After decades of debate, the evidence shows we need good fats to stay well. Here’s how to get the balance right
For many years, we’ve been advised by the Government to avoid saturated fat with millions of us switching to low-fat diets.1 But now it seems shoppers are embracing fat again: in 2017, sales of whole milk rose by around 4%, while skimmed milk sales dropped by a similar amount.2 So is that a good thing?
Why fat is good for us
We need fats: they provide energy, and because they take longer for our bodies to process, they keep us feeling fuller for longer. Fats are important for building our cell membranes and help us absorb ‘fat-soluble’ vitamins A, D, E, and K.3 They’re also a source of essential fatty acids, which our bodies can’t make but are needed for brain, heart and immune health.4
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The risks of not eating enough fat
Firstly, you’d miss out on those important fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids. And because fat helps blunt carbohydrate’s blood-sugar raising effects, you could experience a rollercoaster of blood sugar highs and lows.5 Not eating enough fat can also lead to overeating – healthy fats work with your cells’ satiety hormone, cholecystokinin, to let you know when you’re full.6
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How much fat should you eat per day?
However, it’s still important to eat fats in moderation, as they are very high in calories, at nine calories per gram, compared to four calories per gram for protein and carbohydrates.7
The Department of Health advises we aim for fat to make up less than 35% of your daily food intake – or around 70g a fat per day.8 Here’s the fat content of some popular foods: 9,10,11,12,13
- a tablespoon of olive oil – 13.5g
- a tablespoon of butter – 11g
- half an avocado – 15g
- 10 almonds – 5g
- 28g (1oz) Cheddar cheese – 9.3g
Aim to eat mostly unsaturated fat, with no more than 20g a day of saturated fat.14
Best fats to choose
Polyunsaturated fats, found in nuts, seeds, sunflower and sesame oils15
Monounsaturated fats, for example in olive and rapeseed oils, nuts, seeds and avocado16
Omega-3 essential fatty acids, which are in oily fish like mackerel, salmon and sardines, plus rapeseed, soya, flax, linseed oils, pecans and walnuts17
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
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1. NHS Choices. 1980s fat guidelines ‘lacked evidence’, study argues. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/news/food-and-diet/1980s-fat-guidelines-lacked-evidence-study-argues/
2. ADHB Dairy. Changing consumer perception of fat is good news for dairy. Available from: https://dairy.ahdb.org.uk/news/news-articles/april-2018/changing-consumer-perception-of-fat-is-good-news-for-dairy-(1)/#.W3KhAJNKjSx
3. NHS Choices. Fat: The Facts. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/different-fats-nutrition/
4. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Essential Fatty Acids. Available from: https://www.pcrm.org/health/health-topics/essential-fatty-acids
5. Healthy eating. How Do Fats & Proteins Affect Blood Sugar Levels? Available from: https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/fats-proteins-affect-blood-sugar-levels-11172.html
6. Healthline. 9 Proven Ways to Fix the Hormones That Control Your Weight. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/9-fixes-for-weight-hormones
7. British Nutrition Foundation. Fat. Available from: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/fat.html
8. NHS Choices. Reference intakes explained. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/what-are-reference-intakes-on-food-labels/
9. Self Nutrition Data. Oil, olive, salad or cooking Nutrition Facts & Calories. Available from: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fats-and-oils/509/2
10. Self Nutrition Data. Butter, without salt Nutrition Facts & Calories. Available from: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/dairy-and-egg-products/133/2
11. Self Nutrition Data. Avocado, raw, all commercial varieties. Available from: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/1843/2
12. Self Nutrition Data. Nuts, almonds. Available from: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/nut-and-seed-products/3085/2
13. Self Nutrition Data. Cheese, cheddar nutrition facts and calories. Available from: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/dairy-and-egg-products/8/2
14. As Source 3
15. FDA. Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated Fat. Available from: https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/InteractiveNutritionFactsLabel/factsheets/Monounsaturated_and_Polyunsaturated_Fat.pdf
16. As above
17. BDA. Omega-3. Available from: https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/omega3.pdf