What is fat?
Macronutrients are the key nutrients which your body requires daily, they provide energy for movement, growth and all bodily systems. Along with carbohydrates and protein, fat is one of the essential macronutrients for optimal human health.
Many people try to limit their fat intake however, dietary fat plays an important role within our bodies.
Fats provide energy- each gram of fat provides the body with nine calories, making them the most energy dense macronutrient. Therefore, they are a key source of energy for the human body.
Fats carry vitamins- fats are essential for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamin A, D, E & K). These vitamins can only dissolve and be absorbed alongside dietary fats and are stored in the fatty tissue in the liver. Without the consumption of fat, you are at risk of becoming deficient in these essential vitamins.
Fats provide essential fatty acids- fats are a source of fatty acids, omega 3, 6 & 9. These essential fatty acids cannot be produced by the body and are an integral part of cell membranes, affecting the function the brain and the nervous system.
There are two main types of dietary fats found in the foods we consume, unsaturated fats and saturated fats, both with different chemical structures and found in different food sources and are recommended to be consumed in different amounts.
What does this have to do with heart health?
The amount and type of fat consumed has a direct link to heart health, cholesterol levels and heart disease risk (NHS, 2020).
There is a large amount on conflicting research surrounding the link between heart disease and saturated fat intakes (Forouhi et al, 2018). However, although saturated fats are essential in the human diet, they should still be limited and swapped for unsaturated fats when possible (SACN, 2019). There has been found to be direct links between saturated fat reduction and the reduced risk of cardiovascular events (Hooper et al, 2020) and healthier blood cholesterol levels (BHF,2022).
Below are some heart healthy fat swaps you can make to optimise your heart health:
- Swap dairy-based dips such as sour cream for guacamole or hummus
- Pick softer cheese over hard ones, opt for goats’ cheese instead of cheddar
- When buying meat, choose leaner cuts, such as lean beef mince or chicken breast
- Use olive oil instead of butter when cooking
- Choose a low fat or 0% Greek yoghurt when shopping
- Make nuts a staple snack instead of crisps
- Try to grill or steam when cooking and avoid deep frying
- Reduce your intake of processed meats such as salami and ham, opt for leaner sandwich fillings e.g., chicken or tuna.
- Aim to consume one portion of oily fish a week. See this month’s Nourished Life recipe Citrus spiced salmon for some inspiration!
Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) (2019) Saturated fats and health. SACN_report_on_saturated_fat_and_health.pdf (publishing.service.gov.uk)
Facts about fat. (2022, February 23). Nhs.uk. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/food-types/different-fats nutrition/#:~:text=If%20you%20want%20to%20reduce,to%20lower%20your%20cholesterol%20level
Forouhi, N. G., Krauss, R. M., Taubes, G., & Willett, W. (2018). Dietary fat and cardiometabolic health: evidence, controversies, and consensus for guidance. BMJ, 361, k2139. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k2139
Hooper, L., Martin, N., Jimoh, O. F., Kirk, C., Foster, E., & Abdelhamid, A. S. (2020). Reduction in saturated fat intake for cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.cd011737.pub2
British Heart Foundation. (2021, April 15). Saturated fat animation. Bhf.org.uk; British Heart Foundation. https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/nutrition/sugar-salt-and-fat/saturated-fat-animation#:~:text=Eating%20a%20diet%20high%20in