The ‘F’ word – what is fat?

Once upon a time in the world of nutrition fats were not just the ‘f’ word because of its spelling, fats were a big no no if you wanted to lose weight (I am talking the 90’s era – we are way past this now… I hope)

Fats are an essential nutrient in the diet, not only do they provide energy for the body but they also contain important vitamins and help the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, D and E. So, why are people scared to eat foods that are high in fat? Why is there a huge industry purely for low fat foods? Let’s find out.

The different types of fat:

There are many different types of fat and yes, if we eat too much fat it can be unhealthy, but some fats are considered ‘healthier’ than others.

  • Saturated Fat – this is the type of fat you may be familiar with as it is predominately on food labels. Saturated fat can be found in foods such as butter, fat on meats/poultry, cakes, biscuits, and full fat dairy products.
  • Trans Fats – also known as hydrogenated vegetable oils have been processed to make them hard and are usually less ‘healthy’ than saturated fats. These are common in foods such as pastries and biscuits. Trans fats, like most saturated fats when consumed too much can raise cholesterol levels, particularly LDL (which is considered the bad cholesterol) and reduce the good cholesterol HDL which could lead to an increased risk of coronary heart disease. Therefore, saturated and trans fats are not considered ‘healthy fats’ unlike unsaturated fat and omega 3 fats.
  • Unsaturated fats – these are usually found in plant foods such as nuts, seeds, vegetables and grains. Unsaturated fats can be found in two forms, polyunsaturated or monounsaturated. Monounsaturated fats are considered particularly healthy as they encourage the healthier type of cholesterol (HDL) in the blood. Examples of monounsaturated fats in foods are olive and rapeseed oils, avocado, almonds, peanuts and hazelnuts. However, one gram of any type of fat is around 9 calories (37kJ) so portion size is key, aim for a handful of nuts per day and half an avocado rather than a full one.

If you are a regular Nutribloom reader you may have read my blog on Omega 3 but just in case you missed it, here is an overview.

  • Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats are polyunsaturated fats and are essential fatty acids, meaning the body can not make sufficient amounts itself. Oily fish is a great source of Omega 3 such as salmon, sardines and mackerel however, for vegetarians and vegans you can get Omega-3 from foods such as rapeseed, flax, walnuts, and linseed oils. (It is worth noting that plant based foods contain smaller amounts of Omega 3 when compared to oily fish and some people consider a supplement, however always speak to a health professional before making changes to your diet.)

Omega 6 is found in vegetable oils such as rapeseed, corn and sunflower oil. In the UK Omega 6 is considered high in most diets and so getting the ratio of Omega 3 to 6 right is important. The government recommend eating two portions of fish each week (one being oily fish) to help boost Omega 3 ratio.

How much fat should we be having?

It is recommended that an average woman should be consuming around 70g fat each day however, this is only a guide and intake may vary from one day to the next, person to person. The recommended intake of fat equates to around one third of our daily calories (based on 2,000 calories a day.) However, the government strongly recommends that men should not consume more than 30g of saturated fat a day with women having no more than 20g.

Should you switch to low fat foods?

Low fat foods are now on most supermarket shelves and are a very popular choice for those who are trying to limit their fat intake, whether that be for a medical reason or personal. However, it is important to note that just because they are low fat they may not necessarily be the ‘healthier’ option. If the type of food is originally high in fat, the lower fat version may still have a high fat content compared to an alternative option. A common misunderstanding with low fat products is that they are healthy, low calorie options however, when removing the fat, not only can this be stripping the product of essential vitamins and minerals it may also be being replaced with sugar. It is important to always check the nutrition label, the NHS have some great resources available to help understand food labels and make an informed choice.

In summary, there is a lot of research showing evidence that monounsaturated fats can have a positive impact on our health however, fats are just one aspect of a healthy diet. Don’t let high fat foods put you off eating them, avocado is considered a high fat, high calorie food but it is packed with potassium and Vitamin E and is low in saturated fat. Enjoy your food and if you are wanting to cut back on fat try to just limit trans and saturated fats in comparison to unsaturated fats.

If you have any questions please get in touch 🙂

Photo Cred:

References: British Dietietic Association, NHS,

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