The Fat Guide
Saturated fat, unsaturated fat, monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, omega fats, the list goes on, what should we be including in our diet and what should we be avoiding.
We all need some fat in our diet. Nutritionally, fats do more than simply supply calories. The fat you eat is broken down during digestion into smaller units of fat called fatty acids. Any fat not used by your body’s cells or to create energy is converted into body fat. Likewise, unused carbohydrate and protein are also converted into body fat. All types of fat are high in energy. A gram of fat, whether saturated or unsaturated, provides 9kcal (37kJ) of energy compared with 4kcal (17kJ) for carbohydrate and protein.
The fat in our diet also helps us absorb certain vitamins, the fat-soluble ones, which include A, D, E and K. Following a very low-fat diet makes you more likely to be low in these vitamins and that can impact your immunity, limit the body’s ability to heal itself and have an influence on bone health. It’s better to focus your diet on the healthier fats by including more fish, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils including avocado and olive.
Unsaturated fats can be either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated and are found primarily in oils from plants. These essential fats are important for maintaining healthy blood vessels, making hormones and for the correct functioning of our nervous system. Polyunsaturated fats can help lower the level of LDL cholesterol. There are two types of polyunsaturated fats: omega-3 and omega-6, some of these fats cannot be made by the body and are therefore essential in small amounts in the diet. Omega-6 fats are found in vegetable oils such as rapeseed, corn, sunflower and some nuts and Omega-3 fats are found in oily fish such as mackerel, kippers, herring, trout, sardines, salmon and fresh tuna.
Monounsaturated fats help protect our hearts by maintaining levels of HDL cholesterol while reducing levels of LDL cholesterol and can be found in avocados and some nuts, such as almonds, brazils and peanuts.
Too much fat in your diet, especially saturated fats, can raise your cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart disease. While any type of fat in our food can be turned into cholesterol by the body, it’s the saturated fats we need to cut down on. Saturated fats are found in many foods, both sweet and savoury. Most of them come from animal sources, including meat and dairy products, as well as some plant foods such as palm oil. Foods high in saturated fats include:
- meat products, including sausages and pies
- butter, ghee and lard
- cheese, especially hard cheese
- cream, soured cream and ice cream
- some savoury snacks and chocolate confectionery
- biscuits, cakes and pastries
- palm oil
- eating more fish, nuts and seeds
- removing the skin from poultry and trimming visible fat from other cuts of meat
- check labels on food products
- use good quality un-saturated oils, like walnut or pumpkin, for dipping your bread instead of using spreads
- steam, bake, poach or grill instead of frying
- replace the mayo with plain yogurt or just a simple oil and a squeeze of lemon juice with some mixed herbs, makes a delicious dressing
- make your own chips with chunky sweet potato wedges drizzled with rapeseed oil and a sprinkle of paprika then baked
- avocado as a creamy topping on toasted sourdough bread, or in a delicious guacamole
Artificial trans fats can be formed when oil goes through a process called hydrogenation, which makes the oil more solid (known as hardening). This type of fat, known as hydrogenated fat, can be used for frying or as an ingredient in processed foods. Artificial trans fats can be found in some processed foods such as biscuits and cakes, where they are sometimes used to help give products a longer shelf life. They can also be found naturally in some foods at low levels, such as those from animals, including meat and dairy products. We now know these hydrogenated fats increase levels of dangerous trans-fats which are both bad for the heart and our cholesterol. Although trans-fats can be found at low levels in some natural foods these man-made versions meant it was likely we were eating more of them. However, in recent years many food manufacturers have removed trans fats from their products.
So it seems it would be a good idea to try to up your unsaturated fats and lower the unsaturated fats and of course balancing your diet with plenty of vegetables and fruit.