Healthier fats vs unhealthy fats
How much fat do we need?
A small amount of fat is an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet. Fat is a source of essential fatty acids, which the body cannot make itself. Fat also helps to absorb some vitamins for the body. However, any fat which is not used by the body will be stored as fat in the body.
We only need a small amount of fat which is naturally found in foods, such as nuts, seeds, whole grains, fish, meat and dairy foods, therefore we do not need to add fat to our diet if we already consume these foods.
What are unhealthy and healthier fats?
There are two main types of fat found in food, they are referred to:
- Saturated fats
- Unsaturated fats – often known as monounsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated (PUFA) fats, omega-3’s and omega-6 fats
Most fats and oils contain both saturated and unsaturated fats in different proportions.
The aim is to limit foods that contain a higher proportion of saturated fats, these fats are less healthy and most people in the UK eat too much of these fats. Too much saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood.
If you do add fat to foods, choose unsaturated fats.
“Fats are rich in energy (calories), the aim is to use fats sparingly or eat high fat foods occasionally. If you add fat / oil to your foods, choose healthier fats / oils”
Where are saturated fats found?
It is impossible to avoid saturated fats completely as these naturally occur in many foods. We have listed below ways to reduce your intake of these fats.
- Choose lower fat varieties of dairy foods, such as low-fat milk, low-fat or fat free natural yoghurt and lower fat cheese varieties – as a general rule, the harder and often, more yellow in colour, the higher the fat content
- If you use margarine, choose low fat/light varieties and just use a scraping on bread
- Avoid fatty meats such as fatty cuts, bacon and salami
- Remove the skin from poultry can really help too, as most saturated fats are from animal sources
- There are many processed foods which tend to be high in saturated fats, these include: Sausages, pies, pastries, biscuits, cakes and chocolate confectionaries
- Avoid adding fats that are high in saturate fat, these include butter, ghee, coconut oil/cream and palm oil
Where are unsaturated fats found?
These are healthier fats, but remember, the aim is to reduce the total amount of fat in the diet. Unsaturated fats tend to be higher in fish and more plant-based foods. We have listed below foods which have a higher proportion of unsaturated fats.
- Olive, rapeseed oils, almonds, walnuts and avocados. These are higher in MUFA’s tend to be rich in the Mediterranean diet which is heart friendly
- Most nuts, particularly walnuts, seeds, particularly sunflower, sunflower, corn and soya oils. These are higher in PUFA’s
- Omega-3 is a type of PUFA which appears to benefit the heart, aim for at least two portions of fish a week, preferably those that are from sustainable sources and of which at least one portion which is oily (high in omega-3), for example, salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines and fresh tuna (tinned is not oily). If you do not eat fish, green leafy vegetables and especially walnuts and flaxseed (including their oils) are alternative sources
- Omega-6 fats are another type of PUFA are found in vegetable oils, such as, rapeseed, corn and sunflower oil
Low fat cooking methods
To reduce the amount of added fats in diet from cooking, try low fat or fat free ways to cook foods. Remember a lot of foods naturally contain fat, so ask yourself if you really need to add more fat to your meals. Fat is very high in energy (calories) and too much could have a negative impact on your waistline:
- Boil with minimal water
- Or if you need to use oil, measure the amount, for example one teaspoon in cooking rather than pouring it