When it comes to fats, there’s the good, the bad and the ugly. Some fats protect the health of our brain and heart, while others cause health problems. It’s important to know what’s what. So, let’s chat fats.
Dietary fats are one of the major food groups, alongside carbohydrates and proteins. A gram of fat contains around nine calories, while a gram of protein or carbohydrate has around four calories. Knowing this, it’s easy to see why fats are linked to weight gain. Calories quickly add up. Yet, not all fats are the same.
The good: unsaturated fats
Found in oils from fish and plants, we have monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, the difference being their molecular structure.
Diets rich in monounsaturated fats – found in olive oil, rapeseed oil, avocados, almonds, brazil nuts and peanuts – maintain levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol while reducing levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol in your blood. This lowers your risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Our bodies absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, D and E with the help of unsaturated fats. They also provide nutrients that develop and maintain our cells.
Polyunsaturated fats and Omega-3 and 6 essential fatty acids are vital for the health of our skin and brain. Our brains are almost 60% fat, so it’s not surprising fatty acids are crucial molecules in determining how our brain functions. Omega-3 helps to lower blood pressure, reduce triglycerides and decrease our likelihood of heart attack or stroke. Research also shows that Omega-3 may help to protect against memory loss and dementia as well as ease arthritis and joint pain. Our bodies can’t produce Omega fats, so we need to get them from our diet. You can find Omega-3 in oily fish such as salmon and mackerel and omega-6 in vegetable oils such as sunflower oil, rapeseed oil as well as sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds.
The bad: saturated fats
Saturated fats are the ones to keep an eye on and eat in moderation. This is because they raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol – high levels are linked to heart and circulatory diseases. Saturated fats are found in red meat, butter & lard, cream, biscuits, cakes, pastries and palm oil. The NHS recommends eating less than 30g of saturated fats a day for men and 20g for women.
The ugly: trans fats
Considered by many to be the most unhealthy of all, trans fats are highly processed. They’re artificially created fats used in the manufacture of foods to increase their shelf life. Most often found in fast food, cakes, biscuits and other packaged food. If we can avoid trans fats and replace them with unsaturated fats, our bodies will thank us.
Get your fats right
By making a few changes, you can start to nourish your body with good fats. It’s best to aim to consume small amounts of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, minimise saturated fats and avoid trans fats.
To get your quota of Omega-3, aim to eat at least two portions of fish per week, one of which should be oily such as salmon or sardines
- Drizzle salads with extra virgin olive oil
- Add nuts/seeds to your morning porridge or lunchtime salad
- Add avocado to sandwiches, salads or your morning smoothie
- Reduce consumption of processed food
- Check food labels for fat and energy content