7 Common sense reasons to eat fat

A few weeks ago the government finally released its obesity strategy for children, which was heavily criticised by many health campaigners including Jamie Oliver. Jamie detailed the things that the plan was failing on (see link below), one of which is compulsory reduction of the sugar content of foods aimed at children.

Whilst sugar has been making headlines in this way again, there have also been headlines about butter and fat again in recent weeks. As usual it seems like scientists cannot decide whether it is good or bad. For example Dr Mozaffarian a researcher at Tuft’s University in Boston in America was involved with two pieces of research which were published over the summer (see the links below), one in support of eating butter (it did not lead to heart disease and may mildly protect you against type 2 diabetes) and the other against (saying replacing 5% of carbohydrates with polyunsaturated vegetable fat was better than saturated fat such as butter at keeping blood sugar stable). It is no wonder there is confusion.

But if you take the common sense view we need fat in our diet just as we need carbohydrates and protein. So here we are looking at what is good about fat, and there are quite a few things. So make room for foods containing fat in your diet such as meat, fish, eggs, and milk, but as usual steer clear of the processed versions and eat them in their most natural form.

What’s good about fat?

  1. It is a carrier of fat soluble vitamins – vitamins A, D, E, and K. For example whole milk is a good source of vitamin A, but skimmed milk contains much lower amounts of this vitamin. Vitamin A is needed for healthy eyes and a good immune system.
  2. It is essential for healthy cells – the building blocks of our bodies. Fat particles form part of the cells.
  3. It is needed to make hormones – which control a multitude of body functions including our response to illness, injury and telling us when we are full.
  4. It makes food taste good. Yes, fat is important for enjoyment of food! Diet foods that have had the fat taken out and replaced with starch and sugar (carbohydrates) and chemicals are not as satisfying as the full fat versions so you may end up eating more than we intend.
  5. It slows down the digestion of starches. If you eat a meal of rice with a low fat vegetable curry the starch is absorbed into the blood very quickly and leads to a peak in blood sugar levels soon after the meal. If you eat a meal of rice and a vegetable curry which contains some coconut fat or butter, the rice is broken down to glucose more slowly.
  6. It stimulates the release of hormones that make us feel full and stops us eating more. Think about if you eat a really fatty meal, say a takeaway curry. At some point you find it really difficult to eat any more, you feel extremely full. However think about when you eat a Chinese takeaway, typically low in fat and high in carbs. You don’t feel so full; you can eat more. This is because fat stimulates the release of hormones that make you feel full, whilst carbohydrate stimulates the release of insulin, which drives you to eat more. Somewhere in between these two extremes of fat content will provide you with a meal which satisfies your appetite and keeps you full until the next meal.
  7. Some fats are essential – you need to eat them for important body processes. Omega-3 and omega-6 fats are in this category. However we generally have much more omega-6 in our diet (from vegetable oils) than omega-3 fats. Increasing omega-3 fats in the diet has been linked to benefits such as improved mental health, improved intelligence in children and heart health. Omega-3 fat sources are oily fish (sardines, mackerel, pilchards, herring), walnuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.


You can have a look at the two articles below and commentary about the government’s obesity strategy below:

‘Childhood obesity: Plan attacked as ‘weak’ and ‘watered down’’, BBC website, published 18th August 2016, available at:


‘Failings of our new government’s childhood obesity strategy’, Jamie Oliver website, published 19th August 2016, available at:


Is Butter Back? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Butter Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes, and Total Mortality, Pimpin, L et. al. PLoS One 2016; 11(6): e0158118.


Effects of Saturated Fat, Polyunsaturated Fat, Monounsaturated Fat, and Carbohydrate on Glucose-Insulin Homeostasis: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomised Controlled Feeding Trials, Imamura, F. et. al. PLoS Med. 2016 Jul; 13(7): e1002087.





Nutrition in the News – vitamin D recommendations change

Raw salmon fillet

It has been a miserable day weather wise, so it’s a good time to look at the new vitamin D recommendations. Vitamin D is made by the body by the action of sunlight on skin.

New recommendations

A recent government report recommended that everyone needs 10 micrograms a day of the vitamin. This is a change from the previous recommendation which were that only those over 65, pregnant and lactating women and children needed supplements. It was believed that others could get enough from the action of sunlight on skin.

Now the recommendation has changed and a supplement is recommended in winter months to ensure people are meeting this amount, as it is recognised that it is difficult to meet the target amount by diet alone.

Which foods contain vitamin D?

Foods containing vitamin D include cod liver oil, oily fish, eggs, liver, margarine, and breakfast cereals, however if you don’t eat oily fish everyday (and it is not recommended to eat it every day due to fish stocks and contamination risk), it is difficult to come close to an intake of 10 micrograms per day.

How do you make vitamin D in the summer?

To produce vitamin D in the summer months, you need to get short bursts of sunlight without using sunscreen, but ensure you don’t get burnt.

Why is vitamin D important?

Vitamin D is important to maintain calcium and phosphate in the body, which is vital for growth and maintenance of healthy bones, teeth and muscles. Deficiency causes rickets (in children) and osteomalacia (in adults). It is also vital to maintain a healthy immune system.

This BBC article and NHS choices page explain more about the changes:




The benefits of being vegetarian.

Last week was National Vegetarian Week, a week promoting the benefits of the vegetarian diet. The vegetarian diet has been linked to a lower level of coronary heart disease, a lower risk of colon cancer and also vegetarians have been found to have lower levels of blood pressure. Whilst these benefits may not necessarily lead to a longer life, they are impressive claims for a diet to make.

It has been speculated that the part of the diet responsible for these benefits is an increased vegetable intake, increased fibre intake, or reduced amounts of meat and protein. It is difficult to say definitively what the reason for these benefits is. However, we do know that those on a vegetarian diet are at risk of some nutrient-deficiencies if they do not pay close attention to their diet, such as: protein, iron, calcium, vitamin D, B12 and B2.

Follow these tips for a healthy vegetarian diet:

  • Ensure you are getting enough protein. Have 2-3 servings of plant proteins such as soya and quinoa (the two best sources of plant protein), nuts, beans and pulses. Cheese, milk, dairy products, and Quorn are also good sources of protein (if you eat them).
  • Ensure you have enough iron in your diet from sources such as breakfast cereals, dried fruit, beans and lentils, leafy green vegetables, sesame seeds, nuts, and wholemeal bread.
  • Dairy foods are a good source of calcium. If you’re not eating these, ensure you get enough calcium by eating plenty of tofu, fortified soya milk or rice/oat drinks, green leafy vegetables (although not spinach as the calcium is not easily absorbed), brown and white bread, sesame seeds and tahini, nuts, dried fruit.
  • Our bodies can make Vitamin D from sunlight during the spring and summer but at other times ensure you are getting enough through your diet in the form of: most margarines, a few fortified breakfast cereals and soya products, eggs. Otherwise a supplement may be necessary.
  • If you’re eating eggs and dairy foods then you should be getting enough B12 and B2. Vegans will need to have fortified foods such as yeast extract, soya products, breakfast cereals, certain oat/rice drinks (check labels), or consider taking a supplement.
  • You may also be at risk of selenium deficiency. Brazil nuts are a good source.
  • Include small amounts of iodised salt for your iodine source or look for a multivitamin with one in.
  • If you feel you cannot meet all these requirements through diet a good multivitamin supplement may be a good idea. Ensure it contains the nutrients you need but do not take more than the Recommended Daily Amount (RDA). You may need to take a calcium supplement separate to a multivitamin as these supplements are quite bulky.
  • Additional dietary advice may be needed in pregnancy, breastfeeding, weaning.

The benefits of a vegetarian diet must also include peace of mind from knowing that animals have not suffered, or suffered less for your food.

An alternative to complete vegetarianism is to reduce the amount of meat you eat. For example, have vegetarian days (2-3 per week) and ensure that the meat you eat is from well-sourced farms (look for labels such as farm-assured, organic and British). The U.K. has stringent welfare laws which are not always followed in other countries, and being transported across countries or continents is not a good experience for live animals.


For more information on vegetarian diets go to: