With so many conflicting instructions on what types of fats to eat, it’s no wonder so many people are confused about whether or not they should eat them.
Here are some reasons why fat advice is so confusing.
Some fats are essential in our diet because they provide us with energy and help us absorb certain vitamins. However, there are many different types of fats, and eating too many of certain types can harm us. Trans fats (also called monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats) are known as “good” fats, and are important for helping us lower cholesterol and maintain a healthy heart. Unsaturated fats can be found in foods such as avocado oil, olive oil, peanuts and fish.
But saturated fat can be harmful to us when eaten in excess, and it can raise cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease. Trans fats can also increase cholesterol levels. Foods that contain saturated and trans fats include butter, cheese, crackers and fried foods.
Many health authorities around the world agree that fat is an important part of a healthy diet – but we should only get so many calories per day from fat.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that people get no more than 30% of their daily calories from fat – of which only 10% of their daily calories should come from saturated fat, and less than 1% from trans fats.
In Europe, health recommendations suggest that fats should make up 20 to 35% of total daily calories. There are also no recommendations as to how many calories should be from saturated or trans fats – they just have to be limited. In the United States, people are only advised to limit their intake of saturated fat to less than 10% of their daily calories.
So, while there seems to be agreement about how much fat people should eat, slight differences in these recommendations — as well as differences in how much certain types of fats we should eat — may explain confusion about whether or not we should eat fat. .
If all of the different recommendations weren’t confusing enough, there’s also a lot of information that’s either oversimplified or incorrect. This makes recommendations regarding fat intake more complex.
For example, the British Joint Societies (which publish recommendations to help people reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease) recommend that only about 10% of a person’s total fat intake come from saturated fat.
As usual, we consume 30-40% of our calories from fat, and international and governmental bodies recommend that about 30% of our daily calories should come from fat, and limiting saturated fat to 10%, meaning it makes up only 3%.
This differs from many other recommendations – such as the WHO recommendation – which states that 10% of all calories people eat daily should come from saturated fat. It is also unclear whether such a strict restriction of saturated fat would have any benefit, and would be difficult for many people to achieve because a variety of healthy foods – such as olive oil – can also contain saturated fat.
For example, sunflower oil is already low in saturated fat, so using less would significantly reduce calories, but slightly reduce levels of saturated fat.
Other advice from the British Heart Foundation includes avoiding fried foods and switching to semi-skimmed milk. But focusing on methods that have little effect on saturated fat levels can make knowing which foods (and fats) to avoid even more confusing. The easiest way to avoid saturated fat is to avoid foods such as pancakes, cakes and cookies.
Get the right amount
Research suggests that we should get about a third of our energy from fat – two thirds of which should be unsaturated fat.
Of course, certain food sources contain different types of fat and different levels of fat. For example, avocados and pancakes are both high in fat. But avocados are rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, which are good for heart health and can lower cholesterol. On the other hand, pancakes are high in saturated fat, which can be harmful to your heart and cholesterol levels.
Arguably the easiest way to make sure you’re eating enough of the right fats is to avoid foods that contain saturated and trans fats — such as butter, hard cheese, pies, cookies, pastries, cakes, processed meats and chips. These foods are also high in salt, carbohydrates and sugar, so they can also have other health disadvantages such as an increased risk of developing high blood pressure.
Instead, try to include sources of healthy fats – such as avocados, olive oil, nuts and fish. This will ensure that you are not only getting enough fats in your diet, but you will also get the right kind of fat.
The report was authored by Duane Mellor, chair of the Department of Evidence-Based Medicine and Nutrition, at Aston School of Medicine.
Source: Science Alert