Your body needs fat to function. It’s a vital source of energy and plays an important role in developing cells, producing hormones, absorbing key vitamins and maintaining body temperature.
But not all fats should be included in a healthy diet; some fats are ‘good’ and others are ‘bad’. For example, we need omega-3 fatty acids to stay healthy, but trans fats can lead to heart disease.
If you’re a little confused about fats, it’s time to clear things up. This article will show you how to add fats to your diet without harming your health.
What are bad fats?
A good fat is one that provides health benefits, while bad fats are linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Saturated fat and trans fat are both considered to be bad for your health. These fats are found in foods like butter and pork fat, and they are solid at room temperature. You should aim to avoid trans fats and limit your intake of saturated fats.
Some trans fats come from natural sources, but most are artificial. Artificial sources of trans fats include baked goods, fried food and margarine. You should avoid trans fats because they increase levels of bad cholesterol and reduce levels of good cholesterol.
Banned in the US, there are also restrictions on artificial trans fats in the UK. The UK’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) advises that trans fats should make up no more than 2% of your daily calorie intake.
To avoid trans fats, take care to read the ingredients list on the foods you eat. It’s important to do this because manufacturers can list 0g of trans fats if their product contains under 0.5g per serving. These small quantities can add up, so look out for partially hydrogenated vegetable oils on the ingredients list as these are trans fats.
Saturated fats should only make up a small part of your diet (30g a day for men and 20g a day for women) as they increase levels of bad cholesterol which can put you at greater risk of heart disease. Saturated fats can be found in foods ranging from animal products to cakes, biscuits and fried food.
Scientists now know that different saturated fatty acids have different effects on the body, so saturated fat from dairy foods and lean red meats may not be as bad for us as first thought.
However, your best option is to:
- replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats
- choose plant sources, lean meats, poultry and oily fish
- limit consumption of high-calorie fatty foods
Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are both considered good fats. They can increase your levels of good cholesterol and are linked to improved heart health.
Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature but start to harden when chilled. Good sources of monounsaturated fats include:
- olive, peanut and canola oil
- most nuts
- sesame oil
Polyunsaturated fats are essential fats, which means you have to get them from your food because your body doesn’t make them. There are 2 types of polyunsaturated fats: omega-3 and omega-6.
A good source of omega-3 is oily fish, such as:
And you can get omega-6 from vegetable oils in foods like:
- sunflower seeds
- corn oil
- soybean oil
- safflower oil
We all need good fats in our diet. So instead of avoiding all fat, try to replace trans fat and saturated fat with unsaturated fat.
Once you have swapped trans and saturated fats for healthier unsaturated fats, why not track your energy levels to see how changing your diet affects your energy?