Fats are a group of compounds that make an important contribution to our nutrition, despite their bad press. There are different types of fats and some provide a good source of the fat we need, while others are better avoided.
These are considered the ‘bad’ fats because of their link to heart disease and should be eaten in small amounts. They come mostly from animal products, especially fatty meats, and dairy products, like butter, full-fat milk and cheese, but also from coconut and palm oil. Fast foods are also major contributors.
Eating saturated fat increases both good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol levels. Controlling your LDL cholesterol level is the best-known way of lessening your risk of coronary heart disease, so eating fewer of the foods that contain large amounts of saturated fat is an important way to do this.
We don’t need these fats in our diet at all. Although they are unsaturated, when food manufacturers 'hygrogenate' them to make them firm, they become more like saturated fats in their effects on blood cholesterol. Not only do they increase our levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol, but they also decrease our levels of good (HDL) cholesterol.
Mostly these fats come from manufactured foods, like some margarines and peanut butters, biscuits, crackers, cakes and potato chips. However, most spreads now available in New Zealand and Australia only contain a small proportion of trans fats.
Check food labels to see if what you are buying contains trans fats.
These are often referred to as the ‘good’ fats as they don’t have the same effect on blood cholesterol levels as saturated and trans fats. As a result, they are not as much of a concern to our health as they don’t increase the risk of heart disease. They are still a type of fat and all fats when eaten in quantities greater than our bodies need can lead to weight gain.
Unsaturated fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Omega-3 fats are a type of polyunsaturated fat.
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