Oils and spreads
Oils and spreads (fats) are a source of energy and provide essential fatty acids (A, C and E) that the body can’t make itself. However, eating too much fat can cause weight gain, because foods high in fat are also high in energy (calories).
Fats and health
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.
Any fat that your body does not use for energy is converted into body fat.
Eating too much fat can therefore lead to weight gain.
Being overweight raises your risk of serious health problems such as:
- heart disease
- type 2 diabetes
- high blood pressure
- some cancers
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.
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.
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.
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
- savoury snacks
- chocolate, biscuits, cakes and pastries
Unsaturated fats are healthier fats that are mostly found in oils from plants and fish.
Unsaturated fat is found in:
- oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and pilchards
- nuts and seeds
- sunflower and olive oils
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 partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.
Like saturated fats, trans fats can raise cholesterol levels in the blood. Therefore adults should not have more than 5g of trans fats a day.
Tips for cutting down on fat
All types of fat are high in energy and should be limited in the diet.
To cut the amount of 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
- 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
- check the nutrition labels on food packaging for total fat and saturated fat and, where colour coded labels are used, try 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.
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.