'Eat Right' Challenge, Fat - Day 16

Emma White - Nutritionist

What exactly is fat?

Fat is made up of small molecules called fatty acids, some of which are essential for our health. Different types of fatty acids are classified as saturated, polyunsaturated, or monounsaturated, depending on their chemical structure.

Now for the science!

For the chemistry lovers out there – it's all down to double bonds. Saturated fats don't have any – this means they are usually solid. Unsaturated fats have one double bond (mono) or more than one (poly) – which means they are generally liquids. It's this structural difference in fats that directly influence their health effects.

Unsaturated fats are usually associated with positive health benefits, whereas saturated fats can have a negative impact. There are a couple of reasons why fatty acids affect our health:

  1. Fat is the most energy-dense nutrient at 9 kcal/gram, so it can easily contribute to excess calorie intake.
  2. The type of fatty acid affects cholesterol levels in our blood. Saturated fats can increase 'bad' (LDL) cholesterol, whereas unsaturated fats can help decrease 'bad' cholesterol and increase 'good' (HDL) cholesterol. LDL cholesterol can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and stroke.

So what does it mean for fat in my diet?

Food that has fat in it usually contains a combination of saturated and unsaturated fats. We classify it based on which type of fat it has most of. Butter contains mostly saturated fats, so this is classed as a saturated fat. Olive oil contains a majority of monounsaturated fats, so this is an unsaturated fat. Current dietary advice is to cut down on saturated fats and increase mono and polyunsaturated fats – for health benefits in terms of cardiovascular risk.

What this looks like in your diet means having less solid fats, e.g. butter, lard, meat fats, and swapping for liquid fats, e.g. olive oil, sunflower oil, vegetable oil, oily fish, avocado, nuts and nut oils.

Which foods (with unhealthy fats) should I avoid?

At Nutracheck, we don't say 'never' eat these foods as nothing is banned, but remember it's all about balance. Think carefully about how you can adapt the foods you enjoy to cut back on calories and reduce the saturated fat content. Three ways to do this:

  1. Choose reduced-fat versions
  2. Have a smaller portion
  3. Swap ingredients for healthier ones

The foods listed below contain saturated fats – many are the type we find very 'moreish'. A small portion is okay, but it might be best to avoid it if you find it hard to stop.

  • Fatty cuts of meat, e.g. pork, lamb, streaky bacon, sausages
  • Pastries & pies
  • Cheese – especially hard cheese
  • Coconut milk
  • Cakes
  • Biscuits
  • Chocolate
  • Fried foods
  • Takeaways
  • Pizza (especially with meat-based toppings)

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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