'Eat Right' Challenge, Fat - Day 19

Emma White - Nutritionist

In the world of nutrition, lots of 'facts' tend to get thrown around. Here we take a look at some common opinions on fats and separate fact from fiction.

Low fat isn't always healthier. Sometimes the fat is replaced by sugar. *FACT*

Just because a product says it's low fat doesn't always mean it's the best choice. Always look at the label of the product you're replacing to see if it is an all-around healthier choice.

For some foods such as milk and dairy foods, low fat often is healthier, e.g. skimmed milk has less fat than whole milk; low-fat yogurt has less fat than whole milk yogurt. But check other ingredients too. Is the sugar content higher than the standard product? Think about the overall health benefits – is it better to just have a smaller portion? Food labels are your friend, so look at the traffic lights on the front of the pack and the detailed nutrition panel on the reverse to check your facts.

Thinking about fat in the body (not diet), is it true that when you lose weight, you don't actually lose fat cells, they just shrink? *FACT*

Research has found that when we lose fat, our fat cells are really just shrinking as opposed to disappearing completely. Fat cells can expand and grow when there is lots of excess fat requiring storage, and in the same way, they release the fat and shrink when the fat is needed for energy elsewhere in the body (when we are in a calorie deficit). This still means we are losing fat when we lose weight, it's just being taken from inside the cells rather than the cells themselves being broken down completely.

If I follow a low-fat diet, I will lose weight on my bum and hips (thinking Rosemary Conley's Hip & Thigh Diet – back in the day!). *FICTION*

Unfortunately, where we store our fat is down to genetics. Ladies tend to store fat around the bum, thighs and lower abdomen, whereas men tend to store fat in the abdomen – often described as 'apple' and 'pear' shapes. The only way to lose fat and tone a particular area of the body is through a combination of weight loss and exercise. Following a low-fat diet can help with creating a calorie deficit, while working the muscles in the area you want to change can help with toning up.

Although some fats are good for you (unsaturated), you should still be concerned about exceeding your fat intake. *TRUE*

Remember that fat is the most energy-dense nutrient at 9 kcal per gram, so although some fats are healthier than others, it is still important to limit the total amount of fat in your diet and not exceed the guidance on fat intake. Changing the balance of fat in your diet is vital – so cutting back on the saturated fat sources in your diet and having more unsaturated sources – but still keeping within the set limits for fat intake.

Coconut oil is healthier than olive oil. *FICTION*

Coconut oil has enjoyed an explosion in popularity over the past few years, mainly down to its use by celebrity chefs, but it is essential to remember that coconut oil is predominantly a saturated fat. That's why it is solid at room temperature and why you have to spoon it rather than pour it. As we know, saturated fats are the ones to cut back on. Olive oil, on the other hand, is predominantly monounsaturated fat and better for heart health. Coconut oil is also much more expensive than other vegetable oils such as olive and rapeseed oil. Remember, with any oil, to use it sparingly. Spray oils are a great way to limit the amount you use.

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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