How to eat fat and stay healthy
All food contains fat – even carrots and lettuce have a tiny amount – but some fats are better for you than others. Of course fats provide a lot of calories per gram, but they can be loaded with nutrients too. In fact, some are described as 'essential fats' and it is crucial you include them in your diet
No more than 35% of your daily calories should come from fat (around 70g for women or 90g for men). While many of us don't exceed this, we are commonly eating too much of the wrong type of fat and not enough of the good stuff.
Which fats are good for you?
The Mediterranean diet, rich in healthy fats from olive oil, nuts, seeds and fish, has been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Olive oil is reported to lower blood pressure and total cholesterol. It contains 99 calories per tablespoon though, so use it sparingly.
- Nuts are full of good fats, including short-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Studies show that eaten in moderation they can reduce your risk of heart disease – and they make a great snack!
- Oily fish contains high levels of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which are considered to be important for health but can’t be made by the body. This type of omega-3 is linked to brain development and joint function. Salmon, mackerel and sardines are great examples of healthy, oily fish.
Which fats should you cut back on?
A maximum of 10% of your daily calorie requirement should come from saturated fat (20g for women or 30g for men), but many of us exceed this. Saturated fats are found in cakes, biscuits, cheese, butter, cream, coconut oil and fatty cuts of meat. Here are simple ways to reduce your saturated fat intake.
- Trim the visable fat off meat or choose lean meats such as turkey, chicken and lean cuts of pork.
- Choose a more mature cheese so you can have all the flavour while using less cheese, or choose reduced or lower fat options.
- Use low-fat yoghurt in place of cream or crème fraîche.
- Use liquid plant-based oils such as olive, rapeseed or sunflower oil, rather than butter, for cooking. It’s a good idea to measure oil with a teaspoon rather than free pouring it, as oil is still high in calories.
- Use cooking methods that don’t require extra fat, such as steaming and microwaving, rather than frying.
Is coconut healthy?
The popularity of coconut products has skyrocketed in recent years. However, these may not be the 'superfoods' they're cracked up to be. Coconut oil is 86% saturated fat, which a higher percentage than butter (52%) and olive oil (14.3%).
Raw coconut may seem like a healthy snack, but it should be eaten in moderation thanks to the saturated fat content (36%). Coconut cream can be used as a vegan alternative to cream, but while it is slightly lower in saturated fat than its dairy cream counterpart, it still contains significant amounts.
Always read the label
Check food labels for their total fat and saturated fat content. Compare them per 100g rather than per serving suggestion, as portion sizes can vary dramatically. Foods containing less than 3g total fat and 1.5g saturated fat per 100g are classed as low-fat and low-saturated fat respectively.
The health world is awash with buzzwords, and a food label saying 'light', 'lite', 'half-fat', 'lower-fat' or 'reduced-fat' doesn’t necessarily make the food low-fat. Instead they indicate that it contains 30% less fat than a similar product, but it still may contain a similar amount of (or more) calories as its full-fat equivalent because fat is often substituted with sugar.
Face the fats!
It's time to face the fats and find out how much you really know about good and bad fats in your foods.