Fat and the Facts

November 12, 2012

Fat and the Facts

Let us start with the facts. I’m sure that everyone knows them. If you eat too much fat in your diet then you increase your risk of heart disease, becoming obese, having high blood pressure and developing type 2 diabetes. Some fats are better than others, unsaturated is better than saturated. Too much saturated fat can cause our cholesterol levels to increase, this raises the risk of heart disease. Fat is very high in calories, adding to the risk of weight gain

But fat has been getting a bad press in recent years, we need fat in our body to function because it is the substance that helps the body absorb some nutrients and fat is also a source of energy and ensures that the body gets the fatty acids it needs. So the problem isn’t the fat, it’s the amount of fat that we ingest everyday. This is why we must cut down on our fat intake. And because we all generally eat much more saturated fat then that’s the easiest one to limit.

How to Eat less fat

There are many ways to cut back on your fat. Each tip or suggestion cuts a little more from your diet but it all adds up to a healthy decrease in fat eaten everyday.Start with reading more labels about nutritional values and cut down on the higher fat types. High fat foods have more than 20g of fat per 100g and these should be avoided, low fat foods have less than 3g of fat per 100g, eat more of these as part of a balanced diet.

Always compare nutrition labels for the same food but having different manufacturers, some are lower than others. Ensure that you are comparing like for like. Either compare weight to weight or serving to serving, don’t mix them up. If you are a meat eater then try to cut down and get leaner cuts of meat. Chicken breast without the skin is a good choice. Check on the nutrition labels on meat packaging. Any method of cooking without oil is good, baking, poaching, grilling or boiling are fine but try to avoid the frying pan or roasting. That way no added fat is introduced. If that is just too difficult for you then do not pour oil straight from the bottle into the pan. Measure it out in tablespoons, you will use less this way. Cut all the fat from the meat before cooking, and get rid of any skin too.

When shopping always choose things like 1% fat milk or semi skimmed, get lower fat cheese or cottage cheese which really is low fat. If you are making a curry or stew then substitute some of the meat with a few pulses and a few more vegetables. Skimming the fat from the top of the stew can also cut down fat intake. And if you are the family sandwich maker then don’t use butter or spreads, just choose fillings that have a little moisture. If that is too big a change then use a little reduced fat spread, if it spreads straight from the fridge then it can go on thinner.

Fat – What types?

The common types of fat in food that everyone is talking about are: saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fat is the easiest one to cut down on simply because that’s the one we eat the most off. And cutting down saturated fat is also more beneficial to us. Both fats are equal in calories but whenever we eat fat we should try to make it unsaturated.

Saturated fat

Thirty grams of saturated fat is the recommended maximum that men in should eat in one day. Women are allowed 20 grams. This is according to the UK government.Research has discovered that the majority ofpeople in the UK eat too much saturated fat; the average being 20% more than the recommended maximum.

The reason for the concern is that increased levels of saturated fat can increase the risk of heart disease. This happens because saturated fat causes the level of cholesterol to build up in your blood over time. This is why saturated fat is targeted, even though it’s important to reduce the amount of any fat we eat.

Foods high in saturated fat are very common in today’s diet and include fatty cuts of meat, processed meats and other meat products, such as sausages and pies. Most dairy produce is high in saturated fat too, cream, whole milk, butter and cheese in their full fat versions are very high. Lard and ghee should also be avoided. Most chocolates, savoury snacks, biscuits and cakes are loaded with saturated fats.

Unsaturated fat

Lowering your blood cholesterol level can be achieved by limiting the fat in your diet. It has also been discovered that taking unsaturated fat instead of saturated fat can help too. Oily fish such as mackerel, sardines and tune are good sources of unsaturated fat, as is avocado, sunflower and olive oils and nuts and seeds.

Trans fats

Meat and dairy products have very low levels of trans fats present normally. But many manufacturers now produce foods like processed spreads that contain hydrogenated vegetable oil which contains trans fat. Hydrogenated vegetable oils are quite hard to come by in the UK but many foods are being made with it because it can enhance the shelf life of the product. If it is present then it must be included in the ingredients list.

Saturated fats and trans fats are similar because both can raise cholesterol levels in the blood. In the UK the recommended intake per day of trans fats is less than 2% of the calories in our diet, that’s less than about 5g a day. The good news is that most people in the UK don’t eat a lot of trans fats, the average person eats about half the recommended maximum. Because we eat much more saturated fats than trans fats to cut back effectively means to cut back on saturated fats. Hence the spotlight on reducing saturated fat in your diet.

Nutrition labels

Nutrition labels contain a lot of information, some people complain of being swamped with data. However by reading and understanding nutrition labels, and making informed decisions you can cut down on your fat intake. The labels can be anywhere on the packaging but are normally on the back. Amongst other things it states how much fat and saturated fat is contained in 100g of the food, per portion and by weight.

Some labels give recommended intakes and daily guidelines and others just use a traffic light system. Red for a high value, do not eat regularly, green for good and amber in the middle. The traffic light system is just a quick indication to help make healthier choices, the detailed information will be elsewhere on the packaging.

The UK government states that high fat is more than 20g per 100g and low fat is less than 3g per 100g. These fats are further broken down into their types. Saturated fat or ‘sat fat’ is defined as high if it has more than 5g per 100g and low if it has less then 1.5g per 100g.

“Lower fat” – good or not?

We’ve all seen our favourite foods with a lower fat version and thought this is the healthy option. Well the answer to that is not quite. Yes, it will certainly be healthier, less fat is always an improvement. However lower fat need not mean low fat. The term ‘lower fat’ only indicates that it is 30% or more, lower in fat than the original food. But if the original is exceptionally high in fat then the lower fat version can still be much higher in fat than other options, and can still be classed as a high fat food.

Another issue with the foods described as “lower fat” or “reduced fat” is that the manufacturers may have had to add more sugar to allow for less fat to be used when the food is being made. If the fat is substituted with sugar, then the food may have the same or increased calorie content.

As always it comes down to you. It’s you who must read the nutrition labels to compare not only fat, but also sugar, salt and calories to ensure that the foodstuff fits into a healthy diet.

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