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The Low Down on Fats

Dietary fats are essential to give the body energy and support cell growth. They also protect organs and help keep the body warm. Fats help the body absorb vitamins, minerals and nutrients as well as producing important hormones.

A small amount of fat is an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet and some fats produce essential fatty acids which the body cannot produce itself. When we talk about fats we classify them in two forms. 1. Fats which are solid at room temperature. 2. Oils which are liquid at room temperature.

Chemically fats are classified as 4 different groups –

  1. Trans fats

  2. Monounsaturated

  3. Saturated

  4. Polyunsaturated

Depending on the type of fat will reflect how ‘good’ or beneficial the fat is for your body and your overall health. Trans fats, also known as hydrogenated fats are engineered via food processing methods. These fats are not recognised by the body and are linked to bad cholesterol and heart disease. The recommended amount of trans fats in your diet is ZERO.

Saturated fat is probably the most commonly known fat associated with heart disease and bad cholesterol. Most people in the UK eat too much saturated fat. Government recommended guidelines suggest men shouldn’t eat any more than 30g of saturated fat per day and women shouldn’t eat any more than 20g. Although it is important to reduce the saturated fat content in our diets and replace with unsaturated fats to help reduce the risk of strokes and heart disease, it is important to also remember that replacing saturated fats with refined carbohydrates like sugar can be just as detrimental.

Generally monounsaturated fats lower cholesterol, so have some health benefits. Polyunsaturated fats have two subtypes – essential fatty acids – omega 3 and omega 6. Omega 6 fatty acids generally come from vegetable sources (such as vegetable oil) and our diets tend to be quite high in them, particularly as we tend to neglect our omega 3 fatty acids. It is recommended that we should aim for a ratio of 1:1 for omega 3 and omega 6. Omega 3 enhances hormonal function, reduces inflammation, boosts the immune system and keeps the heart healthy.

Your sources of fat will generally come from the same source as your protein, oily fish (such as salmon) is particularly high in omega 3. Other good sources of healthy fat include meat, fish, nuts and oils such as olive oil, flax seed, coconut, and avocado oil. Olive, coconut and avocado oil can be drizzled over food as a dressing or used for cooking as they retain their properties well at high temperatures.

Foods that we recommend you avoid, or drastically reduce include very fatty meats (particularly processed), dairy products, margarine's and vegetable spreads as they can be high in unnatural sources of saturated fats.

Trans fats are found in foods such as cakes, pies, biscuits, takeaways and prepared processed foods, which reinforce what we have said in previous articles – eat natural where possible. Health concerns about the high intake of trans fats in recent years has lead to a change in the way many foods are manufactured, and good progress has been made by manufactures to remove these from the food chain.

Buying Lower Fat Foods

Looking at the nutritional labels of food can help you reduce fat – Generally if we look at food labels a high fat content would be anything more than 17.5g fat per 100g. Low fat would be 3g or less per 100g and fat free 0.5g per 100g. For a product to be labelled LOW FAT, REDUCED FAT OR LIGHT it has to contain less than 30% fat than that of a similar product. But if the type of food in question is high in fat in the first place chances are the lower fat variety is still going to be fairly high in fat! These food are not always lower in calories either, as sometimes the fats are replaced with sugars which may end up with a similar calorie content.

The department of health recommend that total fat intake should not exceed 35% of our total calorie intake from food, and saturated fats should not exceed 11% of our total calorie intake. People that are overweight or looking to reduce weight may need to look at reducing their fat content as well as their calorie content in order to get them where they want to be.

Simple swaps

Make some small changes to the foods and drinks you include in your diet to save on saturated fat.

So from this article you are able to see that the body needs an element of fat in order for you to survive, and that not all fats are bad. Good fats in moderation will help with normal bodily functions, maintain the immune system and help improve energy, however too much of the wrong fats can be detrimental.

For more information regarding fats, or to incorporate a nutrition or fitness plan into your life please feel free to contact us at to book a FREE taster and lifestyle consultation.

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