On my yoga detox retreats, I often give a few suggestions on how to eat more healthily... and one important aspect to this is that of FATS.
We all need some fat in our diet. But eating too much fat makes us more likely to become overweight. What’s more, too much of a particular kind of fat – saturated fat – can raise our cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart disease. That’s why it’s important to cut down on fat, and choose foods that contain unsaturated fat.
Eating too much fat can make us more likely to put on weight, because foods that are high in fat are also high in energy (calories). Being overweight raises our risk of serious health problems, such as:
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, we should try to cut down on food that is high in saturated fat, and instead eat foods that are rich in unsaturated fat.
Saturated fat (=bad fat)
Foods high in saturated fat include:
avocado pears contain unsaturated (good) fats
Unsaturated fat (=good fats)
Having unsaturated fat instead of saturated fat can help lower blood cholesterol.
Unsaturated fat is found in:
...and then there are the Trans-fats...
Trans-fats are made by a chemical process called partial hydrogenation. Liquid vegetable oil (an otherwise healthy mono-unsaturated fat) is packed with hydrogen atoms and converted into a solid fat (e.g. margarine). This made what seemed like an ideal fat for the food industry to work with because of its high melting point, its creamy, smooth texture and its reusability in deep-fat frying..., but it was later found to be even unhealthier than saturated fats.
Trans-fats are found naturally at low levels in some foods, such as those from animals, including meat and dairy products. They may also be found in foods containing hydrogenated vegetable oil. If a food contains hydrogenated vegetable oil then this must be declared on the ingredients list.
Like saturated fats, trans-fats can raise cholesterol levels in the blood. This is why it’s recommended that trans-fats should make up no more than 2% of the energy (calories) we get from our diet. For adults, this is no more than about 5g a day.
Most people in the UK don’t eat a lot of trans fats. On average, we eat about half the recommended maximum. Most of the supermarkets in the UK have removed hydrogenated vegetable oil from all their own-brand products.
We eat a lot more saturated fats than trans fats. This means that when looking at the amount of fat in your diet, it’s more important to focus on reducing the amount of saturated fat.
Check nutrition labels. The nutrition labels on food packaging can help you to cut down on total fat and saturated fat.
Labels containing nutrition 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, and sometimes the amount per portion or per serving.
Look out for "saturates" or "sat fat" on the label: this tells you how much saturated fat is in the food.
What "lower fat" really means
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% lower in fat than the standard equivalent. So if the type of food in question is high in fat in the first place, the lower-fat version may also still be high in fat.
For example, a lower-fat mayonnaise is 30% lower in fat than the standard version, but is still high in fat.
Also, foods that are marked "lower fat" or "reduced fat" 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.
To be sure of the fat content and the calorie content, remember to check the nutrition label on the packet.
Before purchasing or eating something, simply ask yourself whether your body will appreciate it, and try to imagine what you'll feel like having consumed it... and if you're still convinced that it's right for that moment - enjoy it!
Globe-trotting nomad, yogini, holistic therapist, cat lover who, after 20 years of traveling the world, has finally laid down roots in the magical mountains of Monchique - Portugal's 'upper Algarve'.