Fats are an important food group that have several important roles in the body, some of which include:
- Absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K)
- Providing you with energy (9kcal fats provide 37kJ of energy, whereas 4kcal carbohydrate and protein provide 17kJ energy)
- Cell membrane protection and growth of new healthy cells
- Protecting your organs, nerves and tissues
- Regulating body temperature
- Maintenance of healthy skin, hair and nails
- Production of vital hormones in the body
- Reducing risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes
- Helping to keep you fuller for longer
- Lowering inflammation in the body
1. Monounsaturated Fats
Monounsaturated fats include avocados, nuts, seeds, olives, extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil and peanut oil. These fats can help protect our hearts by maintaining levels of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) while reducing levels of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol). A handful of nuts, half an avocado or some olives is better than eating a bar of chocolate or bag of crisps in between meals.
2. Polyunsaturated Fats
Polyunsaturated fats includes sunflower, beans, walnuts, flaxseed and oily fish (salmon and mackerel). These are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are considered an essential fatty acid that must be obtained from your diet. Omega 3 fatty acids are associated with good heart health.
3. Saturated Fats
Saturated fats include animal fats, eggs, butter and coconut oil. These fats were previously associated with bad cholesterol and coronary heart disease, however there is increasing confusion around just how ‘bad’ or ‘good’ saturated fats are. A recent study suggested there is no clear link between saturated fats and heart disease however as a nation we are eating more than the guideline daily intake of saturated fats and it is recommended that we need to cut down.
4. Trans Fats
Most of us know that we need to cut down on the fats found in fast-foods, and treats like doughnuts and pastries. But there are many hidden fats out there that you need to watch out for, such as those found in low-fat ready meals, which are full of hydrogenated trans-fats to increase their shelf life. These fats are totally artificial and are produced during a process called ‘hydrogenation’, where liquid fat is converted to solid fat.
They can also be found in commercially-baked goods, packaged snacks and pre-mixed products. It’s recommended that these fats should be avoided where possible – so stay away from ready meals and processed foods and try to cook your own meals and snacks from scratch.