The Food Standards Agency has launched a public health campaign to highlight the risks of eating too much saturated fat. What is saturated fat, and how can we avoid it?
Consumer research by the Foods Standards Agency (FSA) shows that we are eating too much saturated fat, putting ourselves at risk of heart disease, obesity, and strokes. Many of us regard all fats as ‘bad’ and are unaware that some fat is essential to the body.
48% of those surveyed thought there was no need to worry about saturated fat consumption if you keep fit and eat your 5-a-day. The FSA wants to change our perception, as excessive saturated fat consumption is a major cause of heart disease in the western world.
‘People say they know that saturated fat is bad for them, but they don’t necessarily link it to heart disease and what they are eating’, says Tim Smith, Chief Executive of the FSA. ‘It’s important they make that connection because heart disease is the UK’s number one killer – one in three of us will die as a result.’
Fat consists of two types of fatty acids – saturated and unsaturated. Food is categorized as ‘saturated’ or ‘unsaturated’ according to which type of fatty acid dominates. There is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ fat as such – certain foods like butter contain more saturated fat and need to be eaten in moderation. Fats are essential as they provide us with energy and help us to transport vitamins A, D, E, and K around the body.
Saturated fat comes from animal protein – butter, margarine, cheese, full-fat milk, red meat, cakes, and pies and is solid at room temperature. Too much raises cholesterol in the blood and blocks our arteries. Unsaturated fat is derived from vegetable sources and is liquid in form. It is divided into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
It’s important that we eat the right type of fats – foods containing omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids – oily fish, olive or sunflower oil, nuts, seeds, and vegetables will help protect our heart.
Government guidelines recommend women and children (aged 5-10) have no more than 70g (20g saturated) fat per day. Men – no more than 95g (30g saturated). Babies need fat for growth but from age two onwards can eat lower-fat dairy products or soya milk.
Healthy eating doesn’t equate to a diet devoid of taste. Don’t deprive yourself of foods you love – eat less of them and experiment with new foods. Substituting everyday items will make a big difference:
Meals containing more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g are high in fat.
You don’t need to deprive yourself of fat as in moderation, it is a good source of energy. Experiment with different types for cooking and spreads – olive oils, soya spreads, nut butter – and you will be able to reduce your fat intake without radically altering your diet or losing taste. If you are worried about your cholesterol level, ask your doctor for a cholesterol test.