Fat transports the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K around the body
It can often improve the flavour and perception of foods, increasing their palatability
It supplies essential nutrients such as fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids (EFAs)
EFAs must be supplied from the diet, and are thought to have a positive effect on heart health and the immune system
It has a key role in membrane structure
It cushions, and so protects, the internal organs
It's stored in adipose tissue (a thick layer of tissue under the skin) as a long-term fuel reserve. Excess fat may also accumulate around your organs, especially in the abdominal cavity
Fat is a concentrated source of energy. Just 1g provides nine calories - more than double the calories in 1g of protein or carbohydrate.
This means it's much easier to consume too many calories when eating high-fat foods. People trying to manage their weight should reduce fatty foods to help cut calories. We all need some fat in our diets, but small quantities of EFAs are the key to good health.
The two types of fat
Fat can be divided into two main groups - saturated and unsaturated.
Saturated fat is generally solid at room temperature and is usually from animal sources. It's found in lard, butter, hard margarine, cheese, whole milk and anything that contains these ingredients, such as cakes, chocolate, biscuits, pies and pastries. It's also the white fat you can see on red meat and underneath poultry skin.
The vaue of saturated and unsaturated fat in our diets isn’t fully understood yet but generally, eating too much saturated fat is associated with increased blood cholesterol concentrations and an increased risk of heart disease. Eating less helps to minimise the risks it poses to heart health. Polyunsaturated fats contain inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and it’s the balance of these with omega-3s which is important.
Trans fats, or hydrogenated unsaturated fats, are used in the food industry but are increasingly recognised as being unhealthy.
Unsaturated fat is usually liquid at room temperature and generally comes from vegetable sources. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are both included in this group. Unsaturated vegetable oils are generally a healthier alternative to saturated fat and can be found in sesame, sunflower, soya, olive and rapeseed oil, soft margarine and in foods such as oily fish, including mackerel, sardines, pilchards and salmon. Where possible, you should ensure the fat you eat is unsaturated.
Did you know...?
A jam doughnut contains 10.9g fat
A slice of malt loaf contains 0.7g fat
A teaspoon of peanut butter contains 5.4g fat
A pint of whole milk contains 22.8 g fat
A handful of mixed nuts contains 21.6g fat
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