Fat Chance

Not all fats are bad. In fact, fat can be your friend!

When you think of fat in food, the picture that first comes to mind is usually that of a steaming pile of greasy fish and chips, or deep fried Mars Bars smothered in ice-cream . . . . mmmmmnnn. But these are foods that usually contain fats that are bad for you. Believe it or not, there are also “good” fats. These are fats that occur naturally in many foods and which make up an essential part of a healthy diet.

How can fat be good?
Fat is important for many body processes, which means you need to eat some fat. Fat protects your organs, keeps you warm and helps your body absorb and move nutrients around. It also helps hormone production.

However some fats are better than others, as different types of fats react differently inside the body.

Fats and oils are made up of basic units called fatty acids. Each type of fat or oil is a mixture of different fatty acids. These fatty acids are usually categorised as saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.

Bad fats
Saturated fats are found in fatty cuts of meat, full fat milk and cheese, butter, cream, most commercially baked products such as biscuits and pastries, most deep fried fast foods, and coconut and palm oil. fats are found in fatty cuts of meat, full fat milk and cheese, butter, cream, most increase blood cholesterol, which is a risk factor in coronary heart disease. To help identify saturated fats, remember that saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature (think butter versus olive oil).

Good fats
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats tend to lower blood cholesterol when they replace saturated fats in the diet. These fats are liquid or soft at room temperature.

Monounsaturated fats are found in margarine spreads such as canola or olive oil based choices, oils such as olive, canola and peanut oils, avocado, and nuts such as peanuts, hazelnuts, cashews and almonds.

Polyunsaturated fats are found in fish oils, seafood, polyunsaturated margarines, vegetable oils such as safflower, sunflower, corn or soy oils, nuts such as walnuts and brazil nuts, and seeds. Polyunsaturated fatty acids have a slightly greater impact than monounsaturated fatty acids. They contain essential fatty acids, such as linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid, which are specific polyunsaturated fatty acids that are needed to maintain cell structure and produce hormones. Polyunsaturated fats can also improve blood vessel elasticity, help thin the blood, reduce inflammation and boost the immune system

Very bad fats
The worst kind of fats are trans fats. These are rarely found in nature, and are only found in small amounts in milk, cheese, beef and lamb. But trans fatty acids are also created during the manufacture of some table margarines and solid spreads used in the food industry, and are hidden in many deep-fried and processed foods. Trans fatty acids are considered to behave like saturated fats in the body; they raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease.

Choose wisely
To keep your body healthy, avoid foods that contain high levels of fat, including deep-fried foods and packaged cakes and biscuits. Look at the label before you buy a food product – if the fat content is near the top of the ingredient list, put it back on the shelf. Try to choose foods that are low in overall fat. Look out for the Heart Foundation tick of approval on food packages when you’re buying groceries.

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