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Why fat can be more of a friend than foe

With Libby Weaver

Fear of fat? Why fat can be more of a friend than foe

Nutrition tends to move in cycles. Whether the current focus is on decreasing carbohydrates or increasing protein one thing seems to remain constant: many people have a fear of fat. Questions have arisen in scientific circles about whether excessive fat intake is a major attributing factor to the obesity epidemic, heart disease, high blood pressure and in the risk of developing colon cancer - it is no wonder people are confused and shunning fats in their droves.

However what is commonly misunderstood is the essential role fats play in our diet - not all fat is created equal. Fats are composed of building blocks called fatty acids, just as proteins are compromised of their building blocks, amino acids.

There are three major categories of fatty acids - saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated. Of concern more recently is the generation of trans fats, found mainly in processed foods, such as cakes, biscuits and muesli bars.

Research suggests that the type of fat you eat is actually more important than the total amount. Consuming adequate fat helps you to manage your mood, stay alert and even assist with weight management.

Fats are also needed for helping us absorb essential vitamins like D, E, K, and A, as well as for maintaining healthy skin. They are an integral part of our immunity and brain development. Fat is also our most concentrated source of energy, and helps to keep us warm and protect our organs and nerves.

The Mediterranean diet is high in monounsaturated fats which are found in olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds. The Mediterranean diet is linked with low blood pressure and lower incidences of heart disease. It also appears to reduce blood levels of the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) ("bad" cholesterol) without affecting the levels of our protective cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

Choose low human intervention foods, real food as often as you can and limit the food you eat from packets. That way you will naturally avoid poor quality fats such as trans fats. If you don't eat much fat but struggle with sugar cravings in the afternoon, start adding more fat to your meals, particularly at lunch, in the form of avocado, olive oil, avocado oil, nuts, organic butter, tahini, oily fish, coconut, for example, and observe if your desire for sweet foods mid-afternoon diminishes. We have become scared of using oils and nuts due to their high-energy content but good fats actually slow down the release of glucose into your blood stream meaning you actually stay full for longer and you decrease your body's need to produce insulin, decreasing fat storage signaling.

To learn more about this life-changing topic, join Dr Libby for her powerful, informative and beloved Essential Women's Health Weekend May the 19th and 20th at Ellerslie Events Centre, Auckland. For more information about the weekend visit or obtain your copy of Dr Libby's latest book, Rushing Woman's Syndrome or the best-selling Accidentally Overweight available at and all leading bookstores.

(Broadcast: 14 May 2012)