Health and Fitness

Ignore the mixed messages – fat and sugar are essential parts of a healthy diet

By Christine Kenny at

This is the final instalment in our series of expert columns from Altrincham-based dietitian Christine Kenny. You can find the other columns here and here.

Living healthily needn’t be complicated, but there are so many mixed messages based on personal views or ‘bad science’. People often come to my clinic confused about health messages, and here are two myths which come up a lot.

Firstly, should we eat a high fat diet?

Fat is essential and needed for many functions. The body requires fat to absorb and transport fat soluble vitamins. The brain and nerves need fat to function – without it our hair and nails would be dry and brittle, and we probably wouldn’t feel great or balanced because fat is also needed to form steroid hormones. Fat even makes our food taste good, contributing to ‘mouthfeel’ and helps to bring out the flavours.

Not all fats are created equal. For instance, coconut oil has recently become very popular, touted to have many ‘magical’ properties.

Coconut oil is a saturated fat and yes it is easily absorbed by the body, but that is as far as its properties go. There is no evidence to suggest that it is more beneficial than any other saturated fat.

Numerous long-term studies, however, do indicate that some mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados have cardio-protective health benefits.

A group of fats known as Omega 3 fats have been shown to help protect the blood from clotting and assist brain function. Omega 3 fats – examples being oily fish such as salmon, herring and mackerel – are essential and we must consume them in our diets. These fats can be found in plant foods but in much smaller amounts such as rapeseed, linseed, walnut and flax.

Fats are essential in the diet but we should not overdo it. Fat is high in calories, and excess calories lead to weight gain. Being overweight can make us more susceptible to diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Secondly, many people are concerned about sugar. Sugar is a carbohydrate, and all carbohydrates break down into glucose in the body and are used for energy. Added sugar does not provide many other health benefits and as with fat excess, can lead to weight gain.

Enjoying added sugars occasionally as part of your diet is fine, but simply replacing refined sugars with honey, coconut sugar etc… will not provide any health benefits.

Sugars or carbohydrates found in fruit and milk do not need to be avoided. These foods provide other healthful properties: whole fruit provides valuable vitamins, soluble fibre helps to slow digestion and insoluble fibre is needed for bowel health.

Milk also provides many nutrients such as minerals, vitamins and protein. Milk has many healthful properties and is a vital source of nutrition for all stages of life. Studies have indicated that milk taken after sport provides excellent rehydration and provides easily absorbed protein.

I hope you have found my articles of interest. If you have any questions or queries about health messages, please feel free to email me.

For more information about Christine Kenny Nutrition and Fitness, see www.ckennynutrition.co.uk. You can also email her direct at enquiries@ckennynutrition.co.uk or phone 0161 941 6455 or 07772 179 587.

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