The truth about fat
Is butter better? Is eating meat bad for your heart? We know there's a lot of confusion about fat, so we’ve explained the truth behind some of the myths.
Myth: All fats are the same
All fats are high in energy and have an identical calorie value (9kcal per gram), so their effect on your waistline is the same. The big difference is their effect on your cholesterol levels, so it’s important to consider the type as well as the amount of fat you are eating.
Industrially produced trans fats and too much saturated fat can increase the risk of coronary heart disease by raising the level of harmful LDL cholesterol, which can contribute to blood vessel blockage.
Swapping saturated fats in your diet for unsaturated fats can help lower cholesterol levels
Trans fats have largely been removed from UK food; average intakes are now below recommended maximums.
However, we’re still exceeding recommended amounts of saturated fats. These include butter, lard and ghee, plus coconut and palm oil (often found in confectionery and biscuits). Saturated fats are also in whole milk, cream, cheese, cakes and chocolate.
Swapping saturated fats in your diet for unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) can help lower cholesterol levels. Find unsaturated fats in avocados, olive, rapeseed and sunflower oils, oily fish, seeds and nuts.
Myth: I need to eat a low-fat diet to look after my heart
As our understanding develops, it’s clear we need to consider the overall balance of our diets. A Mediterranean-style diet is famously associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease, attributed to the inclusion of olive oil, grains, beans, lentils, fruit, vegetables, oily fish and nuts.
This is not a low-fat diet, but the fats are mostly unsaturated. It seems to be the overall combination that makes it so successful.
Myth: Cutting out all fat is good for my heart
Such a drastic approach isn’t necessary, and excluding fat can mean missing out on nutrients and fatty acids that our bodies need, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fats.
These polyunsaturated fats are found in oily fish, nuts, seeds and the oils made from them.
Myth: Butter is better
Butter is high in saturated fat, so restrict yourself to small amounts and use alternatives for everyday eating.
Try mono or polyunsaturated spreads, such as olive oil or sunflower spreads (a new manufacturing process solved past concerns about their trans fat content). Liquid oils can also be used for cooking and baking instead of butter.
Myth: Any kind of meat is bad for my heart
Lean meats such as chicken or turkey, without the skin, are healthier options, as they are lower in saturated fat. Red and processed meats can be high in saturated fats and may also have added salt.
Watch out for the white bits of fat in ham, steaks and bacon, and trim them off where possible.
Monounsaturated fats: Unsaturated fats that protect our hearts by maintaining levels of good HDL cholesterol while reducing levels of bad LDL cholesterol.
Polyunsaturated fats: Unsaturated fats that reduce blood cholesterol, including triglycerides. Omega-3 and omega-6 are the two main types of polyunsaturated fats.
Saturated fats: Our body uses these to produce bad LDL cholesterol. Saturated fats can increase both total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels. Most saturated fats are identified easily, as they are solid at room temperature, except for palm oil.
Trans fats: These occur when oils are transformed into solid fats during a process called hydrogenation. Foods that list ‘hydrogenated oils/fats’ or ‘partially hydrogenated oils/fats’ as ingredients are likely to contain trans fats. Very small amounts of trans fats occur naturally in dairy products and meat, but not in sufficient quantities to be harmful to your health.