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Dr Duncan

The facts about fats

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“Stop smoking, lose weight, be more active”: we’ve heard it all a thousand times now and, frustratingly, it seems that that these health messages take a long time to have any great impact. Some have had success - smoking rates are the lowest ever recorded - but others, such as sounding the alarm over the obesity epidemic, are not hitting the mark as yet.

So instead of reminding people what they shouldn’t be doing, here’s a suggestion on what we should be doing. But first a couple of facts from the Australian Bureau of Statistics:

  • Fact 1: Rates of overweight and obesity in Australian adults increased from 57% in 1995 (65% of men and 50% of women) to 61% in 2007–08 (68% of men and 55% of women)
  • Fact 2: In 2007–08, one in four children aged 5–17 years (25%) were classified as overweight or obese.
These are not good figures, so I suggest that we add a DASH of information on how to eat smarter so that in the future, diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes don’t decimate us and bankrupt the nation in trying to treat the problems they cause. DASH actually stands for Dietary Approach for Treating Hypertension - or high blood pressure - and was created in the late 90’s to help manage patients with high blood pressure. It is a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, low in saturated fats and low in salt too. It had the intended effect of significantly lowering blood pressure, but it also became obvious that those who followed such an eating plan had lower risk for coronary heart disease over almost 25 years of follow-up. And other studies showed that this group had lower rates of colorectal adenoma, metabolic syndrome, congestive heart failure, and obesity. This would suggest that there is an alternative style of eating that doesn’t kill and maim people and would be a good idea for all of us to follow!

Around the time of the DASH studies, ongoing research was continuing into the Mediterranean Diet which was based on the observation that those who lived in the Mediterranean regions had substantially lower mortality rates and that this was related to their eating habits. Various observational studies in both European and US populations have shown that higher adherence to a Mediterranean food plan is associated with lower all-cause mortality, coronary heart disease and cancer mortality; so again, there must be something in this eating plan that must be good for us - so what is it?


What you need to know about fats.

In the post war 20th century, rationing was a way of life and urban dwellers had to eke their limited food allocations with “fillers”, and fats are the best fillers around, so things were deep fried in fat, or covered with fat and flour based pastry: meats were poor quality and most meat meals were roasts or stews that were coated with a layer of fat - and these animal based fats are the very ones we know to have a bad impact on health. Trans-fats were introduced early last century to make vegetable oils more stable - Crisco was the first to produce it commercially - but are now seen as the most un-healthy of dietary fats: they are found in fried foods, chicken nuggets, biscuits and cookies, and have been shown to lower “good cholesterol”, raise “bad cholesterol” and increase inflammation - a triple whammy as far as heart attacks go!

So the obvious answer would be to avoid all fats like the plague, wouldn’t it? ... Well, the answer is not quite that simple, because there are other types of fat that are good for you and it’s here that the secret to the DASH and Mediterranean diets may lie. Olive oil, legumes, nuts, whole grains and fish have a high level of mono- and poly-unsaturated fats that are good for us, and it’s these that we need to eat in order to maintain good health.

Conclusion: It’s not about “stopping” things and feeling hard done by in the process, but “starting” things that are going to enhance your life and make it better and longer.
 
1. Try making fish and chicken your main source of protein. Eat red/processed meat only three or four times per week, unless there are medical reasons that require you to eat more, and make sure it’s lean.
2. When you eat, half of your plate should be covered in things that come out of the ground – veggies and salads – and use fruits and nuts as fillers.
3. Cold water is the best drink when thirsty. Tea and coffee are great beverages, and a glass of wine with your meal is currently seen as ok, but beware of exceeding the daily recommended allowance.
4. Your body is the only one you’ll ever have, so respect it, nurture it and it’ll serve you well.

These statements are based on ongoing scientific observations of large groups of people, and are accurate based on our current knowledge and understanding. But as with all good science, we have to remember that the facts do need constant reassessment in order to make sure they continue to be relevant. At the time of writing, this information is considered “best practice” but not “gospel truth”.
 

Article written by Dr. Duncan Jefferson. For more articles by Dr. Duncan, click here. For more information on healthcare and private health cover, visit HBF Insurance at hbf.com.au.

The content of these articles is not tailored for any particular individual's circumstances. The author does not take into account your physical condition, medical history or any medication you may be taking. Any advice or information provided by the author cannot replace the advice of your health care professional. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent those of HBF unless clearly indicated.

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