Eating the right kinds of fat can play an important part in helping you stay the right weight for your height. By knowing more about the different types of fat you’re eating, it’s easier to understand which foods are good for you and which ones aren’t.

Why do we need fats?

Our bodies treat fat like a long-term fuel reserve – it’s stored in the thick layer of tissue under our skin. It also helps us protect our vital organs and absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A,D, E and K. Some fatty acids (EFAs) are essential for healthy living, but these can’t be produced by our own bodies.

Problems arise when we eat too much. The body stores the excess calories as fat for later use, which can lead to large deposits around the organs, especially those in your abdominal cavity. But the main problem is the potential for an increase in your cholesterol levels, and a greater risk of heart disease and strokes. Understanding different kinds of fat will help you reduce ‘bad’ fats but include ‘good’ fats in a healthy, balanced diet:

Saturated fats.

These are usually solid at room temperature – things like butter, cream, cheese and ‘fatty meats’. You’ll also find saturated fats in pastries, biscuits and cakes.

Trans fats.

These are chemically altered vegetable oils, often found in processed foods. Like unsaturated fats, they’re linked to high cholesterol levels and should be avoided. Anything deep-fried is likely to contain trans fats.

Unsaturated fats.

These are usually liquid at room temperature, and often come from vegetable sources. We break them down into two kinds:

Mono-unsaturated fats,

which help reduce cholesterol levels if used in place of ‘bad’ fats. Olive oil, rapeseed oil, peanut oil, avocado and nuts are all sources or mono-unsaturated fats.

Polyunsaturated fats,

in particular Omega 3 and Omega 6. These fats can’t be made by your body, but play an important part in growth and development. Sunflower oil, corn oil, soya oil and spreads made from them are all sources of Omega 3. Omega 6 can be found in oily fish, flaxseed (linseed) oil, soya oil, walnuts and green leafy vegetables.

What’s the right amount of fat?

Fats should make up no more than 35% of the energy or calories in your diet, according to Government guidelines. Of that amount, saturated fats (things like chocolate and cakes), should provide less than 11% of your total energy intake.

With ‘traffic-light’ labelling appearing on foods today, it’s much easier to keep an eye on the kinds of fat we’re consuming – and how much of that is saturated. The secret to a low-fat diet is to switch foods with a ‘bad’ fat for those that are just as tasty, but made with polyunsaturates or mono-unsaturated fats.

Can you reduce bad fats, easily?

There are some simple ways to reduce ‘bad’ fats in your diet and improve your health. You may find that thinking about your fat intake means you discover new foods that are even tastier than chips, cakes or biscuits. If you have health concerns we recommend a check-up with your GP before undertaking any changes to your normal diet or exercise plan.

  • Try grilling, poaching, steaming or baking instead of frying food.
  • Buy lean cuts of meat and reduced-fat mince – it’s often the same price or cheaper.
  • Swap whole milk for semi-skimmed or skimmed milk.
  • Swap butter for a ‘healthy spread’ that’s higher in polyunsaturated or mono-unsaturated fats.
  • Choose low-fat dairy products. The same flavour, but better for you.
  • Avoid – or cut down – on cakes, biscuits and pastries. Instead, try fresh fruit, nuts, raw vegetables or cereal-based products.

Read more about Cholesterol.

Fast facts

  • Just 1g of fat provides nine calories. It’s recommended that women should eat no more than 70g of fat a day, and for men it’s about 95g.
  • You can improve your diet by poaching, steaming or grilling food instead of frying it in fat or oils. It’s the same flavour, but better for you.

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