So far we have talked about all the food groups except fat. You may be surprised to know that there are “good” fats in food and we should be getting some in our diet during Ramadan and the long fasts. It is important to get enough fat in our diet, but the type of fat makes a big difference.
It has been shown that people who fast can have higher blood cholesterol and uric acid levels. Both of these come when we eat the “bad” types of fat. The fat that increases blood cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease are known as Saturated fat and Trans fat. The best way to remember this is that any fat that is solid at room temperature is usually saturated fat – butter, visible fat on meats, chicken skin, ghee, coconut oil, palm oil, full-fat dairy and cream.
Visualize this as: if it becomes solid at room temperature – it may also become solid inside your blood vessels and cause blockage and heart attacks or strokes. This may not be the exact way it happens, but these fats increase the bad cholesterol levels and eventually block the arteries and veins.
Trans fat is a manufactured type of fat using a process called “hydrogenation” which converts liquid fats into solids – examples of these are margarine, most baked items – pastries, cakes, donuts. Any food that comes in a box usually has Trans fats in them. These are worse than saturated fat.
The reverse is also true, most healthy fats are liquid at room temperature and are known as unsaturated fat. You may have heard in the news about of omega-3, or polyunsaturated fat (PUFA), or monounsaturated fat (MUFA), ALA, DHA, EPA etc – these are all classified as good fats.
Most good fats compete against the bad fats in our body, so if we are eating more good than bad, our cholesterol can actually go down!
Why do we need fat?
Our brain is made up of fat, all the nerves in our body are also made of fat, but the type of fat that makes these important parts function cannot be made by our body. We need to get this from foods to be able to function properly. The best type of fat that our body can directly use is the fat in fish.
No other foods have this unique fat except fish and algae or plankton. Unfortunately most people are not getting enough healthy fats if they are not eating fish at least twice a week! Fish not only has healthy fat, but also has the rare vitamin D we talked about earlier – which is why fish is the super brain food!
Some benefits of Healthy fats are:
- Development of brain, nerve, and eye in infants.
- Prevent and treat heart disease
- Can reduce this risk of diabetes, obesity and weight around the waist area
- Help in reducing the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
- May help in the prevention of dementia including Alzheimer’s disease.
How much? You need at least 2 fatty fish a week – 1⁄ 2 cup or 75 g (2 1⁄ 2 oz, 125 mL).
Best sources are: tuna, salmon, sardine, mackerel, trout, herring, pilchards, carp or other fatty fish. Make sure you check with your local fisheries authority to find safe fish with low mercury levels.
Shellfish, shrimp, lobster and crabs have high cholesterol – so limit these, these are not best sources for healthy fats.
If you can’t eat fish then the second best source of these healthy fats are found in dark green leafy vegetables, linseeds, soya products (soya beans and tofu), olives, avocados, nuts and seeds.
Have up to ¼ cup of nuts per day, best sources are:
- Macadamia nuts
- Brazil nuts
- Flax seed
Other than fish and nuts, all other fats like cooking oil, butter, margarine, mayonnaise, and salad dressings should add up to no more than 3 – 4 tablespoons a day during fasting (and only 2 – 3 Tbsp when not fasting).
Oils to use include:
- Olive oil (for salad dressings and light cooking)
- Canola oil (for cooking)
- Sunflower oil
- Soybean oil
- Grapeseed oil
- Flaxseed oil
Butter versus margarine: If stores near you sell margarine with “non-hydrogenated” oils then this is better than butter. If not, small amount (1 Tbsp) of butter can be used, but try using the vegetable oils mentioned above.
Ghee vs. vegetable oils: Ghee is a very controversial subject, research is still pending on its benefits, however at this time there is enough evidence to suggest replacing ghee with other vegetable oils when possible.