Fats - the good, the bad and the ugly.......
It wasn't until I began my nutrition course that I appreciated the plethora of fats in our diet. First and foremost, we NEED fat in our diet. Whilst this macronutrient is often the topic of negative conversation, it is essential for many functions in our body including cell growth, providing energy, hormone production and also helps to keep your body warm. Whilst a fundamental part of our diet needs to come from fats (about 30%), we need to consider the different sources of dietary fats so we can make good decisions regarding fat intake. So what are the sources of dietary fats?
- Saturated fats- these types of fats are usually solid at room temperature and come mainly from animal sources (can also be found in some plant sources). They are often called 'bad fats' as they are not essential for good health. Saturated fats can be found in things like:
- fatty cuts of beef, pork and lamb and chicken with the skin on and processed meats such as salami
- Coconut and palm oil
- cooking margarine, butter, cream, cheese and full fat milk
- Potato chips and savoury crackers
- Deep fried and high fat take away foods such as hot chips and pizza
- cakes and muffins
- Pastries including pies and sausage rolls, quiches and croissants
- Sweet and savoury biscuits
2. Unsaturated fats - important for our diet as they help reduce the risk of heart disease and lower bad cholesterol. There are 2 types of unsaturated fats:
- Polyunsaturated: includes omega-3 fats in oily fish such as salmon and omega-6 fats such as those found in some oils and nuts
- Monounsaturated fats: found in olive and canola oil, avocados and some nuts such as cashews and almonds
3. Trans fats - these are unsaturated fats however they behave like saturated fats. In doing so, they increase 'bad' cholesterol (LDL) whilst decreasing 'good' cholesterol (HDL). Because of this, the heart foundation have linked trans fats with an increased risk of heart attack and heart disease. Foods with high sources of trans fats include potato chips and crisps, crackers, biscuits and cookies, baked meat goods such as sausage rolls and meat pies (in the pastry), packet cake mixes, deep fried fast foods such as chips, wedges, battered fish and nuggets
So now we understand some different sources of dietary fats, how does this extrapolate into portions? We should be getting between 20-35% of our total calories from fats. Furthermore, we need to eat more of some fats and less of others:
- Monounsaturated - 15-20% (note that is most of our fat intake from this source alone)
- Polyunsaturated - 5-10%
- Saturated - less than 10%
- Trans fat - 0%
So when selecting foods, here are some points to consider:
- Balance your food choices so that there is equity between foods high in fat and a selection of foods low in fat.
- Choose lean cuts of meat, fish and poultry and have small portions (the size of your palm)
- Trim visible fats off meat and remove skin off poultry
- Choose mono and polyunsaturated dressings on salads such as oils and vinegar
- When dining out avoid fried and sauteed foods with heavy sauces and gravy
- Bake, boil or grill meats on a rack that allows fat to drip from the meat
- Try hummus or guacamole instead of mayonnaise as a spread
- Choose skim milk and low fat dairy
Now as I've mentioned before, I'm all about moderation (and enjoyment). I personally love some potato chips with a glass of wine on the weekend but I wont have it EVERY night. Trying to completely eliminate things from our diet is hard and inevitably leads to bingeing (in my experience). BUT, I am now a lot more cognisant of 'good' and 'bad' fats and trying to have a better ratio of more unsaturated fats and less saturated fats. Don't forget, fats come from a variety of sources including dairy, meats and spreads. So when we look at the healthy food pyramid and see fats up the top and 'eat least of', remember these are the 'bad' sources of fats and so should contribute less than 10% of your daily intake. The more we can understand about diet and nutrition, the more it will complement our overall health and fitness. Holistic health is what we all need to aim for, as only small improvements will be made if you only concentrate on exercise or diet alone.......