Facts about fat

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Fats are considered to be a culprit in most of our diets as these may lead to obesity, heart disease and stroke. But fats do have their benefits and are necessary in our diet, playing a very important role in ensuring balanced, healthy eating.

All fats are not culprits, depending on the type and amount of fat you use. They are mainly grouped as follows:

Saturated fats

These are considered to be bad fats, linked to heart disease and increased cholesterol in the body. Saturated fats are those that are solid at room temperature. The main sources are:

  • Dairy foods such as butter, cream, regular-fat milk and cheese
  • Meat such as fatty cuts of beef, pork and lamb, processed meats like salami and chicken (especially chicken skin)
  • Plant fats such as coconut milk, coconut cream, coconut oil and palm oil.
  • Fats present in bakery foods, pastries and doughnuts.

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Tran fats

Trans fatty acids are rare in nature. They are only created in the rumen of cows and sheep, and are naturally found in small amounts in milk, cheese, beef and lamb. Trans fats raise LDL (bad cholesterol) levels and increase the risk of heart disease. These also tend to lower HDL (good) cholesterol, so are potentially even more damaging. We should be more careful of trans fats produced during manufacturing rather than the ones naturally present. Trans fatty acids are also created during the manufacture of some foods such as some table margarines, pies, pastries, cakes and biscuits.

Fortunately, Australian manufacturers are able to remove most of these trans fats during the manufacturing process.

Unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fats are an important part of a healthy diet. These fats help reduce the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels when they replace saturated fats in the diet. These can be further divided as:

  • Monounsaturated fats

Replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated fats has a cholesterol lowering effect. These can be found in foods like avocados, almonds, cashews, macadamias, hazelnuts and cooking oils or margarine spreads made from oils such as canola and olive oils.

  • Polyunsaturated fats

Polyunsaturated fats can be divided into two groups known as omega-3 fats and omega-6 fats. These two types of fats have slightly different health benefits.

Omega-3 fats have been shown to be protective against heart disease and they help decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Omega-3 fats are found in oily fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines and trout. Also eggs and meats such as lean beef and chicken and finally, plant sources including linseed/flaxseed, walnuts and soybeans. Fish and other animal sources contain different types of omega-3 fats than plant sources. The omega-3 fats that come from animal sources are more bioavailable, which means to get the same effect from plant-based sources, you would need to eat a lot more. Animal sources have also been shown to have more benefits for cardiovascular health than plant sources of omega-3.

The Heart Foundation recommends that adults should have 500mg of omega-3 (marine source) every day to reduce their risk of heart disease. This can be achieved by consuming 2-3 serves of 150g of oily fish a week.

Omega-6 fats have been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease when they are consumed in place of saturated and trans fats. Omega-6 fats sources include margarine spreads, sunflower, soybean, sesame oils, corn, nuts such as walnuts, pecans, Brazil and pine nuts, and sunflower seeds.

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Health benefits of fats

  • Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble vitamins which rely on fat for storage and transportation throughout the body.
  • Like carbohydrates and proteins, fats also supply energy to your body. This not only supports physical activity but also keeps your body’s internal processes working at their optimal level.
  • Fat is an important part of our cell membranes and provides essential fatty acids.

Reduce unhealthy fats; add healthy fats

  • Choose lean cuts of meat with very little fat on the topside, round, rump, fillet, veal, pork or trim off all fat from the meat before mincing.
  • Cut the skin off chicken before cooking, and keep the portions small.
  • Replace whole fat dairy products with low fat varieties such as skim or light milk, low fat yoghurts, cottage cheese or light cheese.
  • Limit the use of saturated fat such as butter, lard, ghee and cream.
  • Use polyunsaturated spreads or margarine and mayonnaise in place of butter in recipes, and reduce the amount used.
  • Cut down on commercially prepared and baked goods such as cakes, biscuits, chocolates, ice-cream, doughnuts and cream filled biscuits.
  • Cut down on rissoles, sausages, bacon and processed meats such as salami, Devon and nuggets.
  • Add a handful of nuts to your cereal in the morning or as a snack.
  • Spread avocado instead of butter on your sandwich.

Always remember that all fats give you the same amount of calories, i.e. 9 calories per gram, even the good ones, so you do need fats, but in moderation. Consume less than 10% of your daily calories from saturated fats, and replace them with unsaturated fats whenever possible. Ensure that you eliminate trans fats from your diet for a healthy, happy, fat-moderated lifestyle.

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