“Our food is made up of nutrients. These are substances which are needed for our bodies to function. Our macro (or big) nutrients include protein, carbohydrates and fat. The micro (or small nutrients) are our vitamins and minerals. Dietary fats are found in both animal and plant foods. They are traditionally classified as saturated, unsaturated (mono and poly) and trans fats. They provide more energy (calories) per gram than protein or carbohydrates.
Essential Fatty Acids
The human body is actually able to produce some types of fats, but we rely on foods for what are known as essential fatty acids; meaning the body cannot make them itself. Essential fatty acids fit under the polyunsaturated fat category.
Are there Good fats and Bad fats?
Labelling fats as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ can be overly simplistic. However, there are certainly some fats which are deemed healthier than others. “Good fats” have benefits in helping with our immune response, levels of inflammation and blood pressure, while other fats can have the opposite effect, raising our levels of cholesterol and inflammation. This in turn increases our risk of heart disease if consumed regularly.
This means we should choose foods that provide the healthier fats while reducing other foods which have the less healthy fats .
Which Fats and Foods should I try to limit?
Saturated fat and trans fat should be on the ‘limit’ list.
Saturated fats occur naturally in a wide variety of foods. They are found in higher quantities in animal products such as meat and dairy as well as some oils (e.g. palm and coconut). Food sources include butter, cheese, cream, fatty meats, sausages, chocolate, cakes and biscuits. Sometimes you can readily see this type of fat; for example on the outside of a pork chop or after you have roasted some meat. Other times these fats are hidden - for example in cakes and biscuits.
If too much saturated fat is consumed regularly it can build up over time along the walls of our arteries resulting in heart attacks and strokes.
Trans fats occur naturally in trace amounts in some foods. However, it is the ‘man-made’ trans fats we need to be concerned about. These are produced during some types of food processing and can be found in processed or fried foods such as frozen pizza, microwave popcorn, french fries, doughnuts and commercially baked goods including cakes, cookies and pies.
Which Fats are better to eat?
Unsaturated fats are better to eat than saturated fats. They are classified into two types - monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
The polyunsaturated fats include what are known as the ‘Omegas’. These fats (omega-3 and omega-6) are an essential part of a healthy diet and have numerous health benefits, including improved heart and liver function, weight reduction, and inflammation. They have even shown positive effects on mental health and well-being. These fatty acids are the most important to be squeezed into our day.
Foods that are rich sources of mono and polyunsaturated fats include oily fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel, herring and trout), nuts ( e.g. pistachio, almonds, hazelnuts, macadamia, cashew, pecan and peanut), seeds (e.g. sunflower), avocados and oils such as olive oil and canola.
Where saturated fats tend to stick to the walls of our blood vessels, unsaturated fats have the opposite effect. If we swap out our harmful fats for healthy fats, over time the healthy fats we consume will act to lower our blood cholesterol levels and improve our heart health.
How to add better fats into our diet
Healthy eating is all about making small tweaks and swaps to the foods we already consume on a regular basis. Some examples include swapping out bacon and fatty meats for fish (tuna, salmon), opting for trim milk over full fat wherever possible, dressing salads with olive oil-based dressings rather than mayonnaise and sauces, and using healthy oils and milk when baking and cooking, instead of butter and creams.
Reading the Food Labels
Most governments require food manufacturers to list the amount of fat including saturated fat on the nutrition information panel. Some now list trans fats. A ‘low fat’ food typically has less than 5g per 100g of total fat
To discover a wide variety of low-fat and healthy fat options, visit www.myWellabee.com.
References and Resources
NHS – Fat: The Facts
World Health Organisation – Fat Intake
New Zealand Nutrition Foundation – Fat
Health Navigator New Zealand – Fats & Oils
The Heart Foundation – Getting the Right Balance of Fats