Should you be following a low fat diet?

By Hannah Buckland, Healthy Hearts Care Planner

Today’s topic, fats, is one that many find confusing and difficult to understand. We realise that for some of you, nutrition may be the last thing on your mind right now, but for others you may find you have a little more time to focus on your diet than usual. If the latter applies to you, then we hope this article will clear up any questions you ever had about fats! We take a look at the evidence in an attempt to shed some light on the topic.

Too much saturated (and trans) fat in your diet can raise your cholesterol and consequently increase your risk of developing heart disease. Fat is also high in energy, so eating too many fatty foods can contribute to weight gain. A low-fat diet can aid with weight maintenance and reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

However, the message to reduce fat in your diet is too simplified. After all, we do need a small amount of fat to contribute to a healthy, balanced diet. Fat is needed to absorb vitamins which are essential to maintain good health – and is also a source of essential fatty acids, which the body is unable to make itself. Reducing fat in your diet could therefore deny your body these vital nutrients.

What is evident is that the type of fat you consume is important when it comes to health, as well as what you replace it with. For example, research has shown that replacing saturated fat in the diet with refined carbohydrates can actually increase your risk of heart disease, whereas replacing it with unsaturated fat seems to lower it. The current UK advice is therefore to have no more than 70g of fat each day and to replace saturated (and trans) fats with unsaturated fats where possible. If you’re not sure about which foods contain which types of fat, check out this page by the NHS.

So, how can you translate this  into your day-to-day? Check the labels on food packaging can help you keep an eye on how much fat you are consuming. In the UK, both total fat and saturated fat are depicted on front of pack labels. Aim for foods that are green or amber for saturated fat. Be wary of “lower fat” labels – just because a food contains 30% less fat than a similar product, doesn’t mean it’s not still high in fat!

Other ways to reduce fat in your diet include: grilling, baking, steaming or poaching food instead of frying or roasting it; trimming fat off meat before cooking; choosing leaner cuts of meat; trying reduced-fat spreads; and measuring oil with a teaspoon rather than free-pouring (unsaturated oils such as rapeseed and olive are best).

Remember that fat is just one aspect of your diet, and the balance of your whole diet is key when it comes to health. Healthy Hearts promote a Mediterranean style of eating, which is high in unsaturated fats but also includes lots of fibre and whole-grain carbohydrates. Our online courses can teach you more about fats and also arm you with lots of practical tips for how to achieve a healthy, balanced diet. Call us on 020 3434 2500 or sign up here.

Read some other blogs in our Myth Busting Series:

Wk1 Can you trust what you read online?
Wk2 Calories: Should you focus on quantity or quality?
Wk3 Should you be cutting carbs for weight loss?
Wk4 Should you be following a low fat diet?
Wk5 Protein: What sources are there?

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