Friday, January 15, 2010

Friendly fats and oils

We tend to think of oils and fats as being our enemies when we are trying to lose weight, but in fact, they are not. Without ingested fats we would be unable to absorb and utilise the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.

Some fatty acids (Omega-3 from oily fish and Omega-6 found in vegetable oils such as sunflower oil) are known as essential fatty acids. Our bodies cannot produce these fatty acids, and so they need to be sourced from the foods we eat. Without fats and oils in our systems, our hair and skin become dry; the protective myelin sheath around each nerve becomes thin; and the individual cells in all the body systems cannot absorb nutrients effectively.

Most food products carry a label showing nutritional information - energy, protein, fibre, fats, carbohydrates, etc - and some of these labels break down the types of fat so that you can see exactly what you are eating. If the label only gives one figure for fats, then as a rule-of-thumb you can halve that figure to find out the saturated fat content. This is not always accurate, but it gives you a starting point.

Saturated fats come from products derived from animals - meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy - as well as palm oil and coconut oil (these are the only vegetable oils that contain saturated fats). Excessive saturated fats, and trans-fatty acids, are believed to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. For this reason alone, we should restrict how much of them we consume.
Skinless turkey breast has the lowest level of saturated fat (2%), minced beef and lamb have far higher levels (27%), lean pork is somewhere in the middle at 10%. But there is nothing wrong with having the occassional piece of steak (lean beef has 13% saturated fat).

Mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fatty acids are said to reduce the 'bad' cholesterol. Oils high in mono-unsaturated fats are good for cooking because they develop fewer free radicals when they are heated. Olive and rapeseed oils are highest in mono-unsaturated fats, so use them for cooking.

Poly-unsaturated fats (the Omegas) are involved in regulating blood pressure, blood clotting and immune responses. Try to eat cold water fish at least twice a week (tuna, herring, sardines, salmon).
Poly-unsaturated fats - specifically Omega-6 - are essential for growth, cell structure and a healthy immune system. Omega-6 fatty acids are present in sunflower oil and corn oil.

Friendly oils and fats are found in fish, nuts and avocados. Soft margarines, as well as the obvious butter, cream, cream cheese, mayo, salad dressings, pastries, cakes and biscuits all contain a lot of fats - most of them the saturated variety to be limited or avoided altogether.

The recommended daily intake for fats and oils is a maximum of 6 teaspoons per day.

Sally Avridge is having 2 tsp of low fat mayo to make her egg mayonaise and 2 tsp of olive oil over her lunchtime mixed salad. She can use another 2 tsp of oil to start her pasta sauce.
Sally realises that there is fat in a lot of other foods - like the yoghurt and fromage frais already on her day's menu - so she is sticking with the maximum daily consumption.
You are getting the idea of healthy eating, Sally.

Healthy eating doesn't mean deprivation or eating only limp lettuce. Healthy eating is about making wise food choices - for your body and your mind.

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