Menopause: let’s not run away from (good) fat – part two
In the part one we saw that the temptation to avoid fat at all costs to fight against weight gain during menopause could prove to be counter-beneficial.
It’s all a question of quantity and quality.
We’ve already discussed « quantity », let us now dive into the « quality » aspect.
You may have had the opportunity to watch this epic spaghetti western by Sergio Leone, « The Good, the Bad and the Ugly ».
In terms of « quality », we could say that the different types of fat are similar to the cast of this cult movie.
Staring as the Bad: Trans fats.
They are the « bad guys » in the movie. Studies agree that they seriously increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
They’re also suspected of increasing insulin resistance (which is really bad for your waistline…and, even worse, a risk factor for type 2 diabetes).
You’ll find them naturally occurring in small amounts in red meat (beef, lamb) or dairy. And it seems that small amounts won’t do you any harm.
The problem is that man-made trans fats (aka partially hydrogenated fats) are a huge food industry favorite because of their stability (they don’t become rancid, they can withstand repeated heating without breaking down). You’ll therefore find them everywhere: from process foods (margarine, cookies, …) to cooking/frying oil in restaurants (and not just fast food ones).
The recommendation is that in total the trans fats consumed daily do not exceed 2% of the total energy intake (1.5% for industrial trans fats1).
Since mid-2018, industrial trans fats have been officially banned in food products for sale to the public and in restaurants in the United States.
And within the European Union, from April 2, 2021, industrial trans fats must not exceed 2 g per 100 g of fat in food products intended for the final consummer2.
In any case, monitoring labels very closely is essential.
Staring as the Ugly: Saturated fats.
You’ll find them in meat (especially red meat), cheese, cream, butter, eggs, coconut oil, palm oil…
For a long time they were considered harmful, associating them with bad cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. However, recent studies have questioned this association, believing that there is a lack of evidence to definitively conclude that saturated fats systematically increase cardiovascular risks.
Different types of saturated fats would have different impacts on health, and avoiding all foods high in saturated fatty acids would not be the solution
For instance dark chocolate, rich in saturated fats, not only would not increase cardiovascular risks but would offer beneficial effects in terms of prevention of cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes3.
On the other hand, studies agree that palm oil, which is also rich in saturated fats (around 50%), seems to increase cardiovascular risks.
In any case, caution remains in order and it is recommended to limit the consumption of saturated fats to less than 10% of the total daily calories intake.
Finally, in the role of the Good: Unsaturated fats.
Like all “good” heroes, they are complex characters. They can be monounsaturated or they can be polyunsaturated. Both are beneficial for your health; for instance, they can both help reduce risks of cardiovascular diseases.
Monounsaturated fats can help provide the antioxidant vitamin E we need. Polyunsaturated fats will bring the essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) we can’t properly function without.
You’ll find unsaturated fats in avocados, plant-based oils, seeds, nuts; but also in wild game or fish.
They often coexist one with each other in the same food. Take rapeseed oil for example: it consists of 60% monounsaturated fats and 27% polyunsaturated fats.
Let’s dwell for a moment on polyunsaturated essential fatty acids.
They are essential because they cannot be synthesized by your body, they have to come from your diet.
To be more accurate, the parent compounds (linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 and α-linoleic acid (ALA), an omega-3) cannot be synthesized. However those parents can “give birth” to longer chains of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, like docosahexaenoic acid or DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid critical for your cell membranes.
The issue is that the capacity to convert ALA into DHA is pretty low.
Granted it’s higher in women (9% conversion rate) than in men (0-4%), but the bad news for postmenopausal women is that it seems to be an effect of oestrogen hormone level.
So, what it means is that you have to treat DHA like an essential nutrient and get it from your food. And the best source is fish, fatty fish.
Seeds and ALA packed vegetable oils are not to be discarded, not at all, but they won’t bring you enough of DHA your body needs.
A last few words about omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids: omega-6 fatty acids are inflammatory and omega-3 ones are anti-inflammatory. So getting the right omega-6/omega-3 ratio seems important to keep some diseases at bay .
Our modern diet often has a ratio that is much too high (15:1 or even higher). There seems to be no definitive answer as to what the optimal ratio is (it seems to depend on what your health condition is) but most recommendations talk about a ratio kept between 1:1 and 4:14.
This concludes our overview of the different types of fat. As we have seen, well chosen and in the right amounts, fat can be a (another) good ally for postmenopausal women.
Are you interested in the experiences of women at different stages of their menopause? Would you like a reminder of the physiology of menopause and the main symptoms? Download our free ebook, Menopause Story(ies).
1: source anses.fr
2: source Official Journal of the European Union – COMMISSION REGULATION (EU) 2019/649 of 24 April 2019
3: source Saturated Fats and Health: A Reassessment and Proposal for Food-Based Recommendations: JACC State-of-the-Art Review. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2020 Aug 18;
4: source The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother. 2002 Oct;56(8):365-79. doi: 10.1016/s0753-3322(02)00253-6.