Fact-check – Not all dietary fats are evil

Fact-check – Not all dietary fats are evil

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dietary fats

Inclusion of a variety of nutrient-dense fats as part of a balanced diet can help individuals reap myriad health benefits, while minimising the risks associated with excessive consumption.

Is dietary fat evil? That’s the question a reader asked First Check. The short answer is no. The notion that all dietary fat is evil stems from the oversimplification of complex nutritional concepts and the misinterpretation of early studies. 

In the past, dietary guidelines emphasised low-fat diets as a means to promote health and prevent chronic diseases. Consequently, many individuals adopted low-fat diets, often replacing fat with highly processed carbohydrates and sugars.

However, as researchers delved deeper into the biochemistry of fats and their effects on the body, it became evident that dietary fats are classified into several categories, including saturated fats, unsaturated fats, and trans fats, each with distinct effects on health.

Types of fats

Commonly found in animal products such as meat and dairy, and some plant oils (palm and coconut), saturated fats

are often vilified for their supposed role in heart disease. However, they’re not inherently bad, but too much increases “bad” cholesterol (LDL), which is linked to heart disease risk.

On the other hand, trans fats, or the artificial fats primarily found in partially hydrogenated oils used in processed foods, have been unequivocally linked to an increased risk of heart disease and other adverse health outcomes. Recognising the dangers of trans fats, many health authorities have taken steps to ban or restrict their use in food production.

Unsaturated fats, including both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, have gained recognition for their potential health benefits. Foods rich in these fats, such as nuts, seeds, avocados, and fatty fish, have been associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, improved cholesterol levels, and better overall health outcomes.

Moreover, dietary fat plays a crucial role in nutrient absorption, hormone production, brain function, and cell membrane integrity. Fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K rely on dietary fat for absorption, underscoring the importance of including healthy fats in the diet.

Read More : Explainer: The perils of protein deficiency

Balance and moderation

When it comes to dietary fat consumption, the key lies in understanding the importance of balance and moderation, rather than fearing all fats. While excessive consumption of certain fats, especially trans fats and refined vegetable oils, can have detrimental effects on health, moderate intake of healthy fats can contribute to overall well-being.

Instead of demonising fat, the focus should shift towards promoting whole, unprocessed foods and mindful eating habits. Emphasising the inclusion of a variety of nutrient-dense fats as part of a balanced diet can help individuals reap the benefits of the fat, while minimising the risks associated with excessive consumption.

To sum up, dietary fat is not the enemy. It is the quality and quantity of fat consumed that matter most. By choosing whole-food sources of healthy fats and avoiding highly processed options, individuals can support their health and well-being. 

Medically reviewed by Dt. Vaishali Verma, consultant - nutrition and dietetics, Manipal Hospital, New Delhi, India.