Talking about fat …

 

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In food and nutrition “fat” or “fats” have various meanings:

  • Fat is a food nutrient.
  • Fats is a food group.
  • Fat is a component in the blood.
  • Fat is a description of body size.
  • Fat is a body tissue.

Confusingly, some writers mix these terminologies up. Even more confusingly, these various meanings of fat can be described by different words and in various ways.

Fat is a macro-nutrient in foods. The macro-nutrients are protein, carbohydrate, fat and (in adults) alcohol. Once digested and absorbed, macro-nutrients provide energy (kilojoules/ calories) to the body for use in various bodily processes. Fat has other functions in the body including cell membrane structure and transport of fat-soluble vitamins. Fats in food can be referred to as “lipids” where lipids are organic substances insoluble in water and soluble in organic solvents. Technically though, food-fats are a sub-class of lipids known as triglycerides. Triglycerides have a glycerol backbone with three fatty acids attached. The fatty acids can be saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Food lipids include triglycerides, phospholipids and cholesterol. (1)

Fats” as a food group includes solid fats (butter/ margarine) and liquid oils. This food group contain foods that are comprised almost entirely of fat (the macro-nutrient) with only tiny amounts of protein or carbohydrate (or none), and hardly any vitamins or minerals unless fortified. They are not whole-foods but rather extracted fats from whole foods; such as butter from milk, or olive oil from olives. They are generally not eaten as foods on their own but rather added to foods or used in cooking.

In the 1970s/ 1980s fats was one of the five food groups in Australia. Back then the five food groups were bread and cereals; vegetables and fruit; meat and alternatives; milk & milk products; and fats (butter or table margarine) (2). In the 1990s the five food groups had a major change and became bread & cereals; fruit group; vegetables, legumes; meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, legumes; and (v) milk, yoghurt, cheese. At that time, it was considered nutrients in fats such as Vitamin A could be obtained from other foods, and fats as a separate food group was unnecessary (3).

The most recent (2013) Australian Dietary Guidelines do not include fats as a nutritious food group. However, it considers foods with mainly unsaturated fats (spreads, oils, nuts, seeds, nut butters, avocado) may have ‘health benefits’ (4). The Dietary Guidelines for Americans similarly do not consider fats as a food group but includes monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils (canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean, sunflower) or whole-foods high in these fatty acids (nuts, seeds, seafood, olives, avocados) can form part of a healthy eating pattern (5). Thus, these more recent guidelines group some fatty whole-foods with liquid oils and do not simply group extracted fats.

Both these guidelines, as do many around the world, recommend dietary patterns lower in saturated fat.

Blood fats” are generally referred to as “blood lipids”. They move along in the aqueous environment of the blood attached to proteins as “lipoproteins”. It is postulated some lipoproteins may increase risk and others protect against risk of diseases such as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. The various lipoproteins doctors test for are described here.

Fat” as a description for body size is considered offensive and stigmatizing. I agree and therefore will not discuss it further in this post.

Fat” is a name for body tissue. There are three main types. Essential fat is required in small amounts in the bone marrow, vital organs, muscles and nervous system; as well as structural components of cell membranes. Storage fat (known as adipose tissue) generally accumulates sub-subcutaneously (under the skin). Ectopic fat accumulates in cells of non-adipose tissue that normally only have small amounts of fat. Accumulation occurs viscerally (around the abdomen) and also may deposit in or around vital organs including muscles, liver, pancreas, and the heart.

This distinction in body fat accumulation is critical as abdominal fat and ectopic fat are considered risk factors for non-communicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes. Sub-cutaneous fat does not bear the same risk. In fact the definition of “obesity by the World Health Organisation is when body fat has accumulated to the extent of having an adverse effect on health. Although body-weight is used as a guide on a population basis (6); for an individual, body-fat distribution is an important consideration. Some people of lower body weight can be at risk of disease (and therefore technically ‘obese’) if they have a tendency to accumulate fat around the abdomen or ectopically. A good guide is waist circumference. Recommendations for Australian adults can be found here.

In 2013 when I was going through my own weight / health / emotional crises … I began to ponder the connections between the different aspects of fat. How did food-fats relate to blood-fats … or body-fat … or disease risk … and why was there this change in food-group categorization where fats fell out of favour and have now come back? Most importantly, what consideration did they have for me as an individual?

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Disclaimer: Nothing in this article or on this website should be taken as medical or dietary advice. Anyone reading any information provided within should seek advice from their own medical practitioner for any issue, disease, illness or health-related problem they may have. Always seek your own advice from a medical practitioner or dietitian before changing your own diet.
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(1) E Whitney, S R Rolfes, T Crowe, D Cameron-Smith, A Walsh. Understanding Nutrition. Australia and New Zealand Edition. 2nd Edition. Cengate Learning. 2014.

(2) Food For Health. National Food Authority. Commonwealth of Australia. 1991

(3) The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. Background information for nutrition educators. Commonwealth of Australia. September 1998.

(4) National Health and Medical Research Council. Eat For Health: Australian Dietary Guidelines Summary. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council, 2013.

(5) Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, 8th edition. US Department of Health and Human Services and US Department of Agriculture. December 2015.Available at https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/resources/2015-2020_Dietary_Guidelines.pdf

(6) Defining Adult Overweight and Obesity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June 16, 2016. Retrieved 21 November, 2018.

A false dichotomy – dietary guidelines and the other diet

Dichotomy (2)
A Dichotomy – Black or White.

A dichotomy is a division into two entirely different and often contrasting domains, interests or activities (1). Examples of true dichotomies are black or white. Tall or short.

A false dichotomy is an argument giving a false illusion of there being only two choices whereas in reality there can be at least one other or even many possibilities (2). The argument is set up in such a way as the first choice is eliminated due to it being seen as a terrible choice, and the only other alternative is the second choice.

Over the last decade dietary guidelines have come under attack. Arguments against them are often presented in the manner of a false dichotomy. These are the steps used in that line of fallacy: Continue reading “A false dichotomy – dietary guidelines and the other diet”

My food history # 12: Critical events and life catastrophes …

 

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In the 1980s and 1990s, life was skipping along …

Then came the dark events – life catastrophes

As well as significant milestones and some major disruptions, over fifteen years from 1998 to 2013,  I lived through several crises and some distressing catastrophes. A crisis, whilst painful, tends to be a temporary situation or turning point (1), whereas a catastrophe is a complete upheaval (2). Both are demanding and stressful. Continue reading “My food history # 12: Critical events and life catastrophes …”

My food history # 11 – 2000s – health claims, social trends and slow-ticking time bombs

 

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Life gets busy

Two years after my youngest child started school I began working full-time.  I became involved in community groups and projects. Life became very busy.
Continue reading “My food history # 11 – 2000s – health claims, social trends and slow-ticking time bombs”

Food History # 9 – ‘Please can you help?’ – Nutrition Studies 1991

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After dramatic improvements in my son, I was inundated with queries from people wanting to try the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital exclusion diet for a range of symptoms. While I was pleased to help, I was concerned I did not have the required expertise to assist. I therefore studied for a Graduate Diploma of Human Nutrition, completed in 1991 through Deakin University. Continue reading “Food History # 9 – ‘Please can you help?’ – Nutrition Studies 1991”

My food history # 7 – food sensitivities – my shattered ideal of a healthy diet

 

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Shattered ideals

After my father had a heart attack, our family diet changed to avoidance of fatty red meat, full-fat milk and butter to one including more fish, chicken and vegetable oils. Those messages and promotion of fibre and fruit, and less refined cereals and sugar stuck with me. Thus, when I started out on motherhood I had high ideals of a healthy diet being wholegrain cereals, vegetables, fruit; and avoidance of excess fat, salt, sugar and refined cereals.

My ideals came crashing down when my second son was a failure to thrive, suffering chronic ill-health from the introduction of solid food. After a three year battle, I sought advice from a specialist at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPAH) in Sydney. An exclusion diet and series of food challenges (1), proved he was sensitive to salicylates, amines and some food additives (colours, preservatives and MSG). Salicylates are flavour components of many fruits, juices and vegetables. Amines occur in cheese, chocolate, bananas and yeast extracts. On a diet removing those foods he became well and gained weight.

Disclaimer: Please note – an exclusion diet protocol including challenges should only be done under the supervision of a medical practitioner. Other reasons for symptoms need excluding before diet is tried. Some people may experience severe symptoms to challenges. In some instances these need supervision by a medical practitioner or in hospital. 
Continue reading “My food history # 7 – food sensitivities – my shattered ideal of a healthy diet”

My food history # 6 – critical moments … high blood pressure

 

 

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By my late twenties, my red-meat-centred, full-fat dairy, white bread and sugar-treats diet of my childhood had changed. Food swaps after my father’s heart attack meant more chicken and less red-meat, skim milk instead of full-fat milk, oil instead of butter, and fatty foods only eaten socially. I also restricted sugar, confectionery and chocolate. I based my diet around foods high in fibre with wholemeal breads, added bran, and fruit. Thus in the early 1980s, when I started out on motherhood, I had preconceived high ideals on a healthy diet for myself and healthy foods for my children. I believed if I fed my children mainly wholegrain cereals, vegetables and fruit; if I avoided excess fats, salt, sugar and refined cereals; then good health and well-being would naturally follow.

How wrong I was.

My second son was a failure to thrive, suffering chronic diarrhoea and repeated wheezy chest colds from the introduction of solid food. Referred to a paediatrician at 15 months, a series of tests ruled out sinister problems, and he was diagnosed with food allergies. He initially improved on a restrictive diet excluding milk, eggs and wheat. However, he had frequent relapses and it would be another two years before I had the complete answer for him. Needless to say, this was an emotionally distressing time as I battled sleepless nights, guilt-choked days and a socially-crippling diet. Continue reading “My food history # 6 – critical moments … high blood pressure”