To stay healthy we need some fat in our diets. What is important is the kind of fat we are eating.
There are two main types of fat:
1. saturated fat – having too much can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which increases the chance of developing heart disease
2. unsaturated fat – having unsaturated fat instead of saturated fat lowers blood cholesterol
Cut down on foods that are high in saturated fat and have foods that are rich in unsaturated fat instead, such as vegetable oils (including sunflower, rapeseed and olive oil), oily fish, avocados, nuts and seeds.
Foods high in saturated fat:
meat pies, sausages, meat with visible white fat
butter and lard
cakes and biscuits
cream, soured cream and crème fraîche
coconut oil, coconut cream or palm oil
For a healthy choice, use just a small amount of vegetable oil or a reduced-fat spread instead of butter, lard or ghee. And when you are having meat, choose lean cuts and cut off any visible fat.
How do I know if a food is high in fat?
Use the following as a guide to work out if a food is high or low in fat.
Total fat – what’s high and what’s low?
High is more than 20g fat per 100g
Low is 3g fat or less per 100g
Saturated fat – what’s high and what’s low?
High is more than 5g saturates per 100g
Low is 1.5g saturates or less per 100g
What about trans fats?
Trans fats are a particularly harmful type of fat that have a similar effect on blood cholesterol as saturated fats – they raise the LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower HDL (good) cholesterol in the blood and have been linked to increased risk of diabetes.
Trans fats can be formed when liquid vegetable oils are turned into solid fats through the process of hydrogenation. Foods containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil are likely to contain trans fats, so look for these terms in ingredients list on food labels and avoid as much as possible.
Currently trans fats don’t need to be labelled separately under European law, however, this may change in the near future.
Where are trans fats found?
The following foods are the predominant source of trans fats in the UK diet:
biscuits and cakes
These sorts of food are usually high in saturated fat, sugar and salt so if you are trying to eat a healthy diet, you should try to keep these to a minimum.
Trans fats are also found naturally at very low levels in dairy products, beef and lamb.
Unsaturated fats can be a healthy choice. These types of fats can actually reduce cholesterol levels and provide us with the essential fatty acids that the body needs. They include the unsaturated fats found in oily fish, which may help prevent heart disease.
The following are all high in unsaturated fat:
nuts and seeds
sunflower, rapeseed and olive oil and spreads
Omega 3 fatty acids
Oily fish is the best source of long chain omega 3 fatty acids. These fatty acids have been shown to help protect against coronary heart disease.
Some omega 3 fatty acids are found in certain vegetable oils, such as linseed, flaxseed, walnut and rapeseed, but these aren’t the same type of fatty acids as those found in fish. Recent evidence suggests that the type of fatty acids found in vegetable sources may not have the same benefits as those in fish.
It is currently recommended that we aim to eat two portions of fish per week, at least one of which should be oily.
Due to the risk of contaminants in oily fish, men, boys and older women can eat up to four portions of oily fish per week, girls and women of child-bearing age should eat no more than two portions of oily fish per week.
If you want to cut down on fat, you can compare the labels of different food products and choose those with less fat and less saturated fat.
Here are some practical suggestions to help you cut down on fat, especially saturated fat:
Choose lean cuts of meat and trim off any visible fat.
Grill, bake, poach or steam rather than frying and roasting so you don’t need to add any extra fat.
If you do choose something high in fat such as a meat pie, pick something low fat to go with it to make the meal lower in fat – for example you could have a baked potato instead of chips.
When you’re choosing a ready meal or buying another food product, compare the labels so you can pick those with less total fat or less saturated fat.
Put some extra vegetables, beans or lentils in your casseroles and stews and a bit less meat.
Measure oil for cooking with tablespoons rather than pouring it straight from a container.
Have pies with only one crust rather than two – either a lid or a base – because pastry is very high in fat.
When you’re making sandwiches, try not using any butter or spread if the filling is moist enough. When you do use fat spread, go for a reduced-fat variety and choose one that is soft straight from the fridge so it’s easier to spread thinly.
Choose lower fat versions of dairy foods whenever you can. This means semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, reduced fat yoghurt, lower fat cheeses or very strong tasting cheese so you don’t need to use as much.
Instead of cream or soured cream try using yoghurt or fromage frais in recipes.
If you want to make a healthy choice, try to have more unsaturated fats and less saturated fats, this means you could choose:
oily fish instead of sausages or a meat pie
use unsaturated oils such as olive, sunflower or rapeseed oils instead of butter, lard and ghee in cooking
snack on some unsalted nuts instead of a biscuit
make your mashed potato with olive oil and garlic instead of butter and milk for a change
choose a fat spread that is high in unsaturates