Healthy Fats in Your Diet

Nutritionists advise us to take no more than 30 per cent of our total calories from fat, but most people in the West consume more than 40 per cent. The problem with the Western diet is that many meals are based on the unhealthy saturated fats found in meat, dairy products and most spreads, and there is comparatively little focus on the unsaturated fats found in oily fish, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils. Some unsaturated fats can actually help to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Eating oily fish regularly, for example, helps to prevent heart disease; omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the fish have a thinning effect on the blood, reducing the risk of problems such as heart disease and stroke.

Some simple changes to a normal diet can significantly reduce fat intake. In general, try to moderate your overall fat consumption, and favour the consumption of oils (as found in oily fish, nuts, cereals, pulses and vegetable oils) rather than hard fats, such as meat fat, butter, margarine and solid vegetable fats. The following suggestions may be useful.

• Choose reduced-fat cheeses in place of higher-fat varieties, such as cream cheese, cheddar and gouda.

• Use skimmed or semi-skimmed milk in recipes and for drinking (but not in a young child’s diet – children need the energy sup-plied by the calories in full-fat products).

• Use yoghurt, fromage frais or single cream instead of double cream.

• Use spreads sparingly, or try dipping tasty breads such as ciabatta in virgin olive oil.

• Use less mayonnaise and high-fat salad dressings.

• Avoid invisible fats in pro cessed and convenience foods, such as cakes, biscuits, crisps and pastries. Always check food labels: look for lower-fat options and foods that do not contain hydrogenated fats.

• Sprinkle crushed pumpkin and flax seeds on your breakfast cereal to increase your omega-3 fatty acid intake.

• Use liquid vegetable oils (rapeseed, sunflower or olive oils) for cooking rather than hard fats.

• When eating meat, choose lean cuts and trim off the excess fat before cooking.

• As a substitute for red meat, eat more fish and poultry (always remove the skin from poultry).

• Wherever possible, try to use low-fat cooking methods such as grilling, poaching, steaming, roasting, baking, boiling and stir-frying.

• When roasting or grilling meat and poultry, place the meat on a rack and allow the fat to drip clear.

• Skim off any surface fat from the tops of soups, stews and gravy before serving. Let the dish stand for a few minutes to allow the fat to settle, then spoon it off.