The diet of the Inuit has received attention for decades due to their high consumption of dietary fats, often from large mammals such as whales and seals, and their relatively low rates of cardiovascular disease (CVD). This has further fuelled debate over the' healthiness' of dietary fats.
Fat is considered an essential part of the human diet. It is one of the major energy sources, and it contains fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K).
Traditionally, saturated fat which is found in meat and dairy products has been considered unhealthy. Yet, recent meta-analyses of the evidence suggest that there are no benefits of reducing saturated fat intake on risk of mortality and CVD, and there may be protective effects against risk of stroke. It is important to note that while saturated fats may not be as harmful to CVD risk as once thought and in moderation can be part of a healthy diet, excess calories from fats can lead to weight gain.
There is considerably more consensus surrounding the detrimental effects of trans fats, which are typically found in fried and processed foods. These have been shown to promote inflammation and increase risk of CVD, diabetes, and stroke. As a result, dietary guidelines around the world suggest reducing consumption of these foods.
Research has shown that when people focus on reducing fat intake, they can be more susceptible to consuming refined carbohydrates instead. Many packaged and fast foods which are high in saturated fat are also high in refined carbohydrates. In recent years, there has been an increase in CVD among populations such as the Inuit people, where traditional diets have shifted with the introduction of more western foods high in refined carbohydrates including sugar-sweetened beverages.
The purported exoneration of fat does not necessarily mean that we should go overboard with fat, but for some people, it may encourage the inclusion of more so-called 'healthy fats' in the diet. Olive oil which features in the Mediterranean diet is one of the most popular healthy fat sources and contains a high concentration of antioxidants. Other plant sources of healthy fats include avocados, seeds and nuts. Oily fish like salmon and trout are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, and the consumption of fish has been associated with reduced risk of several chronic diseases.
Overall, the advice to eat fresh, home-cooked meals, with a variety of vegetables still holds. Finally, the social aspect of food cannot be underestimated. Diets that feature a wide range of foods, including fats, may be even more beneficial when prepared and shared with others.