Essential Fatty Acids, or EFAs, are fatty acids that are important to a number of biological processes within the body, yet humans cannot produce them. Two EFAs are known for humans: alpha linolenic acid (an omega 3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (an omega 6 fatty acid).
Omega 6 fatty acids are another group of polyunsaturated fats, found in the majority of vegetable oils (sunflower) as well as wholegrain cereals and nuts. Although they have a positive effect on blood fat levels, they are structural competitors to omega-3 fatty acids and may counteract their benefits. It suggested to increase the ratio of omega 3 fatty acids in the diet in favour of omega 6.
Saturated fat is referred to as the “unhealthy” fat. They are usually solid at room temperature and found in animal sources such as meat, poultry skin, egg yolk, full-fat diary – cheese, butter, milk, ice cream and yoghurt. Although the view on saturated diet is changing, it remains it is sensible to manage these in your diet where possible.
Unsaturated fat is referred to as the “healthy” fat. It includes monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, both of which are usually liquid at room temperature. The richest source of monounsaturated fats is olives/olive oil, peanuts/peanut oil, other nuts, canola oils and avocadoes. Polyunsaturated fats come in various forms, with the most beneficial family known as Omega-3 fats. Sources include fatty cold-water fish such as mackerel, salmon and herring, walnuts, flaxseeds and flax oil.
Simple. Eat a well balanced diet based on fresh, unprocessed foods. Reducing the amount of processed, fast-food and/or pre-packed foods is a good habit to achieve. This includes reducing your intake of chocolate, crisps and pastries in your. Not only are these high in fat, they also contain very little nutritional value.
It isn’t simple to provide the “ideal” amount per day per person, but as a rule of thumb aim for two portions of unsaturated fats in your diet. Oily fish, walnuts and flaxseed are the best options, whilst a fish oil supplement might help in times of travel of poor food availability.
Saturated fat has had a very bad reputation in the past. It has been linked to increases in levels of bad cholesterol and risk of heart disease. Times are changing and saturated fat isn’t viewed as evil as once thought. However, all fats are high in calories so it is sensible to choose your fats carefully. Eat fatty fish like salmon, nuts and seeds, plant oils, avocadoes and not foods that are high in refined carbohydrates like crisps and chocolate.
Olive oil (don’t get confused with extra virgin olive oil) isn’t generally good for cooking at high temperatures as it has a relatively low smoking point. The smoking point is when the oil starts to break down and begins to smoke. If you’re stir-frying or sautéing then olive oil is perfectly fine – just don’t let it smoke!
It is possible to cook without oil when using a high quality non-stick pan. After this, it depends on your flavour choice and how you cook with it. Canola oil (rapeseed) is a good all-rounder but you might want to try coconut oil, which is particularly fashionable at the moment due to its unique blend of fatty acids. If you do use another oil, choose olive oil or sunflower oil, but try to use the smallest amount possible.
As ever, it does depend on how healthy your diet it! Generally speaking, manage the amount of butter in your diet, using appropriate alternatives in cooking, baking and spreading on your toast as a general rule of thumb. Choose margarine as your spread of choice if you want to reduce your saturated fat intake, as it contains significantly less saturated fat, trace amounts of trans fats, and on the upside, a source of unsaturated fat.