Fats have several roles in the diet – directly, because of their nutritional value, and indirectly, in improving the palatability of foods and making them easier to chew and swallow. Fats are concentrated sources of energy, providing more than twice as much energy as the same weight of carbohydrate or protein.
Fat is derived from visible fats, such as oils, spreads and meat fats as well as invisible fats which are found in dairy foods, nuts and foods such as cakes and biscuits, oily fish such as herring and mackerel, and eggs.
In cooking we use either the hard fats, (what our grandparents referred to as dripping and lard) or liquid oils from soya beans, olives, peanuts and safflower seeds etc.
Certain vitamins, the fat-soluble vitamins – A, D, E and K – are found in the fatty parts of food and so diets very low in fats are also low in these vitamins. The body needs about 25 grams of fat a day to obtain enough of the fat soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids.
The essential fatty acids – omega-3 and omega-6 – not only stimulate the body’s development, they also play a role in reducing inflammation and the tendency of the blood to clot.
A very small amount of oil or fat helps the body extract critical carotenoid vitamins (vitamin A) from vegetables and other foods. If a diet is extremely low in fat, other food must be eaten to provide sufficient energy.
A shortage of fat intake however, does not tend to be a problem for most of us in today’s fast food world. Indeed, one-third of our food dollar is today spent on takeaway foods, which are notoriously high in fats and salt. It is the type of fat we eat, rather than simply the amount of fat that is our biggest problem.
The key problem with eating too much fat (i.e. more than the body can burn for energy) is that it can create body fat. While dietary guidelines recommend that fat should not exceed 30% of the day’s total energy intake, a typical day in a Western diet includes about 40% fat, a factor which may well be contributing to our increasing problem of obesity.
Obesity and a high saturated fat intake can lead to disorders such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
You can reduce the fat content in your diet by:
Using reduced fat dairy products
Trimming visible fat from meats
Removing the skin from chicken
Adding less fats and oils to your cooking
Eating less of processed meats.