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Those Bad Rap Fats

Fats are a vital part of our diet where they provide some essential fatty acids, fat soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, D, E & K and energy. However, not all fats are equal. Though the media suggests that eating butter may be good for you the evidence-based scientific research clearly leans to reducing our consumption of butter and other foods that are a source of saturated fat.

As a rule saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature and are found in fatty cuts of meat, meat products like sausages, butter, ghee, lard, cocoa butter, palm oil, coconut oil, coconut cream and dairy products including cheese and cream. Foods that contain these fats such as pastries, pies, cakes, biscuits and chocolate are, therefore, also sources of saturated fat.

But to know why saturated fat has such a bad rap in the scientific world we firstly need to understand the role of cholesterol. Cholesterol is needed to make some hormones and vitamin D as well as bile acids, which help the gut to digest and absorb dietary fat, but too much of a certain type of cholesterol may be detrimental to our health.

Cholesterol is carried in the blood in two ways: as low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL-cholesterol is often referred to as ‘bad cholesterol’ as to much can lead to fatty deposits developing in the arteries, which can restrict the flow of blood to the heart and brain, increasing the risk of heart disease, heart attacks and stroke. Too much saturated fat is associated with an increase in this ‘bad LDL-cholesterol’ and therefore an increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Though some cholesterol comes directly from our diet the majority of the increase in LDL-cholesterol comes from dietary saturated fat. That’s why the experts recommend that men should not consume more than 30g and women 20g of saturated fat a day. To help us lower our saturated fat intake we can focus on reducing the sources in our diet.

We can select other options such as reduced-fat dairy foods, lean meat (skinless chicken and turkey) and fish and replace ‘hard’ fats with vegetable oils. In addition, food retailers and brands have tried to help us make healthier food choices by highlighting saturates (saturated fat) in the traffic light signposting on the front of the food packaging, where red means try to eat these foods less often or in smaller amounts.

In the next blog we’ll explore some of the other fats that don’t have such a bad rap as saturated fat.

Happy eating,

Nina Thomas

Registered Associate Nutritionist

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