Get to know your fats

Fatty acids continue to be the subject of ongoing academic research and media attention. Dietary fats are classified by their chemical composition, and can be either saturated (found in animal products such as meat, cheese and butter) or unsaturated (found in oils, seeds and spreads). When choosing fats, we’re advised to choose unsaturated fats over saturated fats, as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle for anyone including people with diabetes.

Sorting fact from fiction

Recent coverage of the role of fats in the diet has made for confusing and alarming reading as well as being based on unreliable evidence. So what should we believe?

In response to a new review paper just published in Nutrition Bulletin2, Dr Carrie Ruxton from The Fat Information Service notes: “This latest release successfully challenges the recent media frenzy which followed publication of a BMJ paper on heart disease risk and polyunsaturated fats, such as those found in  margarine and spreads.

The evidence shows clearly that the risk of developing heart disease is reduced when saturated fats are replaced with unsaturated fats3. By highlighting this robust evidence base and outlining the inaccuracies surrounding interpretation of the BMJ study4 consumers are urged not to shun the government’s dietary guidelines on the basis of spurious media reports.

The Nutrition Bulletin study confirms that advice for the general population should still be to choose foods with a lower saturated fat content and to opt for fats that are primarily unsaturated, supplying a range of omega 3 and 6 polyunsaturated fats.

Fat Information Service tips

As with all aspects of a healthy diet, balance is key and dietary fats are no exception.

While polyunsaturated fats offer numerous health benefits, getting too much of any type of fat can be damaging to your health. Present guidelines suggest that no more than 35% of your overall daily energy intake should come from fat (with no more than 11% from saturated fat)5,6.

So while it’s not desirable to increase the total fat content of the diet, replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats will help you achieve a better balance for your heart and overall wellbeing (as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle).

These tips will help show you how:

Switch to lower-fat dairy products e.g. low fat yogurts, and skimmed or semi-skimmed milks to reduce your intake of saturated fats. Eat less cheese.

Swap butter for small amounts of spread or margarine as this can help reduce your saturated fat intake. Spreads are also fortified with other vitamins and can help supplement your diet with key nutrients.

Additionally, spreads made from seed oils  contain essential fats, omega 3 & 6; these are fats that your body cannot make and must be taken in via your diet.

Choose lean cuts of meat, poultry or oily fish rather than fatty or processed meat products. Make sure you trim any excess fat and remove the skin from chicken or turkey before cooking.

When you do roast or fry food, try using a lower saturated fat spread or oil product

NHS Choices (2013). Eat less saturated fat.

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