Fat! Don't be scared of it… It's about getting the right
Fat has had bad press, to the extent that some foods are
designed and marketed as 'fat-free'. But it isn't all bad. In fact,
getting some fat from our diet is absolutely vital.
In this section, you will find out what fats are, why we need
them, what they do for us and where we find them in our foods.
Why do we need fat?
Virtually all foods contain some fat. It is in foods
because both plants and animals use fats as the most economical way
to store energy. It is needed for their growth, development
and function when there is a shortage of food supply (or a shortage
of sunlight in the case of plants).
Certain specific dietary fats have other essential functions. We
are much like other animals so we do actually need some fat from
our diet to survive. And while in general, as with most
things, too much fat is bad, a certain amount is perfectly
compatible with good health.
What is fat for?
It is important to understand that the type of fat, as
well as the amount of fat, is what determines our
health. We also have a section that tell you more
Where do we find fats in our foods?
Saturated fats are found mostly in animal
products such as meat, cheese, milk, butter, cream and
Did you know? Animals being warm-blooded
incorporate some saturated fats into tissues to keep them more
solid. Cold-blooded fish and plants, however cannot include
much saturated fat because they would become too stiff.
However some oils from tropical plants such as palm oil and coconut
oil do contain some saturated fats.
Monounsaturated fats - The main unsaturated
fats are monounsaturated, found particularly in foods such as olive
oil, rapeseed oil, peanuts and avocados.
Polyunsaturated fats are mostly found in plant
foods such as nuts, seeds and vegetable oils, and in cold-blooded
sea-foods. In natural foods, they come protected with
antioxidant vitamins. There are two main classes polyunsaturated
fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6. These include the essential
fatty acids. Oily fish (e.g. herring, salmon and mackerel) is
a good source of omega-3, while omega-6 is mainly found in plant
foods such as sunflower oil and rapeseed oil.
Trans fats can be natural or artificial. They
are mostly artificially created through a process known as
hydrogenation (which involves heating and chemical structure
change). Artificial trans fats are mostly found in fast foods,
fried foods and commercial baked products such as cookies and are
the most unhealthy fats (even worse than saturated fats!). Natural
trans fats can be found in small amounts in milk and beef, and in
quite large concentration in cheese.
So now you can understand why we do actually need some
fat in our diet for survival and in the end, it is all
about getting the right balance!
See also What are the types of fat?
See also Why do we