'Eat Right' Challenge, Fat - Day 15

Emma White - Nutritionist

Fat is one of the three essential macronutrients, and just like carbs and protein, some foods provide healthier sources than others. Here we look at why including fat in your diet is important and why the type you choose matters.

Why do we need fat – what good does it do in the body?

Despite having a bad reputation, fat is an essential nutrient in our diets. It is a rich source of energy, and it's the most energy-dense nutrient at 9kcal/gram, compared to 4kcal/gram for carbs and protein. It provides us with, and helps us absorb, the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and gives us essential fatty acids. These are vital fats we can't make in our body and have to get from our diet.

What are the bad effects of fat in our body?

There are different types of fat – the chemical structure and type determine the effect it has on our bodies. Saturated fats have been linked to increased blood cholesterol and risk of developing heart disease and stroke. This type of fat causes fatty deposits to build up inside our arteries, which over time, can restrict the blood flow causing high blood pressure. If small fragments of the fatty deposits become dislodged, they can be carried in the bloodstream around the body with the potential to cause a blockage in the heart (heart attack) or brain (stroke). Saturated fat is the predominant fat in foods such as fatty cuts of meat, cheese, coconut milk, fried foods, cakes and biscuits.

The other problem with fat is that we tend to eat too much of it! Fat carries flavour in foods meaning it tastes good, a mix of fat and sugar in foods is an exceptionally moreish combination – so it's no wonder we overindulge. Excess calories leads to weight gain, which can then increase the risk of conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

But it's not all bad news when it comes to fat! Unsaturated fats are super important in helping to maintain healthier blood cholesterol levels – which is why you should include these in your diet and choose them over foods containing saturated fat.

How much fat do we need in our diet?

The government guidance on fat is that we should be aiming to have less than 35% of our total calories from fat, and of that less than 11% from saturated fats. These are the targets the Well Balanced goal sets you in the app (you are put on this when you sign up).

When we are trying to lose weight, fat is an excellent nutrient to cut back on as it is the most energy-dense (9 kcals/gram). So reducing fat has twice the calorie saving as reducing protein or carbs (4 kcals/gram). However, it's essential to include some fat in your diet, so think about portions sizes and aim to switch to more unsaturated fats where you can.

If you feel you want to reduce the amount of fat in your diet, Nutracheck does have a Lower Fat goal. Our nutritionists have set this to reduce your fat intake from 35% to 25% of total calories – which is still a healthy level.

Nutritionist Emma White (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.

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