17 Apr Food Facts: Fat
You asked, we delivered! We recently asked our Facebook group which nutrition topic they would like to see covered in our blog. This week we’re sharing some of the facts on fat.
We live in a society where everyone seems to have an opinion on what everyone else should be eating. One day the trend is for virtually fat free diets, the next day we see people promoting adding butter to our coffees! Sometimes, when we start to feel conflicted about what a healthy, balanced diet might look like, it can be a good idea to take a step back and bring it back to basics.
Do we need fat in our diets?
In short, yes! It is an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Fat plays several key roles in our bodies:
- Provides a source of energy.
- Carries fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) around the body and enables the body to absorb them.
- Protects our vital organs.
Despite this, not all types of fat are equal in terms of supporting our health. Let me give you a break down . . .
The three main types of fat in our diets are saturated, trans and unsaturated fats.
Found in: meat, butter, ghee, lard, dairy products such as cheese and cream, chocolate, biscuits, cakes and pastries and some plant sources including palm oil and coconut oil.
Impact on the body: high intakes of saturated fat are associated with increased blood cholesterol levels and increased risk of heart disease. Foods high in saturated fat also provide a lot of energy. This means it can be easy to consume more energy than our body needs, which can lead to weight gain.
These are a form of processed vegetable oils which have been hardened or ‘hydrogenated’. Trans fats have a negative impact on our health. For this reason, many food manufacturers avoid using trans fats, or use very low levels.
Unsaturated fats are mainly found in plant foods such as nuts, seeds, olives and avocados.
Impact on the body: Unlike saturated fats, unsaturated fats are not associated with increasing blood cholesterol levels. Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats may help lower blood cholesterol levels.
Unsaturated fats can be broadly divided up into two main categories.
Monounsaturated fats are found in foods such as olive oil, rapeseed oil, avocado and nuts.
They are associated with a reduction in “bad” LDL cholesterol while maintaining levels of “good” HDL cholesterol.
Polyunsaturated fats are divided up into two further categories. Omega 6 which is found in rapeseed, corn and sunflower oil and some nuts. There is also Omega 3, which is found in oily fish such as mackerel, kippers, herring, sardines, salmon. Omega 3 fatty acids are also found in nuts and seeds, beans, milk, tofu and dark leafy greens.
Polyunsaturated fats are associated with reduced levels of the “bad” LDL cholesterol.
How much should I be eating?
UK government guidelines suggest that a third of our energy should come from fat. The majority of this should be from unsaturated fats. As a result, the guidelines suggest we should eat no more than:
Total Fat: 70g
Saturated Fat: 20g
Trans fat: 5g
As a population, whilst we generally meet this guideline, the general advice is to:
- Reduce our overall intake of saturated fat.
- Replace saturated fats for unsaturated fats.
- Consume more Omega 3 fatty acids.
What practical steps can we take to achieve this?
Here are some practical ideas that can be incorporated into our diets:
Replace butter, ghee and lard with a vegetable oil such as olive oil or rapeseed oil.
Use lower fat versions of dairy products (e.g. semi-skimmed, 1% or skimmed milk for adults) or reduced fat cheese. Alternatively, use less of the full fat products.
Choose fats that are richer in mono and polyunsaturated fats .
Use meats low in fat e.g. chicken or lean cuts of red meat and remove visible fat and skin.
Grill, microwave or bake foods instead of frying and roasting .
Avoid deep fried snacks and dishes.
Replace high fat snacks with fruit and nuts.
Read nutrition labels on food packaging to identify foods that are higher and lower in fat.
Eat two portions of fish each week, one of which should be oily.
A note on lower fat products
Being aware of the fat content of foods by reading nutrition labels can help us to reduce our consumption of total and saturated fat.
However, foods with “lower fat” labels need to contain 30% less fat than a similar product. This can mean that a food may still be high in fat whilst having this label.
These foods may also contain other ingredients instead of fat, such as sugar. As a result, these food products may be higher in sugar than we anticipate and still have a similar energy (calorie) content.
This is where it can be handy to read the nutrition labels on food packaging. Often it can be helpful to look at the nutrition labels of two or three similar products to get an idea of which option may confer the most benefits to our overall health!
If this all sounds a little confusing, our blog on Understanding Food Labels may be useful!
Any handy hints to take away right now?
- Try to have two portions of fish each week that have been baked or grilled rather than fried.
- Replace butter for a spray olive oil when cooking. That way we can be more mindful of using less cooking oil rather than adding a big glug to the pan.
- Replace crisps with foods such as baked tortilla wraps, or raw chopped up veg that has the same crunch factor!
It can seem a little daunting and like a lot of effort to change some of our dietary habits. However, even one small change can make a difference to our over all health in the long run!
Looking for more support?
You can start your own journey today. It takes less than two minutes to apply for one of our free weight loss programmes. Visit our Get Started page to find out more.