Health and Beauty Articles
Last month’s column highlighted the dangers of sugar in our diets, and I’ve been delighted with the feedback from some folk that have said it’s made them much more aware of the sugar that is hidden in their day-to-day meals. Admittedly it’s something I have now taken on board after I convinced myself that after 24 years I was going to need my first filling at the dentist after realising the alarming amount of sugar that I had in my diet! I was relieved that I passed with flying colours at my check up but I’ve now cut down on added sugar, namely in my morning cuppa (3/4 of a teaspoon is better than 1 heaped teaspoon, right?!)
But I wouldn’t be a total party pooper unless I did a column about toxins and fats. Fats to me are a bit of a mine field: Trans fats, saturated fats, good fats, bad fats, which is which? We do need fats in our diets, and some of them are very good for us, and some of them are seriously bad!
I’ve decided this will be my first in the amber warning zone i.e. proceed with caution! (Those who read last month’s article will remember that I’m using a red, amber and green system to describe how dangerous, or not, the topic is).
Toxin’s and fat
The relationship between fats and toxins is apparent when we talk about toxin’s leaving the fat cells in our body if we are ‘detoxing’ or eliminating certain things from our diets. When we lose weight our bodies will start releasing a build up of toxins, thus why we usually feel like we’ve been run over by a steam roller 2-3 days into a detox or diet. If a detox is being done it needs to be done safely, and that requires pure, distilled water, and LOTS of it! Detoxing can be good for the body as it rids it from things that don’t belong there.
The other association between toxins and fat is ‘toxic fat’, scientifically known as ‘visceral fat’. This is apparent in the internal fatty tissue that surrounds vital organs such as the heart, liver, kidneys and pancreas. This type of fat is far more dangerous than the fat that is closer to the skin (subcutaneous fat) as it can lead to heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
This type of fat is very different from the fat on your thighs, hips and arms. It is very active and can secrete large amounts of toxic substances, which is in turn can increase blood pressure by tightening the blood vessels, cause inflammation throughout the body and can affect blood glucose levels. How do we get these types of fats, and how do we get rid of them more to the point? In with the good fat, out with the bad is one way to summarise: obesity is reversible. Knowing what fats to avoid will bring you a step closer to bringing this to a safe level. Men are considered high risk if they have a waist measurement of 40 inches or more, and 35 for women.
The good vs. bad fats
The body needs certain things to function properly, and fats play the role of helping the body absorb nutrients, vitamins as well as giving us energy and most importantly providing us with essential fatty acids which the body cannot produce by itself. But where the word ‘fat’ is concerned, people take a wide berth, even with fats that are good for us. If I had a pound for every time ‘5 foods to cut out of your diet for a flat stomach’ pops up on my screen when I’m on the computer I’d be laughing all the way to the bank – and which 5 foods are these usually? Good fats! For the record, eating avocados, bananas and nuts will not make you fat – cakes and fried foods will!
‘Good’ fats to include in diet:
Omega 3 & 6 essential fatty acids
Unlike butter and lard, omega 3 comes in the form of polyunsaturated as opposed to saturated fat, and is very good for you. The most important omega-3 fatty acid in this group is alpha-linolenic acid because this acid cannot be produced by the body. The benefits of omega 3 are that it helps for organs to function properly, aids in cell activity as well as helping to circulate oxygen throughout the body. Deficiencies in omega 3 can lead to blood clots, memory problems, and irregular heartbeat among many other problems. Sardines, salmon, flax seed oil, spinach and walnuts are excellent sources of this.
Omega 6 essential fatty acids are required also to cure skin diseases, fight cancer cells and treat arthritis. The essential acid in this is linolenic acid, which can be found in pistachios, chicken and most commonly in olive oil – thus this acid tends to be more ingrained in our diets than omega 3 as it can be found in so many cooking oils.
‘Good’ monounsaturated fats
Avocado: Poor avocado’s got a bad reputation back in the 1980’s among the diet conscious due to being labelled a fatty fruit. It has 20% more fat than other fruits, but this is primarily the good kind of fat as it is monounsaturated. It is also packed full of fatty acids, dietary fibre, potassium as well as vitamins E and B. I try and include half an avocado a day as it helps to clear the skin; it’s great in smoothies or spread on dried bread.
Banana: For a long time I avoided bananas like the plague, because I heard on the grapevine that they were fattening and didn’t bother to question this information. Having a banana a day is so good for you as it is packed full of vitamins, minerals, sodium and potassium. The fat content is relatively low and calories range from 80-120 calories depending on the size of the banana, they are however high in carbohydrates thus where the bad press has come from. They give you a great boost in energy so can be an essential tool for when trying to lose weight if you’re energy levels are taking a nose dive - I’ve taken to having a banana milkshake around 4pm to get me through my last hour at work!
Nuts: Again, nuts have had some bad press in the past, typically around the time that ‘low fat diets’ were the latest fad in weight loss. Nuts are again good, monounsaturated fats, and are credited for helping ward of heart disease. Some are better than others, namely almonds, walnuts, pecans and macadamia nuts. Studies have shown that only a handful of nuts (1/4 cup) once a week are enough to reap their health benefits.
‘Bad’ Fats to exclude or cut down on:
This tends to be the dangerous fat that attaches itself to our middle and our arteries! Saturated fat raises our cholesterol levels as well as heightening our risk of heart disease. Foods high in saturated fats are: fatty cuts of meat (pork, lamb), butter, ghee (found in Indian cuisine), lard, cheese, cream, chocolate, biscuits, cakes and pastries. We shouldn’t be taking any more than 30g for a male, or 20g for a female on a daily basis. To put it visually, one slice of pizza can contain up to two-thirds of a day’s maximum saturated fat. And we don’t like to have just one slice, do we?
Trans fats (hydrogenated vegetable oil)
For years the focus has been on saturated fat. That was until the mother-ship of all fats came to the spotlight: Trans fats. These fats can be found in low levels in some animal produce, such as meat and dairy; this isn’t the problem. The problem occurs when they are found in foods containing hydrogenated vegetable oil. It raises your bad cholesterol (LDL) and lowers your good (HDL); it’s pretty terrible for your health in other words. Trans fats got some terrible press a few years ago (and rightly so) when it emerged just how detrimental they were for our health, thus they have been taken out of a lot of products on the market. But they are still used to make food stay fresher for longer, have a longer shelf life and can make the food less greasy. Shockingly, food suppliers in the UK are not required to list trans fats on the food label. Trans fats have even been banned in countries such as New York, Switzerland and Austria. The best way to avoid trans fats is to cut down on take away food, processed foods/commercially baked goods, as well as avoiding foods that have ‘hydrogenated’ or ‘shortenings’ on the label.
Eliminating saturated and trans fats from your diet will help to flush unwanted toxins from the body, and including ‘good’ monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats will give you endless health benefits, and can even help you to lose weight. Read labels carefully and try and make more mindful choices in your weekly shop. And when in doubt, fresh is best!