Not all fat is bad. Fats are an essential part of healthy eating so it’s good for you to eat a certain amount of the healthier fats. Here we clarify the differences between healthy and unhealthy fats and the foods you need to try to include in your diet and those you should avoid.
Healthier fats include monounsaturated fats
and polyunsaturated fats - omega-3 and omega-6
. These fats reduce the 'bad' LDL cholesterol in your blood and increase the 'good' HDL cholesterol. This helps to lower your risk of getting heart disease.
A healthy balanced diet should include the healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. However, it’s not always easy to know where to find them or how to use them in meals. Below is a guide to using healthier fats in your meals and snacks.
1. Monounsaturated fat is found in foods such as avocados, almonds, cashews, peanuts and cooking oils made from plants or seeds such as sunflower, canola, soybean, olive, sesame and peanut oils.
Avocado and nuts can be added to salads and a handful of unsalted nuts make a healthy snack any time of the day. Try a handful of almonds sprinkled over breakfast cereal.
2. Polyunsaturated fat (omega-6) is found in foods such as fish, tahini (sesame seed spread), margarine, linseed (flaxseed), sunflower and safflower oil, pine nuts and brazil nuts.
- Tahini can be used as a spread on crackers instead off butter or used as a base for dips, sauces and stews
- Choose margarine made from sunflower and safflower oils, and use instead of butter on sandwiches and toast
- Sprinkle ground linseed on breakfast cereal or choose wholegrain bread with linseeds.
Add pine nuts or sesame seeds to salads or sprinkle over vegetables.
Polyunsaturated fat (omega-3s) is found in oily fish such as tuna, salmon, sardines and blue mackerel as well as walnuts and linseeds.
We recommend eating two or three serves (150 grams per serve) of oily fish every week. Walnuts and ground linseeds can be added to stir fries or sprinkled on breakfast cereal.
Unhealthy fats: saturated and trans
Unhealthy fats include saturated fats and trans fats. Too much saturated and trans fat contributes to the build up of fatty material, called plaque, on the inside of your blood vessels and is a major cause of heart disease. These fats can increase LDL cholesterol in our blood that leads to the plaque. Lowering saturated fat in the diet will help to lower LDL cholesterol.
1. Saturated fats are found in foods such as fat on meat, chicken skin, full fat dairy products, butter and take-away foods. Saturated fats are always listed on the nutrition panel so when choosing between foods in the supermarket, compare the nutrition information panel on the back and choose the one lowest in saturated fat.
Hard and full fat soft cheeses
Full fat dairy products
Fat on meats
Processed meat such as sausages, burgers and salami
Fatty or fried take-away foods
Packaged cakes and biscuits
Five tips to reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet:
1. Swap full fat dairy foods for reduced, low or no fat dairy foods for all family members more than two years old. You will remove 4 kg of saturated fat from your diet in a year if you do this with 1 cup of milk, two slices of cheese and a small tub of yoghurt a day. You can remove even more by choosing no fat foods.
2. Swap butter for a margarine spread made from canola, sunflower, olive or dairy blends. Just doing this with your daily toast will remove 2.85 kg of saturated fat from your diet in one year.
3. Cut the fat. Trim all visible fat from meat, remove skin from chicken and
try to avoid processed meat (e.g. sausages and salami) unless it has the Heart Foundation Tick.
4. Eat two to three serves of oily fish a week. A serve of fish is 150 g, which is
about the size of your whole hand. Add fish oil capsules and omega-3 enriched foods and drinks to your diet if you’re not eating enough oily fish.
5. Choose healthier treats. Cakes, pastries and biscuits are one of the main sources of saturated fat in our diets. Raisin bread, Tick approved cereal and nut bars, or Tick approved sweet biscuits are healthier options. Limit pastries, pizza, fried fish, hamburgers, hot chips and creamy pasta to once a week.
What is trans fat?
Trans fat is a type of unsaturated fat that behaves like a saturated fat because of its chemical structure. It increases our risk of heart disease by increasing the “bad” LDL cholesterol, while also lowering the “good” HDL cholesterol in our blood.
Naturally occurring trans fats are found in small amounts in dairy products, beef, veal, lamb and mutton.
Artificial, synthetic, industrial or manufactured trans fats are caused by the way some fats and oils are processed. They are found in foods that use hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable fats, such as deep-fried and baked foods.
How can I avoid trans fat?
The best way to avoid trans fat is to follow our healthy eating messages and look for foods carrying the Heart Foundation Tick.
1. Choose polyunsaturated and monounsaturated spreads and margarines
2. Choose lean meat trimmed of all visible fat
3. Choose reduced, low or no fat dairy foods
4. Try to limit the amount of fast foods and take-away meals including deep-fried and baked foods including store bought biscuits, pastries, pies and cakes that you eat.
Avoid foods that show ”hydrogenated oils” or “partially hydrogenated vegetable oils” in the ingredients list. However, the law doesn’t currently enforce companies to list these fats on labels. The Heart Foundation is lobbying government for mandatory labelling of trans fat but in the meantime, look for foods with the Heart Foundation Tick.
To earn the Heart Foundation Tick, vegetable oils and margarines must contain no more than 1% trans fat as part of their total fat. Other products must be virtually free (trace levels only) of trans fat to qualify for the Tick. “Virtually free” allows for trans fats that occur naturally in foods.
These tips have been provided by ‘Mums United’ from the Heart Foundation.
For more easy, practical ways to raise a healthier family, as well as yummy free healthier recipes you can bake with margarine, check out heartfoundation.org.au/mumsunited.
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