Healthy Eating Facts About Fat
How much do you need?
Believe it or not, fat is good for you – in moderation. It’s a concentrated form of energy, and a storehouse of vitamins A, D, E and K. But two tablespoons a day is all the average adult needs, and more soon turns into unwanted pounds.
Saturated and unsaturated
Saturated fats are the ones associated with high cholesterol levels and heart disease, while unsaturates are believed to be much healthier. A quick rule of thumb is that in general the harder the fat at room temperature the more saturated it is likely to be. Meat fat, lard, suet, butter, harder margarines, coconut oil and palm oil are heavily saturated; soft margarines, other vegetable oils and fish oils much less so.
Avoid products labelled simply vegetable oil or blended oil: they tend to be of low quality and often contain saturates. Go for pure oils such as sunflower, soya, corn or olive instead.
Darker-fleshed fish such as mackerel, salmon and herrings (kippers) are not only delicious and low in saturated fats, they also contain a fatty acid (one of the building blocks of more complex fats) called Omega-3, which actually reduces the risk of heart attacks and blood clots.
Fat you can’t see
Stay away from processed foods such as liver paste, pate, sausages, salami, meat pies, fried foods and chocolates – they’re all full of hidden fat. Look for low-fat alternatives, or eat unprocessed foods instead.
Once in a while
Homemade biscuits and cakes are healthier than the bought variety if you cook with unsaturated fat such as sunflower margarine. Keep them for occasional treats, though, and if you do buy biscuits or cakes read the label to see how much saturated fat you’re getting.
- Instead of whole milk, use skimmed milk in sauces and baking, and semi-skimmed for drinking if you find skimmed too thin.
- Buy tinned fish in brine rather than oil.
- Choose less fatty Edam, Camembert or cottage cheese and avoid hard or cream cheeses.
- Use yoghurt to replace cream in desserts and mayonnaise and oily dressings on salads.
CUTTING DOWN ON FAT
- Eat red meat only once or twice a week, and less fatty alternatives such as fish, chicken, turkey or vegetable dishes the rest of the time.
- Oily fish twice a week should keep your heart healthy and help to counteract the effects of saturated fats in other foods.
- Choose lean cuts of meat and trim all visible fat before cooking.
- Skim off any fat that rises to the top of the pan when you are cooking, or refrigerate cooked dishes overnight and lift off the cold fat in pieces before reheating.
- Cut chips thick to reduce the amount of oil they absorb. Fry them in sunflower or soya oil, drain well and eat at once. For even less fat, try oven chips.
- Grill, steam or bake food instead of frying it, and if you do fry it use a non-stick pan with the minimum amount of oil. Drain fried food on absorbent kitchen paper before eating.
- Grill or roast food on a rack to let the fat drain away.
- Use less red meat in stews and casseroles, and add a handful of soaked haricot beans instead. You’ll get more fibre with less fat.
- Don’t eat more than three or four eggs a week.
- Brown meat in the least amount of oil, or avoid browning altogether.
- Spread butter or margarine thinly on to your bread and toast, or cut them out altogether. You may not even notice the difference.
- Make your own salad dressings with sunflower or olive oil, and avoid bottled dressings which often contain saturated oils.
- Chicken has little fat and if you remove the skin before cooking, you’ll get rid of most of it.