Eating too much of any kind of food is a bad idea, health-wise. The balanced diet that’s so vital for a healthy heart (among other things) involves eating a variety of different foods in the right proportions. Balancing fruits and vegetables with starchy foods, dairy, meat, and fat – and getting enough ‘good’ unsaturated fat – is the basis of any healthy diet.
However, not all of us manage to get this balance quite right, and over-consumption of saturated fat is often singled out as a problem in the UK today. It’s not necessary to avoid eating saturated fat altogether, but we could all benefit from analysing our intake every now and again – according to the most recent National Diet and Nutrition Survey by Public Health England, most of us are exceeding the recommended amount.
So why are saturated fats bad for you, compared to unsaturated fats?
A quick guide to fats
Not all fats are bad. A healthy balanced diet will include a certain amount of fat, as it contributes towards plenty of important processes in the body. But there are types of fat – ‘bad’ saturated fats and ‘good’ unsaturated fats – and it is recommended that we eat more unsaturated fat than the saturated kind: according to the British Dietetic Association, saturated fats should account for a maximum of one third of our total fat intake, with unsaturated fat making up the rest. This is in part because of the impact too much saturated fat has on cholesterol levels.
Why is saturated fat bad for cholesterol compared to unsaturated fats?
The answer for anyone wondering: “Why are saturated fats ‘bad’ fats?” is that replacing saturated fats in the diet with unsaturated fats is proven to help lower cholesterol levels*. This is important because elevated cholesterol is one of the risk factors of heart disease – so being aware of the balance of your saturated and unsaturated fat intake, as well as the quantity of total fat, is a good way to help take care of your heart.
If saturated fat is bad for cholesterol, how do I eat less of it?
Knowing the kinds of foods that contain high amounts of saturated fat – and those that do not – is the best way to make good choices when it comes to planning a healthy diet. While it’s not possible or necessary to eliminate saturated fat from your diet completely (it is present in many foods, although sometimes in very small amounts) you will be able to make informed decisions as you shop and prepare meals.
- Foods that are high in saturated fat include: most full fat dairy products such as milk, cheese, butter and cream; and most meat and meat products. It’s also present in many processed foods, particularly baked goods like cakes and biscuits.
Foods high in unsaturated fats
include vegetable oils (and vegetable oil based products, like spreads), oily fish, nuts, avocado, and seeds.
A bit of savvy cooking can help you replace your total intake of saturated fats with unsaturated fats:
- Try cooking with vegetable oil and vegetable oil based products for a healthier meal.
- On toast and in sandwiches, opt for vegetable-oil-based soft spreads, like Flora ProActiv.
- Instead of eating cakes or chocolate bars during a mid-afternoon low, try taking a small portion of almonds and macadamia nuts, which contain plenty of good fats, into work. Just remember to balance this with your total fat consumption, as nuts are very energy dense – read the packaging on your chosen snack to work out a suitable portion size.
- Buying reduced rather than full-fat dairy can also be a great way to reduce the saturated fat in your diet.
A few small changes go a long way, and there’s a lot of useful advice on lowering cholesterol here and on the site to help you out.
*Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats in the diet has been shown to lower blood cholesterol. High cholesterol is a risk factor of heart disease. There are many risk factors for coronary heart disease and it is important to take care of all of them to reduce the overall risk of it.