Dispelling the ‘big fat myth’
Nutritional experts say it’s untrue that all dietary fats are bad. This was one of the topics of discussion at a recent conference of the International Union of Nutritional Sciences (IUNS), in Johannesburg.
‘The biggest fat myth is that we should try and exclude fat from our diet’, Rene Smallberger, President of the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) told the gathering during her address.
‘Certain fats are not good for health and you should reduce them. You should make sure that you have (an) adequate amount of the good ones in the diet’, said Smalberger.
She said good fats are mostly extracted from plants, ‘they are things like canola oil, olive oil (and) sunflower oil’. ‘Good fats’, she said, ‘are called unsaturated fats’.
Smalberger said fats generally have a reputation of being bad, but that’s not so. She stressed that we need to increase the intake of good fats or unsaturated fats for a variety of reasons.
‘They lower your cholesterol, they improve your immune system, they are good for brain development’, she said.
She urged the public to watch what they eat, warning that ‘bad fats are found in animal products, mostly ‘ (and ) are called saturated fats’.
‘It’s the visible fat on meat. It’s the skin of chicken. It’s the fat inside milk. Rather have low fat or skim milk. By doing that, you are changing the fat content significantly, but you are still getting all the goodness of the milk’, she said.
Delegates also heard that fats are a significant source of energy.
‘Preferably less than 10 percent of our daily energy should come from unsaturated fats. If a person has a cardio vascular risk, ideally less than seven percent of your daily energy should come from fats. All adults should aim to eat fatty fish at least twice a week’, said Smalberger.
In his address, Prof Marius Smuts, Associate Professor at the Centre of Excellence in Nutrition at the North West University, said fats such as Omega-3 are considered essential and highly recommended for pregnant women.
‘During the last phases of pregnancy, we know that the mom is going to pass onto the foetus, a high concentration of fats which we find commonly in fish, Omega-3, in this instance. The reason for the mom passing these fats, is in preparation of the brain development that is going to take place’, said Prof Smuts.
Another speaker, Prof Muhammad Ali Dhansay President of the South African National Committee for the International Union of Nutritional Science, pointed out that the country’s disease spectrum is created by unhealthy habits.
‘(Unhealthy) diet and smoking contribute to the millions of preventable deaths that occur each year. In South Africa, we unfortunately have this spectrum and a lot in between ‘ of severe malnutrition and within the nutrition complex, over-nutrition or obesity’, he concluded.