Our body uses fat from food as a source of fuel. Fat is unique as there is always room for more of it to be stored in the body. It helps insulate the body and protects and pads vital organs. In addition, fat maintains the integrity of cell membranes and is involved in the processes of growth, immune function, reproduction and metabolism. Fat acts as a reserve for nutrients such as vitamin A, D, E and K.
Saturated fat, which is considered as bad fat, is found predominantly in animal food products and some plant foods. Sources include butter, cooking margarine, ghee, lard, shortening, palm oil, coconut oil/milk/cream, spreads, sauces, ice-cream, fatty meat, processed meats, processed foods such as biscuits, pies, pasties, pastries, takeaways foods and snacks. Saturated fat tends to raise the level of cholesterol in the blood. Some of the chronic diseases linked with saturated fat are coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some cancers.
Unsaturated fat is considered as healthy fats. It helps lower the risk of high blood cholesterol. There are two main forms, of unsaturated fats. They are polyunsaturated and monounsaturated.
Polyunsaturated fats (PUFA)
Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats. Omega-3 assists with lowering blood triglycerides and blood pressure. Sources of Omega-3s are oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, blue-eye trevalla, tuna, free range eggs, linseed/flaxseed, walnuts, chia seeds, soybean oil and canola oil. Omega-6 has been linked with reducing the risk of heart disease. Sources of omega-6 are margarine spreads, sunflower, soybean, sesame oils, walnuts, pecans, brazil and pine nuts and sunflower seeds.
Monounsaturated fats (MUFA)
MUFAs assists with lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol level which can cause clogged, or blocked, blood vessels. This helps to reduce the risk for heart disease and stroke. Sources of MUFAs are oils such as olive, canola and peanut and nuts and avocados
Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats in the diet has been linked with lowering triglycerides, blood pressure and risk of heart disease as mentioned above but all fats including good fats contribute to weight gain. Fat provides the body with energy 37 kilojoules (kJ)/g which is approximately 8.8 calories for every gram of fat. Hence not only is it important to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats but it is imperative to limit the amount of total fat consumed overall. It is also important to consult with an Accredited Practising Dietitian to discuss individual requirements.