Dietary fats guide

Dietary fats seem to divide into those that are good for you, those that are bad and those that are outright dangerous. Get the lowdown on what fat to eat and what to avoid with top nutritionist Vicki Edgson's expert tips

Fats to feast on
Not all fats are bad. Essential fats in our diet help our organs function, keep skin elastic, and aid memory and concentration. The two most common essential fatty acids are: Omega-3, found primarily in oily fish, nuts and seeds; and Omega-6, found largely in nuts and seeds (not fish) and their oils.

Eating a very low-fat diet can be bad for you because, invariably, you’ll miss out on these essential fats. A no-fat diet often causes very dry skin and subcutaneous bumpy spots on the back of the arms.

Ration the wrong fats
Unsaturated fat, which is the healthiest option, is usually liquid at room temperature and generally comes from vegetable sources such as sesame, sunflower, soya and olives. It’s also present in oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, pilchards and salmon, and in soft margarine.

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are included in this group. Olive oil, a monounsaturated fat, is more stable when cooked than polyunsaturates, such as pumpkin seed and avocado oils. Reserve these cold-pressed oils for salad dressings and only cook with olive oil.

Saturated fats, generally solid at room temperature, are usually from animal sources and are found in dairy produce, meat and poultry. This is the type of fat that can clog up the arteries, add fat to your body and cause elevated cholesterol, so ensure you limit your intake to these amounts:

- One to two portions of red meat per week; four to five portions of poultry (turkey, and game birds like pheasant, partridge and quail, are leaner than chicken. Duck is fattiest).
- No more than 1/2pt of whole milk or yogurt per day, and no more than 2oz of lower-fat cheeses and 1oz of butter per day.
- Do not fry or deep-fry any meat or poultry; stir-fry, steam, bake, poach or grill only. Don’t overcook, as blackened meat and poultry causes the saturated fats to become trans fatty acids, which are highly damaging to arterial walls, increasing the risk of high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack.

Read the label
When shopping look for:
The total fat content.
High is more than 20g fat per 100g.
Low is 3g fat or less per 100g.
Saturated fat:
High is more than 5g saturates per 100g.
Low is 1.5g saturates or less per 100g.

Replace saturated with unsaturated
Try almond or soya milk instead of cows’ on your muesli or porridge.
Use light olive oil for cooking rather than butter.
Swap a ready-made low-fat salad dressing for one made from pumpkin
seed or walnut oil with lemon or apple juice.
Add edamame (soya beans) to a salad with a small tin of mixed beans for a high vegetable/protein meal, rather than beef, ham or pork.
Choose salmon, mackerel or sardines to have with poached or scrambled eggs rather than bacon.
Eat avocados instead of packet snacks. Half an avocado will give you vitamin E, essential fats and more protein than most other fruit.

What are trans fats?
Trans fats (or trans fatty acids) are made when manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil to increase the shelf life and flavour stability of foods. A small amount is also found in animal-based foods. The problem is that trans fat raises cholesterol.

Foods most likely to contain trans fats are biscuits and cakes, fast food, pastry and some margarines. Most major supermarkets now ban trans fats from their own-brand items.

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