Many of us have been cutting back on sugar recently (well done) but lower sugar intake can often mean eating more fat. Nutritionist Hala El Shafie clues us in on the different types of fat and some of the risks of a low fat diet... 

First, some good news - fat is absolutely essential to our diet and overall health!

But not all fats are created equal.

Expert nutritionist Hala El-Shafie says: 'Detailed research has revealed that the total amount of fat in the diet isn’t really linked with weight or disease, which is why people who have been following low fat diets haven't exactly had the success they may have expected. That’s because the type of fat and the total calories in a person's overall diet are much more important.' 

FATS 101

Good fats: Unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) are good for the heart and most other parts of the body.

Bad fats: Trans and saturated fats increase the risk for certain diseases.

Cholesterol: According to El-Shafie, for most people it's the mix of fats in the diet that influences cholesterol in the bloodstream far more than cholesterol content in food does. Bring on the steak and eggs then! 

GOOD FATS

'Good fats (ie unsaturated fats) are deemed so because they can improve blood cholesterol levels, ease inflammation, stabilise heart rhythms, whilst also playing additional key roles that are highly beneficial to health.

Unsaturated fats are predominantly found in foods from plants, such as vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. There are two types of unsaturated fats - monounsaturated (think olive oil, avocados, pumpkin seeds) and polyunsaturated (sunflower oil, walnuts, fish).' 

BAD FATS: SATURATED FATS

There’s been a lot of conflicting advice over the last decade about saturated fats. This stems mainly from the fact that diets such as Atkins and Paleo allow plenty of foods high in saturated fat (butter, cheese and lard) and several studies.

have suggested that eating diets high in saturated fat did not raise the risk of heart disease.

But El-Shafie still recommends that her patients lower their saturated fats intake. 'Cut down on saturated fats and replace them with good fats. This lowers the “bad” LDL cholesterol, and it improves the ratio of total cholesterol to “good” HDL cholesterol, in turn lowering the risk of heart disease.' 

VERY BAD FATS: TRANS FATS

You know they're bad for you, but what exactly are trans fats?

'Trans fatty acids, more commonly called trans fats, are made by heating liquid vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen gas and a catalyst, a process called hydrogenation,' says El-Shafie. 'Partially hydrogenating vegetable oils makes them more stable, less likely to spoil and able to withstand repeated heating without breaking down. It also converts the oil into a solid, which makes transportation easier.'

Trans fats can be found in fried and processed foods and should be eliminated completely. 

LOW FAT DIETS

According to El-Shafie, the main problem with low fat diets is that they encourage people to stop eating fats that are actually good for the heart whilst omitting those that are bad for the heart.

'Another problem is that when people cut back on fat, often they then switch to foods full of simple carbohydrates (ie white bread, white rice, potatoes, sugary drinks) or to fat-free products that replace good fats with sugar and refined carbohydrates. The body digests these carbohydrates very quickly, causing blood sugar and insulin level spikes. Over time, eating lots of refined carbohydrates can raise the risk of heart disease and diabetes as much as—or more than— eating too much saturated fat!' 

MARGARINE VS BUTTER

'For years, margarine was promoted as a heart-healthy alternative to butter. Since margarine was made from unsaturated vegetable oils, most people assumed it would be better for long-term health than butter, which was known to contain a lot of cholesterol and saturated fat. But actually some forms of margarine—specifically hard stick —are worse for the heart than butter. This is because they contain large amounts of trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils.'

El-Shafie recommends that whenever possible, don't use butter OR margarine - instead use a liquid vegetable oil. 'But if you do need something spreadable, choose a soft margarine

that is not only trans free but low in saturated fat. A number of soft margarines are made from a blend of healthful oils, and some have the added benefit of containing cholesterol- lowering plan.