Fats: the good, the bad and the ugly

Navigating your way through the different types of fats can be really confusing. So we’ve broken down everything you need to know about which fats to keep and which to cut back on, in order to lose weight and stay healthy.

When it comes to our health, many of us might need to cut back on the amount of fat we consume,. But some of us may be short-changing our health by eliminating all fats.

Fat’s bad reputation

Our daily diet can be broken down into three components or “macronutrients” — carbohydrates, protein and fat. Of these, fat is by far the most energy dense, which means there are more kilojoules per gram of fat compared to kilojoules per gram of protein or carbohydrates.
 
The basics of weight loss involve consuming less energy (kilojoules) than you burn off, so cutting back fat in your diet is an effective way to cut back on kilojoules. BUT, not all fats are created equal, and some of them are essential to our health.

The benefits of fat

Bupa dietitian Rosalyn D’Angelo says fat is an important part of our diet.
 
“Fats make us feel full, and healthy fats can actually improve our heart health. So what we should really do, is replace the unhealthy fats with the healthy ones, without overdoing the portion of healthy fats we consume,” she says.

Different types of fat

There are three types of fat:

  • Unsaturated fat — good
  • Saturated fat — bad
  • Trans fat — ugly

Unsaturated fats are also known as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These are the good fats because they increase the levels of good cholesterol (HDL) in our blood, and reduce our risk of heart disease and stroke. Unsaturated fats tend to be liquid at room temperature.

Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature like butter or the fat on meat. They are the kind of fats that raise our bad (LDL) cholesterol, and clog our arteries, increasing our risk of heart disease and stroke.

Trans fats pack a double punch. Not only do they raise the levels of bad LDL cholesterol, but they also lower the levels of the good HDL cholesterol. They naturally occur in small amounts of animal products like butter, beef and lamb, but they are usually formed during food processing. Trans fats can also be called ‘partially hydrogenated oils’.

avocado

Eat the right type of fats

“Cutting down on the unhealthy fats has a two-fold positive effect. It cuts down on unnecessary kilojoules in the diet, but it also means we’re less likely to have high cholesterol, which contributes to heart disease,” says D’Angelo.

She says replacing saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats is the way to go.

Limit foods that are high in saturated and/or trans fats.

These include:

  • butter
  • cream
  • biscuits
  • cakes
  • pastries (including pies and pasties)
  • deep fried foods
  • processed meats like sausages
  • fats on meat
  • coconut oil
  • milk
  • palm oil.

Instead we should eat more of the healthy fats — the unsaturated ones, including:

  • avocado
  • oils such as olive, canola and peanut
  • canola or olive oil based margarines
  • nuts such as almonds, walnuts, brazils and cashews
  • seafood, especially oily fish like salmon and tuna.

But D’Angelo warns not to overdo it, just because they are healthy fats.

“Eating too much of anything — whether it is fat, protein or carbohydrate — can lead to weight gain. If weight loss is your goal, portion control is very important.”

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