Why Saturated Fat is Giving All Fats a Bad Name

Man, fat has got a bad reputation, hasn’t it? You blame it for everything that’s wrong with your wellness; from clogging your arteries and raising your cholesterol to causing your waist to expand. But is fat really responsible for all that damage to your wellbeing? Or could including fat in your diet actually be beneficial to your health?


According to Dr Sarah Berry, a lecturer in dietary fat and cardiovascular disease at King’s College, London, ‘Fat has been demonised and become the villain of our diets when in reality it is an essential component. People thought low-fat was good, so no-fat must be better, but that’s not true.’ Recently an independent group of experts, carried out a survey that suggested the same misconception; of the 1,000 people who responded to the survey, one in 10 people didn’t realise they need fat in their diets, and one in five thought saturated fat (the worst kind) was a healthy option.


The truth is that it’s unfair to tar all fat with the same brush. In fact, the right kinds of fat are good for you, and can add flavour and texture to your food. Dietician Sian Porter explains, ‘Fat in the right amount is a key part of a healthy balanced diet. It provides essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6), which our bodies can’t make themselves; helps us to absorb the important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K; and generally plays a part in maintaining healthy tissue, skin and immune function.’ So there’s nothing wrong with the occasional meal that’s high in fat, as long as you balance it with healthier options and know exactly what you’re eating. Dr Berry comments, ‘In a balanced diet, it’s the type of fat we’re eating that we need to think about, not the total amount.’


Let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly of fats:


Unsaturated fats: Whether you go for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, these are the good guys for your wellness. The way to tell the difference between these and the black sheep of the fat family, saturated fat, is that unsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature. These fats don’t raise your cholesterol levels and actually benefit your heart and circulation. Your ideal sources of unsaturated fats are plants; seeds, nuts, vegetables such as olives and avocados, and the oils and spreads made from them. You can also get plenty of good-for-you-fat from oily fish, but there is a small amount of saturated fats found in fish too, so be aware.


Saturated fats: These are the naughty kids that give all other fats a bad name. Saturated fat, which is firm at room temperature, can raise your levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol which, in turn, bumps up your risk for heart disease. You’ll mostly find saturated fats in food from animals, such as lard, fatty or processed meat, and dairy products such as butter, cream and cheese. However, these nasty fats also lurk in coconut and palm oil, confectionery, cakes, biscuits, pastries, pies, takeaways and ready meals. Dr Berry urges, ‘We are consuming too much saturated fat and not enough unsaturated. And it’s this balance that’s vital.’


Trans fats: These chemically altered vegetable oils increase the shelf life of your food, such as sweets, biscuits and ready meals, but they have been linked to high cholesterol. While the NHS has called for trans fats to be banned from the public diet altogether, some experts believe they’re no longer a concern. Dr Berry notes, ‘Food companies have been voluntarily removing them and they’re no longer a noteworthy health issue in the UK.’

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