Spotlight on... low-fat
You probably already know too much fat is bad for you - but did you know too little of the good kind can leave you nutrient deficient, with high cholesterol and lacking in energy? Nutritionist Jo Lewin explains...
Tips for cutting back on fat:
- Choose the healthier mono and polyunsaturated fats instead of saturated fats to help protect your heart. For example swap butter, lard, ghee, coconut and palm oils with small amounts of olive, rapeseed or sunflower oils or spreads.
- Choose lean cuts of meat and make sure you trim any excess fat and remove the skin from chicken or turkey.
- Use a spray oil or measure out with a teaspoon instead of pouring oil straight from the bottle.
- Read food labels to help you make choices that are lower in total fat and saturated fat.
- Use alternative cooking methods such as baking, boiling, grilling, poaching, microwaving or steaming instead of frying or roasting so you do not need to add extra fat.
- Cut down on foods such as crisps, biscuits and avoid fried foods like samosas, bhajis, chips and doughnuts. Replace with healthier fruits and vegetables.
- Make your own salad dressings using ingredients such as balsamic vinegar, low fat yogurt, lemon juice and herbs.
- Choose lower fat dairy products such as semi-skimmed/skimmed milk, low-fat yogurt and crème fraiche.
- Try leaving out or using less butter on bread when making sandwiches.
- Cottage cheese, ricotta and light soft cheese are low-fat options. Keep your portions of cheese small or opt for less of the strong-flavoured varieties such as Parmesan - a little goes a long way.
*always check labels
Very low intakes of fat limit the amount of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and essential fats in our diet. This group of fat-soluble vitamins play essential roles in vision, skin, the immune system, hormone synthesis, bone health and the nervous and reproductive systems. A lack of fat in the diet will lead to recued absorption of these essential vitamins.
However, all fats are high in calories, giving us nine calories for every gram eaten. So it is important for our weight and health not to eat too much. By reducing the unhealthy saturated and trans fats in our diet and replacing some of these fats with the healthier unsaturated fats we will be getting a better balance for our heart and overall health.
Things to watch out for
Just because a food packet contains the words 'low-fat' or 'reduced-fat', doesn't necessarily mean it's a healthy choice. The lower-fat claim simply means that the food is 30% lower in fat than the standard equivalent. So if the type of food in question is high in fat in the first place, the lower-fat version may also still be high in fat. For example, a lower-fat mayonnaise is 30% lower in fat than the standard version, but is still high in fat.
Also, foods that are marked 'low-fat' or 'reduced-fat' aren't necessarily low in calories. Often the fat is replaced with sugar, and the food may end up with the same, or an even higher, calorie content. To be sure of the fat content and the calorie content, remember to check the nutrition label on the packet.
Following restrictive, low-fat eating plans/diets may help you lose weight in the short term, but once you go back to old eating habits, your body will be more prone to storing fat and the weight will go straight back on again. If you want to lose weight, concentrate on eating a balanced diet, drinking sensibly and step up the amount of exercise you do. Be cautious of 'faddy' calorie counting and crash diets.
Most recipes can be made low-fat by replacing ingredients or reducing the quantity of fat used:
Tasty, healthy salads with low-fat dressings:
Chargrilled turkey with quinoa tabbouleh & tahini dressing
Barbecued fennel with black olive dressing
Winter slaw with warm celery seed dressing
Jo Lewin holds a degree in nutritional therapy and works as a community health nutritionist and private consultant. She is an accredited member of BANT, covered by the association's code of ethics and practice.