Whatever may be thought about fats, some need to be included in our diet, as it can help the body absorb some vitamins, it’s a source of the essential fatty acids needed that cant be produced by the body and it’s a great source of energy.
However too much fat in our diets can lead to an increase in weight due to the body having more energy than it needs. Lower fat alternatives are available and should be considered, but any fatty foods that are chosen should be eaten only occasionally. This is vital for anyone wanting to eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight.
Fats are split into three main groups – saturated, unsaturated and trans fats. Food that is high in saturated fat should be cut down or replaced with ones that are high in unsaturated fat. In addition oily fish should be eaten quite often as they are a rich source of omega 3 fatty acids.
Too much saturated fat can lead to a rise in the amount of cholesterol in your blood, which can then result in an increased risk of heart disease developing.
The following are all types of food that are high in saturated fats:
- Cakes and biscuits
- Pastry products
- Hard cheese
- Meat products
- Cream – soured cream and crème fraiche
- Butter and lard
- Coconut cream and oil
Trans fats have similar effects on blood cholesterol levels as saturated fats (increase the risk of heart disease), but some suggest that the effects are in fact worse.
On average people in the UK eat around half the recommended maximum, with a majority not consuming much at all.
They are produced as a result of liquid vegetable oils turning into solid fats through the process of hydrogenation. Any foods containing hydrogenated vegetable oil might also contain trans fats, but they don’t need to be labelled separately under European law.
Trans fats can be mainly found in pastry foods, biscuits and cakes and some margarines, and low amounts can be found in dairy products, lamb and beef. They contain high amounts of sugar and saturated fat and should be cut down if you are trying to follow a healthy diet.
Unsaturated fats can be described as the opposite to saturated fats. They can reduce cholesterol levels and provide our bodies with the vital fatty acids required. Some unsaturated fats (found in oily fish) can help to prevent heart disease.
Unsaturated fats can be largely found in:
- Nuts and seeds
- Oily fish
- Vegetable oils
- Sunflower oil, olive oil and rapeseed oil
If you want to eat a healthy diet then try and replace some of the saturated fats with unsaturated fats. For example oily fish to replace a meat pie, unsalted nuts and seeds to snack on instead of cakes, and olive oil for your cooking in place of lard, ghee and butter.
Reducing the amount of fat you consume can be an easy process. Compare the labels of different food products and choose those with less fat and less saturated fats. Most labels will display figures for the fat content and saturated and unsaturated amounts.
Fat: High level = more than 20g fat per 100g
Low level = 3g fat or less per 100g
Saturated fat: High level = more than 5g saturates per 100g
Low level = 1.5g saturates or under per 100g
Any amounts that are in between these figures (both fat and saturated), e.g. 10g per 100g, are classed as medium level fat
What are Omega 3 fatty acids?
Omega 3 fatty acids help protect against coronary heart disease, along with other health benefits and can be found largely in oily fish.
Some omega 3 fatty acids are found in certain vegetable oils, such as linseed, walnut, flaxseed and rapeseed, although these are not similar to those found in oily fish.
Why is fish important?
Most of us should be eating more fish, including a portion of oily fish each week as it provides us with an excellent source of protein and contains many vitamins and minerals.
At least two portions of fish a week should be eaten (one being oily fish). You can choose from fresh, frozen or canned – but remember that canned and smoked fish can be high in salt.
Oily fish are rich in certain types of fats, called omega 3 fatty acids (see above) and should be consumed at least once a week. Women who might have a baby one day should have a maximum of 2 portions of oily fish a week (a portion is about 140g)
Examples of oily fish
- Fresh tuna
Examples of white or non-oily fish
- Tinned tuna
Shark, swordfish and marlin should only be eaten once a week due to the high levels of mercury they contain.