Choose healthy fats

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


To do: a healthier diet for the UK population

After nearly a year away from the UK I thought that I would investigate the ‘big picture’ in regard to the health of the general population…you know, just in case I missed anything important while I was away. Here’s a summary:


According to the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) conducted in schools

  • About 1/3 (33.3%)of 10-11 year olds are overweight or obese
  • More than 1/5 (22.2%) of 4-5 year olds are overweight or obese

A report from the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) highlight studies that say 77% of the parents of overweight children do not recognise that their child is overweight. The annual Weigh-In report (from the Academy of Royal medical Colleges) says that in the last year there has been no progress in regard to some important changes that could improve the health of children, including improving the nutritional standards of school lunches in free schools and academies, restricting the advertising of junk food and investment in weight management services.


The lifestyle statistics team at the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) reports:

  • 66.6% of adult men are overweight or obese
  • 57.2% of adult women are overweight or obese
  • Not many people are very active – for example, about 50% went for a 10 minute walk at least once in a 4 week period
  • Over 10,000 people were admitted to hospital due to their obesity in 2012-13

The CMO is concerned that being overweight is becoming ‘normal’, since the majority of the population is overweight or obese. Research shows that many people who are overweight think that their weight ‘is about right’, but the concern is that they are comparing themselves to the severely obese people that feature in many news stories and are not representative of most overweight people.


The latest national diet and nutrition survey (NDNS) has found:

  • Adults eat about 4 portions of fruits and vegetables every day (5-a-day is recommended)
  • Children eat about 3 portions of fruits and vegetables every day
  • Few of us eat the recommended amount of oily fish (140g) once a week
  • We all eat too much sugar – which can be hidden in all kinds of foods
  • We all eat too little fibre
  • We are getting enough vitamins from the food we eat, except for vitamin D (more time in the sun needed). Some children were also a bit low on vitamin A and riboflavin. Supplements, like multivitamins, do not seem to help.
  • Some of us are not getting enough minerals from the food we eat, particularly iron. Supplements do not seem to help.
  • Nearly half of adults had high cholesterol levels, which increases risk of developing cardiovascular disease

The HSCIC reports a significant increase in household expenditure on fats and oils, butter, sugar and preserves, fruit and fruit juice, soft drinks and beverages.

Overall, it seems there is still reason for concern about the weight status of the population and there is plenty to be done to encourage a healthier diet. Good news for nutritionists like me…lots of work to do! I’d better get cracking!!

What do you find interesting about this information?





An introduction to healthy eating in Latin America

When travelling in Central America recently I was asked to provide an overview of good nutrition and healthy eating for a Latin American audience.

Nutrition: An introduction to healthy eating in Latin America

What do you think?