Why do we need fat?
Fat is the most energy dense nutrient in our diet, providing 9 calories (kcal) per gram. This makes it a key source of energy in the diet. And fat serves many other purposes too, including:
- Carrying fat-soluble vitamins – vitamins A, D, E and K
- Providing the structural building blocks of the body, including cell membranes and the brain
- Involved in vital biological processes in the body, e.g. chemical reactions related to growth and development
As you can see, although some diets promote following a low-fat diet and fat is sometimes portrayed as ‘unhealthy’, fat is actually an essential as well as being an important component of a healthy diet.
How much fat do we need to consume?
Various health and government bodies recommend intakes of energy and nutrients, and in Europe we use Reference Intakes for on-pack labelling. The reference intake for fat is 70g per day. That means we should aim to eat a maximum 70g of fat each day. However, fats are special, it’s not only the quantity that matters, but also the quality.
Fatty acids can be split into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fats. Unsaturated fatty acids are ‘good’ fats, or the ‘healthy fats’, that we should eat the largest proportion of, while saturated and trans fatty acids are ‘bad’ fats that we should try to limit.
Types of fat
Bad or saturated fats
The reference intake for saturated fat is maximum 20g per day. You can monitor your intake of saturated fats by checking the nutrition label on pack. Saturated fats are those which are solid at room temperature and are especially found in foods such as full-fat dairy such as butter, cream and cheese, fatty meat and meat products, pastries and cakes, and palm and coconut oil.
We should limit the amount of saturated fats we consume in our diets, as increased saturated fatty acid intake is linked to raised blood cholesterol levels, which is in turn linked to cardiovascular disease risk.
At Birds Eye, we’re passionate about helping you make healthy and nutritious choices, and so we only use lower saturated fat oils to prepare our products. We use rapeseed oil in most products, which is the lowest saturated fat oil available. So rest assured, products like our fish fingers are prepared with a good quality fat profile.
Trans fats are especially ‘bad’ fats which we should try to avoid where possible. They raise blood cholesterol levels irrespective of whether they are naturally or artificially formed. Trans fatty acids can be formed in two ways. They can be naturally formed in the stomach of cattle and sheep, so they are found in some dairy products (including butter) and some meats.
Trans fats can also be artificially formed by partial hydrogenation (which is a process for turning liquid oil into solid fat), so they can be found in some savoury snacks and biscuits.
The good news is, we don’t tend to include much trans-fat in our diets. So we can improve our overall diet quality by focussing on reducing saturated fat intake.
Unsaturated fats are ‘good’ fats to include in our diets. They can be split into monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats:
Monounsaturated fats are found in foods such as olive oil, nuts and avocados. Monounsaturated fatty acids are famously part of a traditional Mediterranean diet and can help to lower blood cholesterol if they are eaten instead of saturated fatty acids.
Polyunsaturated fats are found in foods such as sunflower and rapeseed oil, nuts, seeds and oily fish. These fatty acids can be split into 2 distinct groups of ‘essential’ fatty acids – omega-6 and omega-3:
- Omega-6: found in seed oils such as sunflower and soya, as well as nuts and seeds. These fatty acids contribute to normal growth and development, as well as general maintenance of health.
- Omega-3: found in either plant sources (including rapeseed and soya bean oil, and walnuts) or oily fish (such as salmon, fresh tuna, mackerel, etc.). These fatty acids contribute to the normal growth and development of children, as well as the maintenance of normal heart function, normal blood pressure and normal blood cholesterol levels.
Both of these groups of fatty acids are ‘essential’ as we can’t make them ourselves, yet they have vital functions in the body, so we need to consume them as part of our diet. Eating a balanced and varied diet, including plenty of fish is the best way to keep your omegas topped up.
And remember, the rapeseed oil we use to prepare our Birds Eye products is a great source of ‘good’ fats – low in saturates and trans, and full of both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats!