Helping you to understand the role of fat in a healthy, balanced diet.
The right types of fat in small amounts are essential for our health. Your body uses it to absorb vitamins, move nutrients around and build cells. However, because it tastes good, it’s easy to eat too much. It’s really easy for your body to store fat too, and some fats are just not good for us.
There are different types of fats and oils, each one affecting your body in different ways, and what type you eat is as important as how much you eat. There are two kinds of fat in the foods we eat – saturated and unsaturated fat.
Saturated fats don’t do much to keep your body healthy and will clog up your arteries, increasing the risk of heart disease. Fats with a lot of saturated fat in them are hard at room temperature and mostly come from animal products including lard, cheese and meat fat. Processed foods made from these fats include biscuits, cakes and pastry. Palm and coconut oil are also highly saturated and are often used in margarine, biscuits and bakery products.
We currently eat about 20 per cent more saturated fat than is recommended by health professionals. Use the information on product labels to keep a check on what you are eating. Some food labels use red, amber and green colour coding which makes it easier to choose food that is lower in total fat, saturated fat, and sugar and salt. Choose more ’greens’ and ’ambers’ and fewer 'reds'. Labels also have the percentage of the “reference intake” for the main nutrients. For saturates (saturated fat) this is 20g for adults – it’s not a target to be achieved but an amount that shouldn’t be exceeded. More than 25% of the reference intake per 100g or 30% per serving is high.
Unsaturated fats – mono-unsaturates and polyunsaturates - can actually help to lower blood cholesterol and provide the essential fatty acids our body needs. They are found largely in plant sources like olive and rapeseed oils - including spreads made from these ingredients – as well in avocados, nuts, seeds and oily fish such as salmon and sardines, mackerel and herrings.
There is a range of easy ways to enjoy fat in moderation without having to remove it completely from your diet: -
* Choose lower fat lean meats; trim any excess fat and remove the skin from poultry
* Use semi-skimmed, 1% Fat or skimmed milk rather than whole or condensed milk
* Swap cheesy or creamy sauces for vegetable sauces such as tomato and herb
* Choose strongly flavoured cheese varieties to make a little go a long way; a matchbox-sized piece of cheese (30g) is the maximum recommended portion
* Look out for reduced fat or “Lighter” products
* Snack on a handful of nuts rather than chocolate
* Have oily fish like salmon or mackerel once a week
* Add mashed avocado to your sandwiches instead of butter or mayonnaise
* Use a vegetable oil low in saturates when cooking rather than butter.
* Swap some dairy products for dairy free ones.
See all Health articles