The mere mention nowadays of the word “fats” in a food context seems to conjure up images of a substance that should be avoided in food at all cost. However, this is not the case, whilst certain fats should only be consumed in very minimal amounts, there are essential fats too that we need in our diet because they help the body to absorb and transport certain nutrients and vitamins (e.g. A and D), and provide essential fatty acids that the body cannot make itself.
Fat is also used to maintain cell integrity and is required in the body for insulation. Fat provides the most energy per gram (9 kcals) and it is the consumption of fats in moderation that should be the focus of a healthy diet otherwise any excess is stored in the body, potentially leading to health problems such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary heart disease.
The particular kind of fat that should be consumed in very minimal amounts is that of saturated fat. This kind of fat can raise our blood cholesterol levels which can increase the risk of a heart attack. It’s important to cut down on fat and choose food options that contain unsaturated fat.
The easiest way to tell the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats is to look at them. Saturated animal fats, such as lard and butter are usually solid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated), such as sunflower oil and olive oil, are usually liquid at room temperate.
We don’t need to cut down or eliminate every type of fat. Some fats are ones that some people should be eating more of. Unsaturated fats such as omega-3 found especially in oil fish, can help lower blood cholesterol.
It is recommended that an average man should eat no more than 30g of saturated fat per day, whilst an average woman should consume no more than 20g.
Foods containing high levels of saturated fat include:-
Fatty cuts of meat
Meat products including sausages and pies
Butter, ghee and lard
Cheese, particularly hard cheese
Chocolate confectionery, biscuits, cakes and pastries
Foods containing unsaturated fats include:-
Oily fish. E.g. salmon, mackerel sardines
Nuts and seeds
Sunflower and olive oils
Some tips to help cut down on fat, and especially eating the wrong kind of fat include:-
- Use leaner cuts of meat and use the fats of meat for cooking rather than adding extra fat.
- Choose lower fat toppings such as cheese or switch to more vegetables.
- Switch to skimmed milk and lower fat creams, yogurts and dairy spreads.
- Oven cook thicker chips with a little sunflower oil rather than deep- frying.
- Remove skin from chicken and trim fats from meats before cooking.
- Reduce the use of butter.
- Grill foods instead of frying in oil.
- With pasta / curry dishes choose a tomato based sauce instead of a cream one.
- Swap normal coffee drinks for “skinny” ones or better still eliminate the milk altogether.
- Eat fruit or a palmful of nuts (e.g. almonds) for a snack instead of cakes, biscuits or sweets.
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