Food & drink

Jane McClenaghan: The big fat diet myth

Adding natural, unprocessed and good quality fats to your diet will make a big difference to your health and longevity - try adding milled flaxseed to your breakfast

WHEN it comes to nutrition, one of the most misunderstood nutrients is fat. If you have ever been on a diet, the chances are that you have cut back on fat in an effort to reduce calories and lose weight.

From diet clubs to skinny whips, the diet industry has a lot to answer for when it comes to our perception of what really is a balanced and healthy diet.

In my work as a nutritional therapist, I meet hundreds of people who have been lifelong dieters, who live their lives counting calories and avoiding fats, only to substitute with highly processed foods that promise to be low fat, fat-free or 'skinny' foods.

Take a closer look at your low fat yoghurt, skinny snacks or one cal spray and read what is on the ingredients list and you might be surprised to learn that a lot of these foods are bulked out with sugar, water or ingredients that read like a chemistry lab.

The ingredients list on 'Fry Light' olive oil reads 'Extra Virgin Olive Oil (51%), Water, Alcohol, Emulsifier: Sunflower Lecithin, Natural Flavouring, Thickener: Xanthan Gum'.

Only 51 per cent olive oil. The rest of the ingredients are added to give the spray the look and texture of fat.

Given how much we know about the health benefits of olive oil, give me a bottle of good quality olive oil any day over this.

Jaffa Cakes are often hailed as being a good low fat snack, but take a look at the nutrition panel to discover they have 50g sugar per 100g - or one and half teaspoonfuls per biscuit... and who stops at just one Jaffa Cake?

::Fat does not make us fat

We need good quality, healthy fats to help support a healthy metabolism, regulate our appetite and help make us feel more satisfied by the food we eat. In other words, we need fat to help us manage our weight.

Fat is an essential nutrient, that we need to thrive and survive. We cannot do without it. Our health depends on it.

Omega 3 and omega 6 are essential fats, meaning that we have to eat them because our bodies can't get them, or produce them, from any other sources.

So foods like oily fish, flaxseed, nuts and seeds are an essential part of any healthy, balanced diet.

We also need fat in our diets as a carrier of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Without fat, we become deficient in these nutrients.

::Are you deficient?

When we become deficient in fat, our body starts to tell us about it. Here are some signs that your body isn't getting the fat it needs:

::Dry, itchy skin

::Soft, cracked or brittle nails

::Achy, stiff joints

::Tiny bumps pin the back of your arms

::High cholesterol

::PMS

::Low mood

::Difficult to lose weight

::Eat more fat

By increasing your intake of healthy fats, you are likely to notice an improvement in how you look and feel. Better skin, stronger nails and feeling fuller for longer are all positive side effects from eating enough healthy fats.

Of course, I am not talking about crisps, chips and fried foods, but adding natural, unprocessed and good quality fats to your diet will make a big difference to your health and longevity.

Choose foods like avocado, nuts, seeds and olive oil and aim to have some good quality fat at every meal. Here are some suggestions to try:

::Add a couple of heaped dessert spoons of milled flaxseed to your overnight oats or porridge at breakfast

::Add some almond nut butter to your shopping list and have as a snack on oatcakes, or with sliced apple (look out for a nut butter that is free form palm oil e.g. Meridian)

::Use olive oil with balsamic vinegar and a little mustard to make a tasty and healthy home-made salad dressing

::Drizzle some good quality olive oil over steamed vegetables like broccoli or kale.

::Eat oily fish a couple times a week - just make sure you buy fish that is from a sustainable source Look out for the Maine Stewardship Council blue tick to be sure, Sardines, anchovies and mackerel are good choices.

::Have a handful of nuts as a snack - brazil nuts, almonds, walnuts, pistachios are all good choices. Choose unsalted and unroasted versions, of course.

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