We are generally led to believe that fats are unhealthy and that we should cut them out of our diets as much as possible. However, fats are an essential part of a balanced diet, and should not be completely avoided.
You will have heard of saturated and unsaturated fats, but would you be able to tell which is which? Saturated fats are usually from animal products, such as cheese and butter, and you should only include small amounts of these in your diet. Unsaturated fats are usually from plant sources, and will be liquid at room temperature. These are a healthier alternative that you can use when you are cooking.
Which fats are considered healthy?
If you are looking to find a healthier alternative to the butter you are currently using for cooking, then there is a wide variety of vegetable oils that you can try. These will add different flavours to your food, so you may want to keep a selection in your kitchen and choose the most appropriate for the meal you are preparing. Try olive oil (of which there are many different blends), grape seed oil or sunflower oil.
What are the health benefits?
Switching from saturated fat to unsaturated fats will help to reduce your risk of heart disease, and also help to lower your cholesterol level. As your level of cholesterol is reduced, blood pressure will also start to fall as a result. It is important to include some fats in your food in order to maintain a balanced diet; excluding them completely will result in malnutrition and related conditions.
Unsaturated fats are a good source of omega 3 fatty acids, which have a number of health benefits. Clinical studies have shown that omega 3 fatty acids:
Can help to prevent and reduce the symptoms of depression.
Reduce the pain of arthritis and other forms of chronic inflammation.
Reduce the risk of stroke, heart disease and cancer.
Help to reduce the symptoms and slow the progression of dementia.
How can I include more healthy fats in my diet?
There are many foods that contain healthy unsaturated fats, and it is particularly important to include polyunsaturated fats in your diet (these are the healthiest form of fats that you can eat).
So, try cooking with a vegetable or nut oil instead of butter, snack on nuts and seeds to increase your intake of these healthy fats and omega 3, try to include a portion of oily fish such as salmon or tuna in your diet once a week, and eat avocados, or guacamole if you prefer. These are all excellent sources of unsaturated fats.
What about fat free foods?
Fat free foods or those advertised as such, will often contain high levels of sugar and other simple carbohydrates instead, which the body will convert to fat in order to store the energy they contain.
These foods are also highly processed in order to eliminate the fat, and it is more important to avoid heavily processed foods than it is to avoid eating fats. A better alternative to these “healthy” foods would be to eat more fresh produce, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. These will provide unsaturated fats without the high levels of sugar that the majority of fat free foods contain.
It is important to include some fats in your diet so that your body is able to absorb the fat soluble vitamins that you need more easily. This will mean you get even more benefit from the healthy fresh foods you are now eating. Try to make these fats the healthy, unsaturated fats from plant sources.