Fat in your diet
It is important to include fat in your diet. Eating too much fat makes you more likely to become overweight. Also, too much saturated fat can raise your cholesterol which increases the risk of heart disease. That’s why it’s important to cut down on fat.
Eating less fat
Eating too much fat can make you more likely to put on weight because foods that are high in fat are also high in energy (calories). Being overweight raises your risk of serious health problems such as:
- heart disease
- type 2 diabetes
- high blood pressure
- some cancers
You need some fat in your diet to help the body absorb certain nutrients. Fat is a source of energy, and provides essential fatty acids that the body can’t make itself.
For most people, it’s good to cut the total amount of fat in your diet. But you also need to think about the type of fat you're eating.
Tips for cutting back on fat
When shopping, compare food labels so you can pick foods lower in fat (use the per 100g information to compare different foods). To cut the amount to fat in your diet:
- ask your butcher for lean cuts of meat, or compare food labels on meat packaging
- choose lower-fat dairy products such as one per cent fat milk or lower fat cheese
- grill, bake, poach or steam food rather than frying or roasting
- measure oil with tablespoons rather than pouring it straight from a container
- trim visible fat and take skin off meat before cooking
- use the grill instead of the frying pan whatever meat you’re cooking
- put more vegetables or beans in casseroles, stews and curries, and a bit less meat (and skim the fat off the top before serving)
- when making sandwiches, try leaving out the butter or spread - you might not need it if you're using a moist filling
- when you do use spread, go for a reduced-fat variety and choose one that is soft straight from the fridge so it's easier to spread thinly
Look at labels
The nutrition labels on food packaging can help you to cut down on total fat and saturated fat.
Labels containing nutritional information are usually on the back of food packaging. This label will often tell you how much fat and saturated fat is contained in 100g of the food.
Some packaging also displays nutrition labels on the front, which give at-a-glance information on specific nutrients. Packaging may also show fat, salt and sugar content.
When traffic lights are used, red means 'high'. Leave red foods for the occasional treat, and aim to eat mainly foods that are green or amber.
Watch out for fat claims
Just because a food packet contains the words ‘lower fat’ or ‘reduced fat’ doesn’t necessarily mean it's a healthy choice.
The lower-fat claim simply means that the food is 30 per cent lower in fat than the standard version of the product. If the type of food is high in fat in the first place, the lower-fat version may also still be high in fat.
You should also remember that these foods aren't necessarily low in calories. Often the fat is replaced with sugar and the food may end up with the same, or an even higher, calorie content.
Types of fat
There are two main types of fat found in food - saturated and unsaturated. Saturated and unsaturated fat contain the same amount of calories. But as part of a healthy diet, you should try to cut down on food that is high in saturated fat, and instead eat foods that are rich in unsaturated fat.
Most people in Northern Ireland eat too much saturated fat – around 20 per cent more than the recommended maximum, which is:
- no more than 30g per day for the average man
- no more than 20g per day for the average woman
Eating a diet high in saturated fat can cause the level of cholesterol in your blood to build up over time. Raised cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease.
That’s why, as well as cutting down on the total amount of fat you eat, it’s important to cut down on saturated fat.
Foods high in saturated fat include:
- fatty cuts of meat
- meat products, including sausages and pies
- butter, ghee and lard
- cheese (especially hard cheese)
- cream, soured cream and ice cream
- some savoury snacks and chocolate
- biscuits, cakes and pastries
- Balanced diet
Having unsaturated fat instead of saturated fat can help lower blood cholesterol.
Unsaturated fat is found in:
- oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and pilchards
- nuts and seeds
- sunflower and olive oils
- Fish and shellfish
Trans fats are found naturally at low levels in some foods, such as those from animals including meat and dairy products. They can also be found in foods containing hydrogenated vegetable oil.
Like saturated fats, trans fats can raise cholesterol levels in the blood. That’s why it’s recommended that trans fats should make up no more than two per cent of the energy (calories) you get from your diet. For adults, this is no more than 5g a day.