The facts about fats
Fats generally get a reputation for being unhealthy, but they are actually an important part of our diet. They provide our bodies with energy, carry important vitamins around the body and help it to use them, as well as providing essential fats that can’t be made by the body itself.
As with anything, although fats are important, eating too much or not eating the right balance of them can be unhealthy. That’s why it’s important to know about the different fats that are found in foods and their health impact.
Types of fats
There are a few different types of fats that can be found in the foods you eat. Looking at the ingredients list on the packaging of foods can help you identify the fats that are included in them.
These are often referred to as less healthy fats, as they have been linked to increased LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke1. Saturated fats are generally found in animal products, such as meat and dairy products and the products that contain them, for example cakes, biscuits and pastries2. They can also be found in some vegetable fats (e.g. coconut oil). You can identify these fats fairly easily as they generally remain solid at room temperature.
Like saturated fats, these are also linked with an increase in LDL cholesterol, but an even bigger increase. Trans fats are sometimes naturally present in meat and dairy products, but they are also occasionally used in the form of “partially hydrogenated” fats as a preservative in processed foods. Although most manufacturers now either avoid or limit the use of hydrogenated fats in their products, looking for ingredients referred to as “partially hydrogenated” fats and oils will enable you to identify foods that contain trans fats3.
There are two types of unsaturated fats; polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Polyunsaturated fats have been linked with a reduction in both LDL and HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, and can be found in plant based products such as sunflower and sesame oil. Monounsaturated fats, however, have been linked with a reduction in LDL cholesterol without impacting HDL cholesterol, and can be found in olives, avocados, some nuts and seeds and their related products. Because they have a positive impact on cholesterol, unsaturated fats are considered to be more healthy than saturated fats.
There are ways to replace foods that are usually high in saturated fat with alternatives that instead contain monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. For example:
Essential Fatty Acids
These are omega-3 and omega-6 fats that our bodies need and are unable to make themselves, so are therefore needed in our diets. There are a number of different types of these fatty acids, with different ones being linked with increased metabolism, reduced cholesterol, reduced risk of heart disease, protection against memory loss and dementia, and healthy child development during pregnancy and breastfeeding3. These essential fatty acids can be found in oily fish, some nuts and seeds, some vegetable oils, soya products, eggs, beans and green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale.
Fats in your diet
We know that fats are important nutrients in our bodies, and it is recommended that a third of our daily energy comes from fat, and the majority of this should be unsaturated2. Most people do already meet the recommendations for fats in our daily diet, but the level of saturated fat eaten is often higher than recommended in a large proportion of the population. This high saturated fat intake can be linked to increased cholesterol and also weight gain, which in turn can increase the risk of joint problems, heart disease and some cancers.
We all have a different relationship with food, for most people it is more than simply the nutrients it provides our bodies with, and we know that it is not always possible or realistic that the healthiest option is the most suitable for you and your family. However, we hope that the information in this article will help you make informed decisions about what foods you eat and that you might consider some simple swaps in the future.
- Using olive oil or margarine instead of butter
- Choosing lean meats such as skinless chicken, turkey and fish, or plant-based products such as lentils or beans rather than processed red meat
- Snacking on unsalted nuts and fruit rather than biscuits cakes and crisps4.
The views expressed in the Accu-Chek blog are not necessarily those of Roche Diabetes Care Limited. The content is provided for general information only. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely - you must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content. Although we make reasonable efforts to ensure that the content is up to date, we make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content is accurate, complete or up-to-date.
- BetterHealth Channel. Dietary fat. Better Health Channel [Online]. Available at: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/fats-and-oils. (Accessed 25th May 2022).
- British Dietetic Association. Fat facts: Food Fact Sheet [Online]. Available at: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/fat.html. (Accessed 25th May 2022).
- HelpGuide. Choosing Healthy Fats [Online]. Available at: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-eating/choosing-healthy-fats.htm. (Accessed 25th May 2022).
- British Heart Foundation. Fats explained [Online]. Available at: https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/support/healthy-living/healthy.... (Accessed 25th May 2022).