A little fat can go a Long Way
Fat almost always gets a bad reputation despite being an important nutrient, more so during pregnancy. As soon as you become pregnant, especially in the first three months, your baby will need a good supply of fat for the formation of the brain and nervous cardiovascular system. Eaten in moderation it succeeds in carrying out its other functions i.e. to provide energy, to aid in the absorption and transportation of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, to cushion organs and to regulate body temperature.
However if taken in excess or if the wrong kind of fats are consumed, then fat can become a health hazard. All pregnant women should get 20-40% of their calories from fat.
A totally fat free diet fails to provide sufficient calories and is unhealthy - fat is hence essential!
- Fat is a very concentrated source of calories
- Ounce for ounce, fat is also the most concentrated source of energy
- A gram of fat has 9 calories, twice as many as protein or carbohydrates
- Dietary fats or triglycerides come in a few forms; the major kinds that we eat include saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and trans-fatty acids or hydrogenated fats
- Healthy fats are the unsaturated versions (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated)
- The two types of polyunsaturated fats which our bodies cannot manufacture but must have anyway are linoleic acid (omega-6) and linolenic acid (omega-3)
- Saturated fats and trans-fatty acids can increase blood cholesterol levels and lead to health problems
- Butter is preferred over margarine (margarine contains trans-fats) although it is loaded with saturated fat.
Cholesterol is often confused with fat but they are not the same. Cholesterol is a fat-like substance but it differs in structure and function. It provides no energy and therefore has no calories.
Cut the Fat
- During pregnancy some women find problems eating enough food at one go and so do not get all the calories their body requires. In such cases a diet that has up to 40% of fat can supply a concentrated source of nutrients and calories. This may come as a surprise and even sound absurd to some, especially if you are already overweight.
- If weight is an issue, cut back on high-fat foods. Do not eliminate fat from your diet totally – your baby needs the essential fatty acids to grow well.
- You may also want to cut back on foods that are prepared with a lot of fat e.g. anything fried or cream-based.
- You may want to keep an eye out for the many places fat tends to show up (the oil in your salad dressing, the butter on your cake, the mayonnaise on your chicken sandwich).
- High-fat foods which you may want to slash or minimize include cream sauces, full fat cheese, whole milk yogurt, nuts and seeds and fatty meats.
- Lower your intake of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat without losing the flavor. For instance choose leaner meats, cook meat without the skin and trim off the excess fat; use egg whites in place of whole eggs. Sometimes go for vegetarian meals with beans and soy products. Keep an eye on the food labels to watch your daily intake of fat, saturated fat and cholesterol.
Essential Fatty Acids and your Diet
Although all fats contain an equivalent content of calories, there are different types of fat. Certain types are termed essential because our bodies cannot manufacture them. Essential fats are the omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Most people are deficient in both of these fats. Both help in the key bodily functions such as regulating blood pressure, blood clotting, and ensuring our immune system responds well. Omega-3 works a step further by reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and may offer some protection against breast cancer.
- A diet high in saturated fat and trans-fat (damaged polyunsaturated fats found in processed and fried foods) stops the body from making adequate use of the little essential fats consumed in a day.
- When vegetable oils or polyunsaturated oils are refined or processed, the structure or nature of the oil changes. The making of margarine and shortening exemplifies this.
- To convert the vegetable oil into 'hard' fat, it is 'hydrogenated', a chemical process which hardens liquid vegetable oils into solid fats. Technically it remains as polyunsaturated fat but the body cannot make use of it.
- Furthermore it inhibits the use of healthy polyunsaturated fats and raises cholesterol levels.
- Most margarines contain these hydrogenated polyunsaturated fats and are best avoided. However if you do buy margarines, look for ones made mainly with monounsaturated fats, rapeseed or olive oil or those with zero trans-fats.
- Other foods that contain hydrogenated oils are biscuits, cakes and ready meals so check the labels properly.
- Frying is another way to damage healthy oils. The high temperature oxidizes the oil, turning it rancid and generates harmful 'free radicals' in the body. Avoid frying, burning or browning the fat.