Fat.. On the always popular Instagram, fat is something that a lot of people don’t want to show too much of. Body fat is what I’m talking about here. But, what do we actually know about fat? Unfortunately I don’t have any numbers about peoples’ knowledge about fat so it’s hard to find a proper starting point with this. Based on what I see around me and what I see in the supermarkets I have the feeling that people don’t know much about fat. Where it’s in, what fat is good for you and what fat is bad. Something I also see is that supermarkets have all sorts of ‘fat-free’ products. Is fat-free means that you don’t need fat? Or that all fat is bad for you? Let’s dive in.
Let’s start with the most important statement.
A small amount of fat is an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet. Fat is a source of essential fatty acids, which the body can’t make itself. A body needs some fat to helps absorb certain vitamins that are important for your health, like vitamins A and D. These vitamins are so-called fat-soluble, which means they can only be absorbed with the help of fats. Fats are also used by your body to build the outer membranes of cells, and some fats are used to make hormones and other important body chemicals.
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To be very specific; men need 90 grams of fat per day and women about 70 grams per day. It’s important to realize that there are different types of fat, and not all types of fat are good for you.
There is three different types of fat in food:
- Saturated fat (bad)
- Trans fat (bad)
- Unsaturated fat (‘good’)
The ‘good’ fat is the unsaturated fat. The other two (trans fat & saturated fat) are the bad ones. At least two third of your daily intake of fat should be unsaturated fat (the ‘good’ fat). The rest could be saturated or trans fat.
The bad fat. Eating more than the recommended daily intake of saturated fat increases your levels of LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol. This may increase your chance of developing heart diseases, diabetes or blood pressure issues.
Saturated fat is mostly find in processed food like sausages, butter, pastries, cakes and biscuits and full fat dairy products. But also palm oil and coconut oil. To get a feel of your daily intake, it’s best to simply look at the nutrition label, to see how much fat is in the product that you’re interested in. Look at the amount of grams of saturated fat per 100 grams. If that’s below 3, it’s low in fat, above 3, it’s stated as medium high in fat, and above 17,5 grams per 100 grams is stated as high in fat. Always try to eat food that has less than 3 grams of saturated fat in it. If you eat it, stick to small portions, that simply is the best way to keep your daily intake as low as possible. Or leave it completely, that’s possible too of course.
The other bad fat. Trans fat is an artificially created fat which is used in the manufacture of food. It increases shelf life and flavor-stability of food. You’ll find the trans fats mostly in fast food, cakes and biscuits.
Since 2008 the major UK supermarkets and fast food chains have stopped using trans fats as an ingredient in foods. But this doesn’t mean all products sold in the UK are trans fat free. Food manufactured outside of the UK (for example in Europe of US), could still contain trans fats.
The unsaturated fat is seen as the good fat because unsaturated fats can help to lower your cholesterol level. They help maintaining levels of “good” HDL cholesterol but also lower the level of “bad” LDL cholesterol in your blood. If you stick to the maximum of course.
It’s good to be aware to keep your fat intake low. Because 90/70 grams (men/women) on a daily basis is not much! Eat fresh produce, and minimize prepared / packaged food as much as you can. As I mentioned earlier, your body needs a bit of fat to function properly, because those fats can not be made by the body itself. Two types that your body needs but can not by made by the body itself are some types of omega-3 and omega-6 fats. You’ll find those types of fat in several products.
Omega-6 fats are found in vegetable oils, such as:
Omega-3 fats are found in oily fish, such as:
The risk of eating too much fat
So now you know what the good and the bad are, it’s important to know what happens by eating too much fat. Any fat that’s not used by your body’s cells or turned into energy is converted into body fat. Realize that this not only happens with fat. Likewise, unused carbohydrates and proteins are also converted into body fat.
If you’re eating too much fat you tend to gain weight. Most people will not directly gain weight by having one or maybe two days that were a bit extreme, but if you consequently eat too much fat, it’s likely that your weight will slowly increase. But that’s not just it. Because you eat too much fat, you’ll also increase the risk on diabetes type 2, high blood pressure, cholesterol issues and heart diseases.
It’s very much advised to keep an eye on your fat intake and reduce it where possible. The NHS mentions reduced fat products like reduced fat or lower fat products but please be careful with that because there could be a downside to it. A lot of ‘reduced fat’ products increase their sugars in the reduced fat products to try to keep the taste the same. And, if you’ve read my previous blogs, that’s not really what you want. So, reducing high fat products in general in stead of going for the reduced-fat products truly is the best option. If you’re not sure, just have a look on the label to see what’s in the specific product and whether there is more sugar in the reduced fat product compared to the full fat product. And again, if you decide to indulge yourself in highly processed foods like cakes and sausages and bacon and cheeses for a day, that’s perfectly fine, it’s all about your lifestyle. If your over all lifestyle is alright, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a (cheat) day like that. Please enjoy yourself to the fullest on those days and don’t you dare to feel guilty for even a second.