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The surprising benefits of fats

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It’s hard to think of fat without mental images of greasy food appearing and subtle reminders from the inner voice of: “this is probably not healthy”. Luckily, the rein of the low-fat movement is almost over. With a plethora of new research emerging on the topic, certain fats are slowly becoming accepted as health promoting.

Registered nutritional therapist, Eva Humphries of, breaks down the latest science on the surprising benefits of fats.

Brain power

A large proportion of the brain is made from fat. Yes, you are reading that correctly, the very thing that powers our conscious behaviour is up to 60% fat (1).

To keep the brain sharp, a steady stream of fats is required, which rather surprisingly includes cholesterol (2).

A study carried out by Boston University found that those with higher cholesterol levels performed better at cognitive tests and could concentrate with greater ease (3).

If brain fog is a concern, essential fatty acids, such as those found in fish and some seeds, may go some way in keeping the brain sharp (4).

Oily fish, including salmon, mackerel, eggs, chia and flax seeds all contain brain power boosting fats that can be incorporated without much effort.

Fats aid nutrient absorption

That lunch time salad may have had all the right kind of nutrients in it, but without some fat present, it’d be difficult to fully absorb them.

Fats act almost like little boats for the Vitamins A, D, E and K, allowing them to be transported into the body with greater ease.

Drizzling some good quality olive oil onto a salad or even adding some avocado would do the trick by increasing nutrient uptake.

Skin health

If there was a single group of nutrients that could make a difference to skin health, it would be healthy fats. Whilst nothing really works in isolation, research indicates that fats play a vital part in keeping the skin in tip top condition.

A higher intake of healthy fats is linked with benefits such as improved skin elasticity (5), better skin hydration (6) and slower ageing (7).

Avocados, salmon, sunflower seeds, walnuts and almonds are all sources of skin supporting fats.

The caveat is to stick to a high intake of vegetables alongside healthy fats. Pizza and burgers may be out but you needn’t shy away from healthy fats such as olive and coconut oils, even in seemingly large quantities.

As with anything in the world of nutrition, moderation and balance are key.


(1) Chang CY, Ke DS, Chen JY (2009) Essential fatty acids and human brain. Acta Neurologica Taiwanica, 18: 231-241.

(2) Schreurs BG (2010) The effects of cholesterol on learning and memory. Neuroscience &

Biobehavioral Reviews, 34: 1366-1379.

(3) Elias PK, Elias MF, D'Agostino RB, Sullivan LM, Wolf PA (2005) Serum cholesterol and

cognitive performance in the Framingham Heart Study. Psychosomatic Medicine, 67: 24-30.

(4) Weiser MJ, Butt CM, Mohajeri MH (2016) Docosahexaenoic acid and cognition throughout the lifespan. Nutrients, 8: 99.

(5) Nagata C, Nakamura K, Wada K, Oba S, Hayashi M, Takeda N, Yasuda K (2010) Association of dietary fat, vegetables and antioxidant micronutrients with skin ageing in Japanese women. British Journal of Nutrition, 103: 1493-1498.

(6) Verdier-Sévrain S, Bonté F (2007) Skin hydration: a review on its molecular mechanisms.

Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 6: 75-82.

(7) Latreille J, Kesse-Guyot E, Malvy D, Andreeva V, Galan P, Tschachler E, Hercberg S, Guinot C, Ezzedine K (2013) Association between dietary intake of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and severity of skin photoaging in a middle-aged Caucasian population. Journal of Dermatological Science, 72: 233-239.

(8) Estruch R, Martínez-González MA, Corella D, Salas-Salvadó J, Fitó M, Chiva-Blanch G, Fiol M,, Gómez-Gracia E, Arós F, Lapetra J, Serra-Majem L, Pintó X, Buil-Cosiales P, Sorlí JV, Muñoz MA, Basora-Gallisá J, Lamuela-Raventós RM, Serra-Mir M, Ros E (2016) Effect of a high-fat Mediterranean diet on bodyweight and waist circumference: a prespecified secondary outcomes analysis of the PREDIMED randomised controlled trial. The Lancet, 4: 666-676.

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