Mediterranean diet proves you should not avoid healthy fats

Don't be afraid of healthy fat sources like these. Photo / Getty Images
Don't be afraid of healthy fat sources like these. Photo / Getty Images

Are you avoiding fats in your daily diet?

It may be time to stop, according to research, which proves eating fat does not make us fat - and in fact, can ensure we live longer, reported news.com.au.

The world's largest and ongoing study on the Mediterranean diet (aka PREDIMED study), has been examining the effects of this eating style in nearly 7400 subjects, across seven communities in Spain, at high risk of heart disease over eight years. Participants in the study either followed a Med Diet plus a handful of nuts a day or a Med Diet plus an extra 50ml of olive oil a day. Both these diets were compared to a lower fat eating plan.

After nearly five years, those eating a handful of nuts more than three times a week had a 30% reduced risk of heart attacks, stroke and death from heart disease, halved their risk (52%) of diabetes and reversed age-related cognitive decline.

Results also showed no weight gain in the nut eaters (despite a higher consumption of calories) compared to those in the lower fat diet group.

To date over 230 PREDIMED papers have been published in leading academic journals. The most recent phase of PREDIMED research is examining common cancers, dementia, depression and weight loss.

"The robust science is transforming global opinions about fats and establishing a new healthy eating paradigm with good fats", lead researcher, Professor Jordi Salas-Salvado told news.com.au.

Olive oil should be your main source of healthy fat. Photo / Getty Images
Olive oil should be your main source of healthy fat. Photo / Getty Images

"When PREDIMED started 14 years ago, people were told to avoid all fats for heart health. We've now proven the opposite is true. A high-fat Mediterranean style diet is far more beneficial compared to eating a low-fat diet, prompting health institutions around the globe, including Australia and the US to review dietary guidelines and recommend eating more good plant sources of fats" adds Salas-Salvado.

This is not to say that the "low-fat" message was wrong. The problem is low-fat can mean vegetables, fruit, legumes and wholegrains. Instead it was the unintended consequences of what we did with the dietary advice we were given.

How much fat?

We all need fat in our diet - it contains essential fatty acids and is important for absorbing fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D and E. The question is how much fat should we eat?

There are no official recommended intakes for fat, instead nutrition authorities usually suggest we aim for around 30-35% of the total calories to be in the from of fat, particularly the unsaturated kind. This means a fat intake of anywhere from 40 grams to 85 grams a day depending on your activity level, age, gender and stage of life. However, people in the study were actually eating more fat (around 40%), but mainly from plant or fish type containing mono-unsaturated of polyunsaturated oils which can have the associated health benefits.

"The Mediterranean Diet is well-researched and most-often prescribed diet in the world, however more work needs to be done to translate this style of eating [to other countries]" says Professor Catherine Itsiopoulos, La Trobe University.

"We're not expecting people to cook traditional Moussakas to gain these health benefits.

It's all about embracing the key ingredients, including a lot more nuts, using extra virgin olive oil as our main added fat, up the veggies and legumes and cut back on high processed carbs." adds Prof. Itsiopoulos.

Catherine's 10 steps for implementing the med diet

Don't worry you can still drink wine, in moderation. Photo / Getty Images
Don't worry you can still drink wine, in moderation. Photo / Getty Images

1. Extra Virgin Olive oil as the main added fat! ~60ml/d
2. Vegetables /salads with every main meal (>400g/d)
3. Use herbs and spices to flavour foods
4. Legumes twice per week (250g/serve)
5. Fish/seafood twice a week (150g/serve) and consume meat/chicken less often (small portions)
6. Opt for wholegrain sourdough breads
7. Fresh fruit everyday
8. Fermented dairy every day "yoghurt"
9. Nuts everyday (30g/d)
10. Wine in moderation, always with meals.

- news.com.au

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