlier this week I wrote a post about the theories behind gluten intolerance, which you can see here over at Full Circle Wellness. Today I thought I’d go one step further and discuss fats….and Tim Noakes. Oh yes, I’m going there.

When it comes to Tim Noakes, there are two distinct schools of people – those who follow his meal plans in a slightly cult-like daze, swearing by every word that comes out of his mouth (no matter that his instructions seem to change on a weekly basis), and those who snuffle and snort with such derision that you’d be forgiven for thinking a herd of particularly nasal piglets had escaped the farm.

I fall somewhere in between. I have zero time for Tim Noakes himself – I think he’s a dangerous man with a lot of commercial backing but not enough scientific evidence to be swaying the masses the way he does.

But I don’t dismiss his philosophy as a whole, because my dad is a Type 1, adult onset diabetic and he has been following a Tim Noakes-style diet for years. Incidentally, he was not introduced to his diet by the great pretender – there’s another influential dietician in the diabetic world who punted a very low carb diet for insulin resistants while Noakes was still guzzling pasta before marathons. In contrast to Noakes’ cowboy reasoning, Richard Bernstein’s experience is based on his having been a Type 1 diabetic for 69 years. I’m not diabetic so I won’t judge your choices if you are, but to me it seems sensible to take advice from the guy who actually went through it himself over that of the controversial upstart. If it was me, I would just do some extra reading before laying my health wholeheartedly at Noakes’ door, but each to their own.

But I digress – the topic of Tim Noakes, like politics and religion, can turn the most mild-mannered person into a frothing-at-the-mouth zealot!

I want to talk about animal fats versus plant fats. Tim Noakes says you can have as much fat as you like and it’s all good – bacon, eggs, cream, cheese, all fried in oil and topped with avocado – hello breakfast! I simply don’t agree.

I feel the need to insert my usual disclaimer here: I am not a scientist or a nutritionist. I am merely someone who has researched health and nutrition extensively for my own interests and my personal health journey. I am not always right, but you will see I never jump blindly onto a bandwagon either. And I pride myself on presenting both sides of the story.

I eat plenty of coconut and olive oil, chickpeas and hummus, lots of nuts. I try to eat avo as well but I just can’t get into it (does anyone else find it vaguely reminiscent of Shrek’s toe jam?). I also eat red meat and cheese, but in far smaller quantities than my plant fats.

So, why do I think plant fats are better than animal fats? The subject of fats and their effects on our health is incredibly complicated. In the course of my research for this post, I had to start over many times because in every article I read, I found something new.

The first thing to note is that dietary fats have never been either all good or all bad, and the recent studies on saturated fats tell us this same thing. None of the macronutrient classes (fats, proteins and carbohydrates) can be classified in such black and white terms. When it comes to food compounds, the colour palette is more than 50 shades of grey.

In the interests of simplifying the issue, I am going to answer my own question the way I would if we were sitting opposite each other at a dinner party, because if I started droning on in the manner of some of the articles I’ve just read, you will never read my blog again.

Point to note: there are two types of fats: sterols and fatty acids. Fatty acids can be broken down further into groups including saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

I choose plant fats because:

1. The sterols in animal fats contain cholesterol, while the sterols in plant fats do not.

Our bodies do need certain amounts of ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL), but if you eat moderate amounts of animal fats you will get enough.

2. Dairy, meat and processed foods today are higher today in saturated fats than ever before due to farming techniques and processing. While certain saturated fats have been exonerated as being harmful to us, this study shows that a diet rich in monounsaturated fats is still preferable to one high in saturated fats. Monounsaturated fats are found in red meat, whole milk products, nuts and high fat fruits such as olives and avocados.

But I just mentioned that dairy and meat today are higher in saturated fats than ever before. So by a simple comparison, plant fats overall seem to have less harmful potential than animal fats.

Essentially what I’m saying is that it’s better to be safe than sorry. We don’t yet know exactly what would happen to someone who ate only saturated animal fats for most of their adult life, but I’m sure the studies are well under way. Personally, I don’t want to be a guinea pig in a medical research paper. If, after a rational analysis, plant fats sound like the safer option, you can bet that’s the basket where I’m putting all my eggs.

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