Fats – The Forbidden Food?

What are fats?

Fat is a macronutrient that provides the body with energy and helps it to absorb vitamins. There are three types of fats known as:

  • saturated fats
  • unsaturated fat
  • trans fats.

Examples of saturated fats would be butter, bacon, and cheese.

Unsaturated fats are in foods such as avocado, olive oil and seeds. Some foods containing trans fats are margarine, fried foods, and cakes.

There are also two essential fatty acids that the body requires, as they cannot be made by the body but must be taken in through our diet, called omega-3 and omega-6. They are important as they have roles in the body such as controlling blood clotting, building cell membranes and growth. Omega-6 can be found in vegetable oils and omega-3 can be found in oily fish.

Fats are often seen as being bad for us, but they are an essential part of our diet, we just have to eat the right types. 

Why are fats important for our body?

Fat is an important part of our diet as it is used as an energy store, helps the body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, helps brain function and is a structural component of our cells. 

Cholesterol is a fatty substance made in the liver and has a number of functions in the body, like making hormones and cell walls. It is found in the blood in two forms known as low-density lipoproteins and high-density lipoproteins. Low-density lipoproteins are bad for us in large amounts and can increase our risk of heart attacks, strokes, and heart disease. Saturated and trans fats can increase the levels of low-density lipoproteins in our blood. High-density lipoproteins are often described as “good” cholesterols as they help to dispose of cholesterol when levels are too high. Unsaturated fats contain this type of cholesterol.

How can I eat the right type of fat?

The NHS Eatwell Guide [1] suggests that men should aim to eat less than 30g of saturated fats per day and women should aim to eat less than 20g of saturated fats per day. Additionally, adults should eat less than 5g of trans fats a day.

In terms of unsaturated fats, it is advised that we swap saturated fats in our diets for unsaturated fats, to help reduce cholesterol levels. 

To increase the amount of omega-3 in our diet, it is recommended that we should eat at least 2 portions of fish every week, one of those being an oily fish. If you are vegetarian or vegan there are other sources of omega-3 that you can consume, such as chia seeds, walnuts, kidney beans and seaweed. 

Top Tips for eating healthy fats

  1. Swap saturated fats for unsaturated fats
  2. Cook with olive oil for a source of high-density lipoproteins
  3. Snack on nuts and seeds
  4. Eat more fish for a source of omega-3
  5. Try chia seeds or flaxseeds for a vegetarian-friendly omega-3 source

[1] https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/different-fats-nutrition/

Article written by Libby Grimshaw (Nutrition Intern) and reviewed by Caroline Hill Freelance Dietitian

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