Fat is an essential part of our diet. We need fat for energy and good health, but the complication lies in the fact that there are ‘healthy’ fats and there are ‘unhealthy’ fats. So where can we find the healthy fats and where can we avoid the unhealthy fats?
Saturated fats are the unhealthy fats that exist in our diet and are linked to heart disease and high blood cholesterol levels. These fats are found in animal based foods such as dairy products including butter, milk and cheese as well as in fatty meats like pork, beef and lamb. Saturated fats can also be found in takeaway foods, cakes and pastries. It is important to limit the amount of saturated fat in your diet in order to stay healthy.
Meanwhile the healthy fats in our diets known as unsaturated fats. There are two types; monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, which differ in their chemical structure and therefore have slightly different health benefits. Monosaturated fats can be found in olive oil, peanut oil, avocados and nuts while polyunsaturated fats exist in lean beef or chicken, oily fish like salmon, eggs, linseed, soybean and some nuts like walnuts, pecans, brazil nuts and pine nuts.
Some unsaturated fats are processed and transformed into trans fats which act like saturated fats and should also be limited in your diet. You can find trans fats in products like butter and margarine as well as some deep fried foods, takeaway foods, cakes and pastries. It is possible however to source margarines that only have unsaturated fats in them, so make sure you read the label first.
Carbohydrates are another important source of energy in our diet. Foods containing carbohydrates include bread, pasta, cereal, rice, fruit, milk, yoghurt and lentils. Carbohydrates that are digested slowly provide the longest lasting release of energy. These carbohydrates are known as low glycemic index or low GI carbohydrates and examples include some fruit, wholegrain or brown rice, bread and pasta, low fat milk and yoghurt and wholegrain breakfast cereals.
A common myth exists which suggests that a low carbohydrate diet results in weight loss, however there is no long term research to support this theory. Low carbohydrate diets often result in an over reliance on protein products which can lead to an excessive intake of saturated (unhealthy) fats. Many carbohydrate foods on the other hand are low in saturated fat and energy and high in fibre, which is actually conducive to maintaining a healthy weight.
When people talk about the energy levels of foods, they use either kilojoules (KJ) or calories. Think of kilojoules as the metric version of calories. Nutrient Reference Values (NRVs) provide recommended intakes for energy (kilojoules), protein, carbohydrate, fibre, fats, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients based on age, sex and life stages. The percentage of energy we consume each day should come in the following form as according to NRV recommendations:
• 15-25% from protein
• 45-65% from carbohydrate
• 20-35% from fats with no more than 10% of this coming from saturated fats
For more information about NRVs visit the DAA website .
There is strong evidence to show that the best way to control your body weight is to balance your energy output with your energy intake. By following these guidelines you can expect to enjoy high levels of energy and control body weight.
- Exercise daily.
- Limit your intake of foods and drinks with added sugar, for example, sweets, cakes, biscuits, chocolate and fizzy drinks.
- Limit your alcohol intake.
- Limit your intake of saturated fats such as processed meats, burgers, pizza and fried foods and replace with unsaturated fats.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from these five food groups every day:
1. Grain (cereal) foods
5. Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and beans
The Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) is hosting Australia’s Healthy Weight Week from 17-23 February 2014. For more information on Healthy Weight Week events in your area, nutrition tips or healthy recipes, visit healthyweightweek.com.au