‘Fat free diets are healthier’, ‘fats are bad’; it’s safe to say that over the past few years foods that are high in fat have gotten a pretty bad rep.
There are countless nutritional benefits to including healthy fats in your diet
And while some are bad for your health - cakes, biscuits and fast food are all on the ‘bad’ fat list - there are a handful of foods containing natural, healthy fats that are actually essential to a well balanced diet.
These ‘good’ fats not only help to replenish the body’s energy stores, but are also used for key body functions like blood clotting, fighting infection and regulating inflammation, plus maintaining a healthy heart rate and blood pressure.
Eating well is about knowing where to find these healthy fats, and nutritionist Hala El-Shafie, Channel 4’s own healthy eating guru, is here to explain just that.
What are good fats?
“The most beneficial fat you can consume is monounsaturated fat,” says Hala. “It raises your ‘good’ HDL (High-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and lowers your ‘bad’ LDL (Low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, helping to reduce your risk of heart disease and other conditions. You can find these fats in healthy sources, like extra-virgin olive oil, almonds, avocados, cashews, peanuts, and more.”
“Another healthy source of fat is polyunsaturated fats, some of which are high in omega-6 fatty acids, like walnuts, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds. Polyunsaturated fats that are high in omega-3 fatty acid are also especially good for you, as they help to reduce inflammation and lower your risk of heart disease and heart attacks. You can find omega-3s in fish, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli.
“Both of these types of fats are easy to burn, making them unlikely to stick around as stored fat, or weight gain.”
What are bad fats?
“While monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are really good for you, trans fats found in fast food like fries and packaged food like cake mixes, should be avoided,” explains Hala.
“Trans fat is man-made through a process called hydrogenation, which basically involves heating up vegetable oil in the presence of hydrogen gas and changing the structure of it, so that the fat stays solid at room temperature but melts when heated.”
“Trans fats raise your body’s ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, and actually lowers your ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. This in turn increases inflammation in the body, and has many other negative effects too.”
“Trans fats can be found in many processed foods - margarine is a major culprit - along with many packaged foods like cake mixes, soups, fast food, frozen foods, baked goods, and more.”
What about saturated fat?
Like trans fats, saturated fat isn’t good for you and can raise your ‘bad’ cholesterol levels. Found in biscuits, cakes, pastries, fatty cuts of meat and more, these are also the kinds of fat you should avoid eating.
According to the NHS, the average woman should aim to eat no more that 20g of saturated fat per day, while men should keep under 30g and children much less.
How should we eat healthy fats?
“There are countless nutritional benefits to including healthy fats in your diet,” says Hala, but as with everything the key is to eat everything in moderation. Try adding some of these foods to your plate throughout the week to get your ‘good’ fats in…
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
What to look for on food labels
Though some food labels now use a red, amber and green scale to indicate whether products are low or high in things like fat, sugar and salt, it’s a good idea to know exactly what you’re looking for.
The NHS suggests the following guidelines when checking food labels for fat content:
- More than 17.5g of fat per 100g means an item is high in fat
- Items containing 3g of fat or less per 100g, or 1.5g of fat per 100ml for liquids are considered low in fat
- A ‘fat free’ product should contain 0.5g of fat or less per 100g or 100ml
- More than 5g of saturates per 100g means an item is high in saturated fat
- An item containing 1.5g of saturates or less per 100g or 0.75g per 100ml for liquids is low in saturated fat
- For an item to be considered ‘free of saturated fat’ it must contain 0.1g or less of saturates per 100g or 100ml
Lower fat labels
For a food item to be labelled as ‘lower fat’ than it’s regular form, it must contain at least 30 percent less fat than a similar ‘full fat’ product. It’s important to remember however, that if the food item is normally high in fight, the ‘low fat’ version may also still contain high levels of fat. The calorie content may also still be high, and so you should check the sugar content of ‘low fat’ items, to fully understand whether it’s a healthy food choice or not.
Resist temptation by doing your food shop online and arranging a delivery!