Some fat is essential in everyone's diet. Fats provide a source of concentrated energy as well as the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Fat transports these vital nutrients around the body. We also need fat for hormone metabolism, healthy skin and hair, tissue repair, protecting the internal organs and to prevent excessive loss of body heat.
There are two main types of fat: Saturated and Unsaturated
Excessive amounts of fat are found in saturated animal fats and trans-fatty acids. These types of fat raise cholesterol levels and increase your risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are found mainly in the following animal and dairy products:
- Full fat milk
- Suet and dripping
- Full fat yoghurt
Saturated fats are also found in hard margarines that are formed by the 'hydrogenation' of vegetable oils.
Hydrogenation increases the shelf-life of food, but it also creates trans fats (trans-fatty acids) that are harmful for health.
Hydrogenated margarine or butter is often used for making cakes, biscuits and pastry
Unsaturated fats are generally liquid at room temperature.
They come from vegetable sources and are also found in oily fish and in soft margarines labelled 'high in polyunsaturates'.
Unsaturated fats contain essential fatty acids that cannot be manufactured by the body. This means you need to get them from food.
Good sources of unsaturated fats include:
- Avocados (one quarter of an avocado contains 5g of unsaturated fat)
- Unsalted nuts (cashew, brazil, pecan, walnut)
- Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame)
Omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids play an important role in the functions of the body that promote health and wellbeing.
In particular, studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids protect against heart disease. Oily fish is the best source of omega-3:
Current advice is to eat oily fish two to three times a week. While oily fish is the best source of essential fatty acids, other omega-rich foods are:
- Corn oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Nut oil
- Safflower oil
- Sunflower oil
- Virgin olive oil
Tips for Healthy Living
We tend to eat a lot of fat, so aim to include some essential fatty acids in your daily diet and reduce your intake of saturated fats.