We’re repeatedly told that fats aren’t good for us and that we should eliminate them from our food, but it’s important to understand that there are different types of fats out there, and some are even good for us. Some fat is essential in our diet as it provides an energy source as well as featuring some key nutrients that our body needs. So what exactly are ‘healthy fats’ and why are they different from ‘unhealthy fats’? Understanding the difference can help to improve your diet, therefore lowering your risk of obesity and developing heart disease, diabetes and other conditions.
We all need fats in our diets
Our bodies need fat for fuel (in addition to carbohydrates and protein) and should account for around 30% of our daily food intake. Healthy fats help our skin to stay hydrated, as well as ensure that we get key vitamins and minerals that aren’t available in other food sources such as omega-3s. This does not mean however that you should head out to consume piles of fatty foods, and instead need to consider the types of fat you consume.
Saturated vs Unsaturated Fats
There are two main types of fats, saturated and unsaturated. Whilst you’ve probably heard many things about them, you may not know what the difference is between them.
Saturated fats: Can increase cholesterol levels and therefore should be eaten in moderation
Unsaturated fats: These are ‘good fats’ which are rich in omega-3, omega-6 and other acids which are vital for our health.
One way to understand where these fats come from is in the type of food you eat. For example, many sources of saturated fat tend to be processed foods so think ready meals, processed meats, cheese and similar foods. Foods which are high in protein and are unprocessed such as lean meat, fish, eggs, nuts, etc typically contain unsaturated fats and can be of benefit to your diet when you consume them in moderation. Making simple swaps such as sunflower or vegetable oil for coconut oil and preparing more of your meals from scratch can help.
Finding ‘good’ fats
Consuming healthy fats can help lower cholesterol as well as reduce your risk of getting heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. It’s easier to make the swap to healthy fats than you’d think, and including them in your diet simply requires a few wiser food choices. The following are good sources of unsaturated fats, which are also high in other nutrients too:
- -Fish (including fattier fish such as mackerel, trout and salmon)
- -Oils (almond oil, peanut oil, olive oil and sesame oil)
- -Nuts, seeds
- -Olives and olive oil
Whilst consuming low fat products can help you to keep your fat intake in check, it’s important that you consume your recommended amount of healthy fats too. Cooking meals at home is a great way to encourage healthier habits for your family, and ensures that you know exactly what you’re eating, with no hidden fat, sugar or salt.
If you’re looking for more information about the role fat plays in our diet, the NHS has some excellent resources, as well as some great tips for maintaining a healthy diet. Eating healthily and maintaining a good body weight is key for preventing a number of life-threatening conditions and is a simple thing which you can do to look after yourself, as well as your family too.