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Understanding Fats

Even though we all need fat in our diet, eating too much makes people more likely to become overweight. Too much saturated fat can also raise cholesterol, which inevitably increases the risk of heart disease. This is why it’s important to cut down on the amount of fat we eat, and choose foods that contain unsaturated fat. Being overweight also raises the risk of other serious health problems, such as type 2 Diabetes and high blood pressure.

But not all fat is bad. Some fat is necessary in our diet as it helps the body absorb certain nutrients. Fat is also an energy source and provides essential fatty acids that the body is unable to make itself.

Types of fat

There are two main types of fat found in food - saturated and unsaturated. Saturated and unsaturated fat do contain the same amount of calories. But as part of a healthy diet, attempt to cut down on foods high in saturated fat, and eat foods that are rich in unsaturated fat.

Saturated fat

Eating a diet high in saturated fat can cause the cholesterol levels in your blood to build up. Raised cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease. This is why, as well as cutting down on the total amount of fat you eat, it’s important to cut down on saturated fat.

Foods high in saturated fat include:
  • Fatty cuts of meat and meat products, including sausages and pies
  • Cream, soured cream and ice cream
  • Butter, ghee and lard
  • Cheese, especially hard cheese
  • Biscuits, cakes and pastries
  • Savoury snacks and chocolate confectionery

Unsaturated fat

Eating unsaturated fat instead of saturated fat can help ‘lower’ blood cholesterol.

Unsaturated fat is found in:
  • Oily fish such as salmon, fresh tuna and mackerel
  • Avocados
  • Sunflower and olive oils
  • Nuts and seeds

Trans fats

Trans fats are located naturally in low levels in some foods including those from animals like meat and dairy products. Trans fats can also raise cholesterol levels in the blood just like saturated fats. This is why it’s recommended trans fats should make up no more than 2% of our calorie intake. Adults should have no more than about 5g a day.

Eat less fat

Try these tips to help you cut the total amount of fat in your diet:
  • buying fresh meat, ask your butcher for lean cuts of meat
  • When shopping, compare food labels so you can pick foods lower in fat.
  • Trim visible fat and take skin off meat before cooking. Use the grill instead of the frying pan
  • Grill, bake, poach or steam food rather than frying or roasting. This way you will not need to add any extra fat.
  • Choose lower-fat dairy products
  • Measure oil with tablespoons rather than pouring it straight from a container
  • Add more vegetables or beans into casseroles, stews and curries, and a bit less meat