Why you need to cut back on saturated fat, for health

Fat is essential for health and should actually make up about 30% of your diet, however, not all fat is good for you. Firstly though, let’s look at why fat is important and why you shouldn’t restrict it too much, in your diet.

Fat has a number of functions in the body. It helps to protect vital organs, by forming a cushion around them, as well as under the skin. It helps to insulate us from the cold. It is used as an energy store (fat has twice the calories, per gram, than carbohydrates or protein) and is used for energy in everyday life and moderate exercise. Fat is also vital for maintaining the nervous system, your body’s cells, regulating blood cholesterol levels and is vital in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

Fat falls in to two main categories: Saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats mainly come from animal products, such as meat, eggs and dairy, however, palm oil and coconut oil are also saturated fats. These fats are generally solid at room temperature (e.g. butter, lard, fat on meat, coconut oil).

Unsaturated fats are split into two categories, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. The difference between them isn’t overly important, however, some polyunsaturated fats are considered essential to the diet as the body cannot make them on it’s own. This includes Omega 3 & 6, which is found in fish oils, flax seed, rapeseed (canola) & walnut oil.

Unsaturated fats are generally liquid at room temperature, so think of nut & seed oils (sunflower, peanut, almond, sesame, rapeseed [canola], etc), olive oil, avocado oil, fish oils, etc.

The heath effects of saturated fat

So the question is, why are saturated fats bad for you and why should you limit your intake? Saturated fat basically raises the level of LDL cholesterol in the blood. Often called “bad” cholesterol, it is “sticky” meaning that it easily attaches to the walls of your arteries, leading to plaque formation. This plaque builds up over time, leading to a narrowing of the arteries, reducing blood flow. Restricted blood flow in the arteries suppling blood to the heart will then lead to heart disease, with a high risk of strokes and heart attack.

Saturated fats should therefore be kept to a minimum and the current guidelines are that they should only be 10% of your daily calorie intake. If you use a calorie tracker, such as Nutracheck or MyFitnessPal, you can check your daily macros and you will be able to see how much saturated fat is in your diet.

Hidden saturated fat in food

Obviously cutting back on meat, butter and full-fat dairy is a good way to reduce your saturated fat intake. However, palm oil is now one of the major sources of saturated fat in our food. It is added to so many foods it is becoming hard to avoid, it’s even put into otherwise healthy oatcakes!

But you will also find palm oil in cakes, biscuits, some chocolate bars, desserts, ready meals, crackers, veggie & vegan burgers & meat substitutes, cooking & stir fry sauces, etc. Check the label and see if you can find alternative products that use unsaturated fats, like sunflower oil, instead.

Chocolate is also high in saturated fat, firstly from the Cocoa butter and secondly, if there is milk in it, from the milk itself.

Sources of Saturated fat, which should be limited:

  • Sausages
  • Bacon
  • Beef burgers
  • Butter, cream & lard
  • Most cuts of beef
  • Pork & lamp chops
  • Pork belly
  • Eggs
  • Whole milk, cheese & yogurt
  • Chocolate
  • Ready meals & processed food
  • Coconut oil
  • Palm oil (found in pastries, cakes, biscuits, etc)

Sources of unsaturated fats

  • Olive oil
  • Sunflower oil*
  • Fish oils*
  • Flax seed*
  • Rapeseed oil ( canola)*
  • Nut & seed oils (peanut, almond, sesame, etc)
  • Avocado oil

*Contain the essential fatty acids Omega 3 or 6 which the body cannot make for itself.

How to reduce your saturated fat intake

If you eat meat, then there are a few ways you can reduce the amount of saturated fat contained within it. Most of the saturated fat in chicken is in the skin, so by removing that, you’ll lower the fat content. Try and cut the visible fat off any meat before cooking.

Grilling sausages, bacon, chops etc, where the meat is elevated above a tray, or using something like a George Foreman grill, enables some of the fat to drain away. Avoid frying meat as you’re adding even more fat!

Minced meat can be fried without oil and then the fat can be drained away, prior to cooking the rest of the dish.

Choose skimmed or semi-skimmed milk (or switch to plant-milk), reduced fat cheese and low fat yogurt (although be careful here as the fat is often replaced with sugar).

Avoid foods that have butter, lard, palm or coconut oil in the ingredients. This will include many cakes, biscuits, snack bars, crackers, ready-meals and unfortunately even a lot of vegan and vegetarian meat alternatives use palm oil now. A majority of vegan cheese is made with coconut oil, so look for ones made using nuts, instead.

1 thought on “Why you need to cut back on saturated fat, for health”

  1. Thanks Simon, this is really clear and helpful, especially around the palm oil and coconut oil which I hadn’t thought of as saturated fats , I will have to check some vegan alternatives that I have recently adopted

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top