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 that 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.’
Are There ‘Good’ And ‘Bad’ Fats?
Fat consists of two types of fatty acids – saturated and unsaturated. Food is categorised 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 to protect our heart.
How Much Fat Should We Eat?
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 aged two onwards can eat lower fat dairy products or soya milk.
Eight Ways To Cut down On Saturated Fat
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:
- White meat is lower in fat than red meat. Try turkey mince instead of beef. Remove the skin and fatty bits before cooking and grill instead of frying.
- Edam and cottage cheese are lower in fat than hard cheeses. Grate it rather than slicing.
- Have skimmed or semi-skimmed, soya or oat milk.
- Swap butter for an olive spread. Extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar is a delicious dip for bread.
- Replace biscuits and cakes with snacks containing polyunsaturated fat such as nuts, seeds and dried fruit. Plain scones and fruit loaf are lower in fat than cakes and pastries.
- Research at the University of Surrey found that people who ate two eggs a day while on a calorie-restricted diet lost weight and reduced blood cholesterol levels. Bruce Griffin, Professor of Nutritional Metabolism said that they are ‘one of nature’s most nutritionally dense foods.’
- When buying ready meals choose tomato-based sauces rather than creamy ones.
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 butters – 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.