| Good Fats, Bad Fats|
Australians consume too much fat. Many of us consume 40 per cent of our total calories from fat – either as fat or oil, or as fat in foods and drinks. Too much fat in the diet can lead to excess weight gain and can contribute to some health conditions, such as heart disease and some cancers.
Yet, despite these health warnings, some amount of fat is necessary for a healthy diet. Fats carry out some essential functions in the in the body, including providing insulation and a protective cover for the body’s organs and enabling your body to transport, store and absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Fats also supply essential fatty acids that are necessary for good health but that are not made by the body.
There are different types of fats, some of which are better for us than others.
Saturated fats have sub-groups known as long chain, medium chain and short chain fats. Most of the long chain fats raise blood cholesterol and increase the risk of blood clots and thrombosis leading to artery blockage. Long chain saturated fats are found in full cream milk, cheese, butter, cream, fatty meats and sausages, and processed foods.
If mono-unsaturated fats replace saturated fats in the diet they can help to increase 'good' HDL cholesterol and lower 'bad' LDL cholesterol. Foods rich in mono-unsaturated fats include olive and canola oils, margarine, peanuts and avocados.
There are two main types of polyunsaturated fats: omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Both types of fatty acid tend to lower blood cholesterol while omega-3s can also offer extra benefits by lowering blood triglycerides and reduce the risk of thrombosis, heart arrhythmias and artery spasm.
Good sources of omega-6 fatty acids include safflower, sunflower and corn oils. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include canola oil and margarine, soybean oil and fish, particularly oily fish.
Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to provide a wide range of health benefits, including improving diabetes, arthritis and kidney function. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for the brain and retina development of a developing foetus and infant.
As little as 1-2 grams daily of omega-3 fatty acids may benefit general health. High doses of fish oil supplements should only be taken as directed by your doctor.
Trans Fatty Acids
Trans fatty acids, or trans fats, act like saturated fats in the body. They have the potential to raise 'bad' LDL cholesterol and lower 'good' HDL cholesterol.
Most trans fatty acids are created during the process of hydrogenation. This process solidifies or stabilizes liquid fats and oils. Trans fatty acids also occur naturally in low amounts in some foods, such as meats and dairy products.
Hydrogenated oils are used in a wide range of processed foods, such as baked foods, fried foods and margarines. These oils tend to give foods a better texture and make them stay fresh longer, which is why food manufacturers like to use them. For example, some of the popular margarine brands that we enjoy spreading straight from the fridge use hydrogenated oils.
However, just because margarine contains trans fatty acids, it doesn’t mean you should automatically reach for the butter. The levels of saturated fats in butter are much higher that those in margarine and it is saturated fats that many doctors recommend we concentrate on reducing in our diet.
Including Fats in the Diet
On the whole, you should aim to include more polyunsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats in the diet than saturated or trans fats. Most nutrition labels carry information regarding total fats and a breakdown of saturated, mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Remember that all fats are high in calories and need to be limited for weight control.
Sources of 'Good' fats:
Canola oil, canola margarine
Fish, particularly oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, sardines
Soybeans, soybean oil
Sources of 'Bad' fats:
Chips and crackers
Deep fried foods
Fatty meats and sausages
Full cream milk
Many packaged and processed foods
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