We’ve all been brought up to learn that we should eat as little fat in our diet as possible, but the story isn’t quite as black and white as that. Just as anything else about nutrition, it becomes a little more complicated if you look at it in more detail. This is because there are different kinds of fats, and some are better for you than others.
What you probably don’t know is that you have a great deal of control over the kinds of fats you put in your body, especially on the Mediterranean heart diet, simply by what you buy and how you cook it. While there’s lots you can learn about fats and oils, what you need to know is that there are two main types: saturated and unsaturated fats.
These are the bogeymen of your diet, and to be avoided at all costs. There is literally no reason why you should ever in your life eat saturated fats. Fats are comprised of carbon and hydrogen, with several carbon atoms in a chain, with hydrogen bonded to them (like the feet of a caterpillar). When all of the available bonds or ‘places’ where something can bond to a carbon atom are taken up by hydrogen, a fat is called ‘saturated’.
These fats clog your arteries and pile up on your hips, so cut them out! They include any oil that has been heated above about 50 degrees (including olive oil), animal fats, lard, etc. They’re not hard to spot once you know where to look.
Unsaturated and Poly-unsaturated Fats
These, believe it or not, are the good guys – and are at the core of the Mediterranean heart diet. Mono-unsaturated fats are fats where one hydrogen atom is missing, and poly-unsaturated fats are where more than one is missing. That’s the chemistry of it, but what you need to know is that pretty much all natural vegetable oils, oily fish, vegetables like olives and avocados and some nuts contain these fats.
The reason you want these fats in your diet is because they contain Omega-3 oils, and other substances which increase your HDL levels. HDL is a type of cholesterol (and, like fats, there are more than one of these as well!) which actually helps to reduce the build-up of plaque-like cholesterol in your arteries and improve cardiovascular health. Foods which contain these fats are often rich in anti-oxidants as well, which protect you against cancer-causing free radicals.
Obviously eating a lot of any type of fat is going to make you put on weight. But if you follow the Mediterranean heart diet and you get enough unsaturated fats in your diet, you’ll be drastically reducing your risk of heart disease.