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?
- 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.
- It is essential for healthy cells – the building blocks of our bodies. Fat particles form part of the cells.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.