pexels-photo-236817 - CopyWe all know that consuming too much fat is not good for our health, but is the issue as simple as it seems? Fat is one of the three macronutrients (the others being protein and carbohydrates) which are essential for maintaining a healthy body, and should make up between 20-30% of your daily recommended diet. Fats promote growth and development and are the building blocks for the cell membrane and hormones such testosterone and oestrogen. Fat also plays a vital role in digestion and the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, D, E and K, meaning they need fat in order to be absorbed by the body.

While carbohydrates are the main source of energy  for our bodies, fat can also be used as an alternative slow release energy source. Fat is energy-dense, with 1g of fat providing 9kcal of energy, compared to 1g of carbohydrates providing 4kcal of energy.

Fat is made up of a number of fatty acids, some of which are essential for good health. These fatty acids are broken down into saturated and unsaturated fats. In order to be confident in consuming fats as part of a healthy diet, we need to understand which foods provide us with ‘good’ fats.

Unsaturated Fats

Unsaturated fats are essentially ‘good’ fats. They are a good source of slow-release energy and they allow our bodies to function properly.  Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats can also help lower blood cholesterol.

Unsaturated fats are found in:

  • oily fish such as salmon, fresh tuna and mackerel
  • avocados
  • nuts, nut butters and seeds
  • sunflower and olive oils

Saturated fats

Saturated fats maybe referred to as ‘bad’ fats. Eating a diet high in saturated fat may cause the level of cholesterol in your blood to build up over time. Raised cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease. The NHS recommends that the average man should eat no more than 30g of saturated fat a day, and the average woman should eat no more than 20g of saturated fat a day.

Foods high in saturated fat include:

  • Red meat
  • Processed meat products including sausages and pies
  • poultry
  • butter and lard
  • cheese, especially hard cheese
  • coconut oil

Trans fats

Trans fats also fall into the ‘bad’ fats camp. They are naturally found at low levels in some foods such as those from animals, including meat and dairy products. They are also found in foods containing hydrogenated vegetable oil, like that used for industrial deep fat frying.

Trans fats can raise cholesterol levels in the blood. This is why it’s recommended that trans fats should make up no more than 1-2% of the energy (calories) we get from our diet. For adults, this is no more than about 5g a day.

Does Low Fat = Healthy?

Be wary of foods that are labelled as “low fat” or “reduced fat”. They aren’t necessarily low in calories, and what’s more, often the fat is replaced with sugar or heavily processed ingredients that may be worse for your body. Rory Freedman came up with the phrase, “Whenever you see the words “fat free” or “low-fat,” think of the words “chemical sh*t storm””, which is a snappy way of reminding ourselves not to be seduced by attention-grabbing packaging!

Moving forward

The bottom line is that fat doesn’t make us fat – the problems begin when we consume too much saturated and trans fat. A healthy diet allows us to enjoy everything in moderation. To reduce your intake of ‘bad’ fats, you might try to lower your intake of processed meats and fried foods. To increase your intake of ‘good’ fats, you could eat more nuts, seeds, avocados and oily fish. Why not make a small change today? Replace your mid-afternoon biscuits with a handful of almonds or brazil nuts instead, and be confident that those ‘good’ fats are giving your more energy and doing more for your body than a Hob Nob ever could!

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