Some fats, like saturated and trans fats in high amounts, are not good for our health.
There are however some good fats, and all children and adults need to include small amounts of these healthy fats in their diet while limiting food and drinks that are high in unhealthy saturated and trans fats.
Saturated and trans fats – the ones to limit
Saturated fats and trans fats are unhealthy fats due to their chemical structure. Too much of these fats can increase the amount of bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) in our blood, which leads to clogging of blood vessels and can cause heart disease.
These are mainly found in animal foods such as:
- fatty meats
- dairy foods (milk, cheese, yoghurt – especially the full-fat ones)
- processed foods (such as biscuits, cakes, pastries, pies and takeaway foods)
They are also found in two vegetable oils: palm oil and coconut oil.
While trans fats are actually unsaturated fats, their chemical structures make them act like saturated fat, and so they also increase the amount of bad LDL cholesterol in our blood.
Trans fats in food can be found in two forms:
- naturally occurring fats in some animal foods like:
- dairy products, especially full-fat products
- industrially produced fats in processed foods such as:
- deep-fried foods
- cakes and pastries
- takeaway foods (including hamburgers, pizzas and hot chips)
- foods that list ‘hydrogenated oils’ or ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oils’ on the ingredients list.
For more information visit the Heart Foundation website.
Try these 10 easy swaps to limit unhealthy fats
- Swap full-cream milk, yoghurt and custard for low-fat varieties. They have just as much calcium as the full-fat varieties.
- Swap full-fat cheese for reduced-fat cheese and keep the serving size small (40 grams or 2 slices).
- Swap butter for margarine on toast and sandwiches, and in cooking.
- Swap cream on desserts for low-fat ricotta mixed with a little apple juice, or a dollop of low-fat yoghurt.
- Swap sour cream on savoury meals for a dollop of low-fat natural or Greek yoghurt.
- Swap fatty sandwich meats such as fritz, salami and mettwurst for lean ham, turkey, chicken, beef, tuna, salmon or sardines.
- Swap fatty meat cuts for leaner ones. Choose lean beef, lamb or pork cutlets, and trim off any visible fat on meat, and skin on chicken before cooking.
- Swap deep-fried meat, chicken or fish for grilled or oven-baked.
- Swap creamy dishes for tomato-based dishes, or swap cream in recipes for a tin of light evaporated milk.
- Swap biscuits, cakes and pastries for healthier alternatives such as a delicious fruit platter, fruit loaf with a little margarine, or for the occasional treat, a homemade cake using polyunsaturated or monounsaturated oils or margarine like canola, olive, safflower, sunflower, peanut oil.
Healthy fats – the ones we need
There are two main categories of healthy fats:
Monounsaturated fats are found in oils like canola and olive oil as well as in avocados and nuts such as peanuts, almonds and cashews.
There are two main sub-categories of polyunsaturated fats:
- omega-3 fats are found in oily fish such as salmon, sardines and tuna, and also in linseed and walnuts
- omega-6 fats are found in nuts and seeds, nut and seed pastes like peanut butter and tahini, and also in fish, safflower and sunflower margarines and oils.
Five easy ways to include small amounts of healthy fats
- Choose margarine to spread thinly on your whole grain bread or crackers.
- Use small amounts of polyunsaturated or monounsaturated oil in cooking and salad dressings (one to two teaspoons per person).
- Include fish at least twice a week, preferably omega-3 rich fish such as salmon, sardines and tuna.
- Try sprinkling ground linseeds or other seeds* on your cereal.
- Enjoy a small handful (30grams) of unsalted nuts* or seeds*.
*Remember, nuts and seeds are an alternative to lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs and legumes/beans so they contribute to your daily intake of this food category.