Focus On – Good Fats Bad Fats

Good Fats Bad Fats

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Image of a blob of fat
Fat

What are good fats bad fats? Current UK government guidelines advise cutting down on all fats and replacing saturated fat and trans fats with some unsaturated fat. This is because too much fat in your diet, can raise your cholesterol level and therefore increase the risk of heart disease. Cutting down on saturated fats is only one part of reducing your risk of heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases. There are many other risks, including eating too much salt and sugar, being overweight, smoking and a lack of physical activity. When it comes to cardiovascular health, you are best to focus on your overall diet than on individual items such as fat, salt or sugar. A balanced nutritious diet is the best way to reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.

Not all fat is bad

For a healthy balanced diet, a small amount of fat is an essential. Fat is a source of essential fatty acids such as omega-3 and helps the body absorb vitamins A, D, and E. The body can only absorb these essential fatty acids and vitamins when fat is present. All types of fat are high in calories. A gram of fat provides 9kcal (37kJ) of energy compared with 4kcal (17kJ) for carbohydrate and protein. Fat is broken down during digestion into smaller units called fatty acids.

The problem with fat is that if it is not used by your body’s cells or to create energy it is converted into body fat. It should be noted that unused carbohydrate and protein are also converted into body fat. Regularly eating more energy than your body can use, whether it’s fat, carbohydrate or protein increases your risk of becoming overweight or obese. This can increase your cholesterol and put you at a higher risk of getting cardiovascular diseases.

As part of a healthy diet, you should try to cut down on foods and drinks high in saturated fats and trans fats and replace some of them with some unsaturated fats. The main types of fat found in food are saturated fats and unsaturated fats. Most fats and oils contain both good fats bad fats in different proportions.

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are found in many foods, most of them in animal sources, including meat and dairy products. As well as some plant foods such as palm oil and coconut oil. Too much saturated fat in your diet can raise your LDL cholesterol in the blood. This can lead to fatty deposits developing in the arteries, which can restrict the flow of blood to the heart and brain, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Most people in the UK eat too much saturated fat. The average man should aim to have no more than 30g, the average woman of 20g, of saturated fat a day. Children should have less.

Foods high in saturated fats include

Fatty cuts of meat, meat products, sausages, pies, butter, ghee and lard, cheese, cream, soured cream, ice cream, savoury snacks, chocolate confectionery, biscuits, cakes, pastries, palm oil, coconut oil and butter, and processed foods.

Trans Fats

Most people in the UK don’t eat a lot of trans fats. On average, we eat about half the recommended maximum. Trans fats are found naturally in some foods, but they can also be found in hydrogenated vegetable oil. The foods ingredients labels must declare if Hydrogenated vegetable oil is present. Trans fats, like saturated fats, can raise cholesterol levels in the blood. This is why it’s recommended that adults have no more than about 5g of trans fats a day. We eat a lot more saturated fats than trans fats. Because of this, it’s more important to focus on reducing the amount of saturated fats than trans fats in your diet.

Unsaturated Fats

If you want to cut your risk of heart disease, it’s best to reduce your overall fat intake and swap saturated fats for unsaturated fats. There is good evidence that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats can help lower cholesterol. Found primarily in oils from plants, unsaturated fats can be either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.

Monounsaturated fats

These fats help protect our hearts by maintaining levels of HDL cholesterol while reducing levels of LDL cholesterol.

Monounsaturated fats are found in

Olive oil, olive oil spread, rapeseed oil, rapeseed oil spread, avocados, some nuts, such as almonds, brazils, and peanuts

Polyunsaturated fats

Polyunsaturated fats can help lower the level of LDL cholesterol. There are two main types of polyunsaturated fats, omega-3 and omega-6.

Omega-3 fats are found in

Oily fish such as mackerel, kippers, herring, trout, sardines, salmon and fresh tuna. We are advised to eat more omega-3 by eating at least two portions of fish a week, including one of oily fish.

Omega-6 fats are found in

Vegetable oils such as rapeseed, corn, sunflower and some nuts. Most of us get sufficient omega-6 in our diet.

Buying Lower Fat

Image of a food label
Food Label

The European Union have food labeling guidelines to help you work out whether or not a food is high in fat and saturated fat. These labels can help you cut down on total fat and saturated fat which may also be listed as saturates, or sat fat.

 

 

 

 

Total Fat

high fat – more than 17.5g of fat per 100g
low fat – 3g of fat or less per 100g, or 1.5g of fat per 100ml for liquids (1.8g of fat per 100ml for semi-skimmed milk)
fat-free – 0.5g of fat or less per 100g or 100ml

Saturated Fat

high in sat fat – more than 5g of saturates per 100g
low in sat fat – 1.5g of saturates or less per 100g or 0.75g per 100ml for liquids
sat fat-free – 0.1g of saturates per 100g or 100ml

Lower Fat Label 

For a product to be labeled lower fat, reduced fat, lite or light, it has to contain at least 30% less fat than a similar product. But if the type of food in question is high in fat in the first place, the lower-fat version may also still be high in fat (17.5g or more of fat per 100g). For example, a lower-fat mayonnaise is 30% lower in fat than the standard version but is still high in fat. Although these foods are low in fat they aren’t necessarily low in calories. To get a ‘good taste’ the manufacturers replace the fat with sugar and you may end up with a similar energy content. Remember to check the nutrition label on the packet for both the fat content and the calorie content.

Remember that cutting down on fat and changing the types of fat consumed is only one part of a healthy diet.

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