Fats are an essential part of our diet but it is important that we do not eat too much. Understanding the role fats play in the human body can help us include the right type of fat in our diet.

Fats help with the absorption of the ‘fat soluble’ vitamins - vitamin A and the carotenoids, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K. Fatty acids, the building blocks of many important substances in the body, are essential to cell membranes, maintaining a regular heartbeat, providing an anti-inflammatory function, regulating cholesterol and contributing to brain and eye development in a developing baby. Fats provide a concentrated source of energy (calories) therefore eating too much can lead to weight gain. The optimum amount of fat in our diet depends on our stage of life.  Extremely low fat diets will limit the amount of fat soluble vitamins and essential fats in our diet.

There are 3 main types of fats: saturated fatty acids (SFAs) and two types of unsaturated fatty acids - monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).

For adults, fat intake should not exceed more than 33% of total food energy intake, limiting saturated fat to 11% of food energy intake. This equates to a maximum overall daily fat intake of 95g for men and 70g for women, of which saturates should be no more than 30g and 20g respectively. Mono- and poly- unsaturated fats should each provide around one third of our fat intake.

Vegan and vegetarian diets tend to be lower in saturated fat than diets containing meat. However, both saturated and hydrogenated fats are found in some vegetarian foods.

Saturated fats are mainly in animal products such as butter, cream and hard cheese, but also in palm oil and coconut products. Palm oil and hydrogenated fat (which is chemically altered to remain hard at room temperature) are used extensively in the production of biscuits and pastries.

Saturated and hydrogenated fat have harmful effects on health such as weight gain.   Healthier, unsaturated fats are mainly from plant sources such as fruit, seeds, nuts and vegetables. Sources of monounsaturates are olive oil and rapeseed oil. Sources of polyunsaturates are sunflower, soya, sesame and corn oils. Mono- and poly-unsaturated fats can help lower blood cholesterol levels and blood clotting.

For more information on fats – download our ADVANCED NUTRITION pdf.  Please be aware of its size.

Fantastic Fats: Barbara O'Neill