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The Facts About Fats

By Katie Kelly – Food and Health Editor

Do fats make us fat? What are “bad” fats? And are there really such things as “good” fats? With so much confusion and fearmongering surrounding this nutrient, it can be hard to know what to believe.

To simplify things, fat is a macronutrient which our bodies need to carry out certain functions, in the same way it needs carbohydrates and protein to carry out others. The fat on our bodies is not solely due to consuming dietary fat either. When we consume calories in any form (from protein, fats or carbohydrates) in excess of our bodies’ requirements, it is converted to adipose tissue (i.e body fat) for storage. Fats have an important role in the diet, as they provide energy and are needed for the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. They are also required for energy, insulation of the body, protection of organs and the production of cell membranes in our bodies.

The trouble occurs when we consume too much of this macronutrient, or more specifically too much of the so-called “bad” forms of it. It is important to remember that no single food or nutrient is technically “good” or “bad” and it is the overall balance and quality of the diet which matters. However, when it comes to fats, the terms “good fats” and “bad fats” are sometimes used to distinguish between the different forms, as they have different effects on our bodies.

Saturated fats and trans fats are sometimes referred to as “bad” fats. Eating too much of these fats on a regular basis may have long-term impacts on our health and is linked with a higher risk of heart disease. Trans fats are found in cakes, biscuits and fried foods, while saturated fats are found in foods such as butter, coconut oil, pastries and in fatty meats. This does not mean that you have to avoid these foods for the rest your life, just that you should try to limit your consumption of them where possible.

Current guidelines recommend reducing our intake of saturated fats and replacing them with unsaturated fats to reduce the long-term risk of cardiovascular disease. Unsaturated fats are sometimes referred to as “good” fats. These include monounsaturated fats, which are found in foods such as avocados, almonds, hazelnuts and olive oil. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are found in oily fish, nuts and seeds. Omega-3 fatty acids are a specific type of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Oily fish is a particularly good source of these, and it is recommended to consume two portions of oily fish per week for heart health.

So, in the end it all comes back to following the healthy eating guidelines and enjoying things in moderation! Remember that fat going into your mouth is not the same as the fat found on your body and try not to be scared by demonisation of this nutrient in the media.