Fatty foods in the spotlight

Is all fat bad for us? And what should we be looking out for on food labels? Kim Porter from The Nutrition Coach enlightens us...

Fat has rather wrongly been given a bad name, hence the huge range of low fat products available. But not all fats are unhealthy. Some fats are very good for us - the essential fats (omega 3 and 6) are vital for good hormone, heart, brain and skin health. These fats can be found in oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, and nuts, seeds and their oils. Even the 'bad' saturated fats found in dairy foods and meat are necessary in moderation to keep us healthy. Saturated fats only become harmful if eaten in excess when they can cause serious health problems including obesity, strokes and cardiovascular disease.

By far the big baddy when it comes to fats are hydrogenated fats or trans fats, which are found in many processed foods such as biscuits, cakes and margarines. These fats are artificial and have been linked to heart problems, obesity and diabetes. Fortunately, awareness of the negative effect these fats have on our health is growing and some countries and manufacturers have banned them, although they are yet to be banned in the UK.

How much fat should be in our food?

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) classes a product containing more than 20g fat per 100g as a high fat food. A low fat food contains 3g of fat or less per 100g. But rather than looking at the total fat content we should look at the total saturated fat as this is what we need to limit. According to the FSA, a food high in saturated fat has more than 5g per 100g, and a food low in saturated fat has less than 1.5g per 100g. As for hydrogenated fats - these are best avoided if possible.

Cheese burger

Beef burgers topped with cheese are packed full of saturated fat. Be particularly wary of poor quality burgers which may have extra beef fat added.

What's the alternative? Chicken or turkey burgers make a healthy lower fat alternative. Or if only beef will do, make your own with lean mince and a fresh tomato salsa instead of cheese.

Chocolate

Containing a combination of vegetable oil and milk, most milk chocolate bars and chocolate spreads are high in fat, especially the saturated kind. Many chocolate treats also contain hydrogenated fats.

What's the alternative? Dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa) is a great alternative to milk chocolate as it is based predominantly on cocoa, giving it a lower fat content. The high amounts of cocoa in dark chocolate also gives it brownie points as cocoa is said to contain health promoting antioxidants.

Meat pie

Meat pies are high in saturated fat, especially those made from puff pastry. Although fine in moderation, on a regular basis pastry based foods such as sausage rolls, pork pies, steak and kidney pie, pasties and even quiche won't do you any favours on the scales.

What's the alternative? Consider a casserole made from chicken or game and serve with mashed potato for that comforting factor. Also consider fish pie - made with low fat crème fraîche and topped with mash, it's a nutritious alternative to a meat pie.

Pizza

With all that dough and cheese, pizza's not a great choice for your arteries. Opting for a deep filled, stuffed or meat based pizza can considerably boost your fat intake, especially the saturated kind. Take-away pizzas are generally the worst offenders for their fat content. In certain takeaways, a 300g portion of pizza contains more saturated fat than a woman should eat in a day.

What's the alternative? Choose a thin crust vegetarian pizza and avoid extra cheese and meat. Better still, share a pizza with a friend and have a large green salad on the side.

Take-away chicken

Take-aways can be packed full of fat especially deep fried and battered dishes and those with creamy sauces. Some take-aways can contain more saturated fat than we should eat in a day.

What's the alternative? Cut down on creamy sauces and opt for those with fresh tomato sauces. Try and limit fried meals in favour of dishes which are stir-fried, grilled or steamed.

Coffee

With a coffee shop on nearly every street corner, it is easy to get our daily caffeine fix but your latte habit won't be doing your fat intake any favours. A large latte can contain nearly one third of a woman's daily recommended fat intake. Cappuccinos are slightly more saintly as they are made with a smaller amount of milk. Frappes and hot chocolate can also score highly in the fat stakes - a large hot chocolate made with whole milk can have the same fat content as three hot dogs.

What's the alternative? Order skimmed milk instead of whole milk, or ideally go for an Americano with a dash of milk or an espresso.

Flapjack

Many commercial flapjacks are very high in fat especially those topped with chocolate. Some flapjacks have an even greater fat content than a slice of chocolate fudge cake. Nutty flapjacks tend to be higher in fat than plain flapjacks but the fat found in nuts is predominantly the good kind which has many health benefits.

What's the alternative? Eat as an occasional treat, or make your own flapjack with nuts and seeds and limit the amount of butter you use.

Biscuits

For something so small, biscuits can really pack the fat in and many contain hydrogenated fat. Unsurprisingly it is the chocolate and buttery biscuits which contain the most saturated fat. Even some of the biscuits aimed at babies and toddlers are high in saturated fat. Cheese biscuits may seem a healthier choice but are in fact just as fatty as sweet biscuits and some contain more fat than chocolate biscuits.

What's the alternative? Low fat biscuits of course have less fat but most tend to contain extra sugar. For a better quality snack, have a yoghurt with fresh fruit or a handful of nuts and raisins. If this doesn't cut it, have a biscuit but make sure it's a good quality one with no hydrogenated fats.

Mayonnaise

Mayonnaise can significantly boost the fat content of your tuna or prawn mayonnaise sarnie. Salad dressings can also be fatty especially blue cheese, thousand island and Caesar style dressings, which can transform a virtuous salad into something a little more sinful.

What's the alternative? Natural yoghurt mixed with a small amount of mayonnaise and lemon juice makes a delicious low fat alternative and is great with fish. For a healthy salad dressing mix olive oil, lemon juice and vinegar with fresh herbs.

Doughnuts

Made from dough or batter, deep-fried and then glazed and filled with cream, custard or jam, doughnuts are very moreish. But all doughnuts contain high levels of fat and many may contain hydrogenated fats.

What's the alternative? If you've got a carb craving why not try a hot cross bun, crumpet or toasted teacake spread with a little jam? All contain a lot less fat than a doughnut.


Get the low down on salty and sugary foods.

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