Did you know that we need to have some fat in our diet to maintain our health?
Our bodies need some fats to fulfil all sorts of physical and metabolic functions, so we should not aim for a no-fat diet or a very low body fat percentage, either of which could be a detriment to our health.
Although the media often tells us that we would be better off with a low-fat diet, we are actually better of when we choose to eat ‘healthy fats’ rather than ‘unhealthy fats’.
Monounsaturated fats: the healthiest fats
These fats are found in all nuts and seeds, avocados, olives and olive oil, rapeseed/canola oil. Eat these foods to your heart’s content.
Mediterranean diets, the traditional form of eating in Italy, Greece, and Spain, use olive oil in most of their cooking and salad dressing and these people have some of the lowest rates of heart disease in the world.
Polyunsaturated fats: think fish
To maintain our health we need polyunsaturated fats that contain omega 3 essential fatty acids. To obtain these fats we can eat oily fish, including salmon, mackerel, sardines, pilchards (tinned fish is cheap and just as healthy). Fresh tuna is also beneficial (though not tinned tuna). Cooking with or walnut oil or flaxseed/linseed oil will also contribute omega 3 fatty acids to your diet – useful to know if you are vegetarian or vegan. Eat oily fish (baked or grilled) once a week for good health.
Polyunsaturated fats are also found in other oils like sunflower, corn and soya oils but these oils are not essential for good health. Indeed, having too much polyunsaturated fat in the diet could contribute to health problems like arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. Never re-use polyunsaturated fats for frying as they could be converted to trans-fats (see below).
Saturated fats and trans-fats: the unhealthiest fats
Saturated fats are usually fats that come from animal products, like meat and dairy foods (cheese, butter, lard, cream, ghee). Saturated fats are also found in coconut oil, coconut cream and palm oil, which is often used in snack foods such as pastries, pies, cakes and biscuits).
Trans-fats or hydrogenated fats are processed polyunsaturated vegetable oils that have been heat-treated to make them thick and this process turns them into a substance that is not beneficial for our health. These fats re often found in processed foods like pastries, cakes, biscuits, doughnuts and fast food
Tips for reducing the amount of fat in your diet.
All fats are high-energy foods (contain lots of calories) so reducing the amount of all fats we eat can help us to maintain our weight and our health
- Use small amounts of olive or rapeseed oil for cooking and salads if you are watching your weight
- Try spreading avocado or nut butters on your toast or bread (instead of butter or spread)
- Choose smaller portions of dairy foods – including milk, yoghurt, fromage frais and cheese
- Choose leaner cuts of meats, such as beef, chicken and turkey, and cut off any visible fat
- Avoid fried foods – use healthier cooking methods (grill, bake, roast, steam or poach your food)
- Eat fewer crisps, chips, takeaways, pastries and chocolate
Recent research has questioned whether reducing fat in the diet is really necessary. While the role of fat in the diet may be unclear, it is obvious that our eating habits and lifestyles have changed in the last few decades, including more snacking and a more sedentary lifestyle.
Fat may or may not be a contributor to our looming health crisis, but it is possible that by choosing healthier fats, there will be associated reductions in the amount of calories and sugar we are eating (fewer snack foods also means a lower-sugar and lower-calorie diet). Overall, healthy fats, less sugar and fewer calories are likely to be beneficial to your health.
Enjoy Good Food for Good Health