Not all fats are equal
Fats can help make food more palatable and some oils contain unsaturated fats (polyunsaturated and monunsaturated) that are essential for health. Some foods containing fat provide vitamins including vitamin A, D and E. But different types of fats have different effects on our health and all fats are high in kilojoules,
Fats can be classified as saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, depending on their chemical structure. Trans fats act like saturated fats in the body. Trans fats can be found naturally in the fat from meat and milk from certain animals and hydrogenated vegetable oils used to make some processed foods. The amount of trans fats in processed foods is declining in Australia and our overall intake is low. However, it is important to ensure that intake remains at its current low level. Saturated fats increase our risk of heart disease. It is important to replace foods containing saturated fats with foods that contain unsaturated fats, that is, either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. All Australians should include some foods that contain unsaturated fats in their usual dietary patterns. The amount depends on our individual energy needs. Low-fat diets are not suitable for infants due to their relatively high energy requirements. For older children, adolescents and adults, dietary patterns low in saturated fat are recommended. See page 31 for tips
What foods contain saturated fats? Saturated fats are found in:
- butter and cream
- lard and dripping
- coconut and palm kernel oils
- pastries and pies
- processed meats
- commercial burgers
- pizzas and fried foods
- potato chips and crisps
- untrimmed meats
- full cream dairy products, especially cheese
Tips to eat less saturated fat
Eat fish and legumes/beans more often.
Cut down on dishes with cream, buttery or creamy sauces or fatty gravy, instead choose tomato-based dishes.
Replace sour cream or coconut milk with light evaporated milk or plain yoghurt.
Use reduced fat yoghurt, vinegar, lemon juice, herbs and small amounts
of unsaturated oils for dressings.
Don’t deep fry foods. Instead, sauté, stir-fry, grill, bake, steam, boil, microwave, poach or barbeque. Use small amounts of unsaturated oils if needed.
Choose bread-based takeaways (sandwiches, rolls and wraps) rather than
commercially baked or fried foods like pies, sausage rolls, chips, fried chicken and battered and fried seafood.
Order a side salad or vegetables, instead of hot chips.
Choose vegetable toppings on pizza, rather than extra cheese, ham or salami.
Choose packaged foods which state they are reduced in fat or low in fat.
But beware that these may contain more added sugars than regular varieties of these foods!
Use small amounts of unsaturated spreads and oils instead of butter.
Choose reduced or low-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese.
Beware of added sugars
It’s not the naturally occurring sugars in fruit, vegetables or milk products that are a problem. It’s the foods and drinks with sugars added as a sweetener, flavour enhancer or preservative that we need to limit. Added sugars can increase the kilojoule content of our diet and reduce our intake of important nutrients when we eat these foods in place of foods from the Five Food Groups. High or frequent intake of foods and drinks containing added sugars can lead to tooth decay in both children and adults. Recent evidence shows that intake of sugar-sweetened drinks can increase the risk of excessive weight gain in both children and adults.
Limit foods high in added sugars including jams, marmalades, confectionary, syrups and sweetened sauces and dressings, biscuits, cakes, sweet muffins, doughnuts, slices, puddings, sweet pastries, pies and crumbles, ice-cream, chocolate and muesli bars. Particularly limit intake of drinks high in added sugars including sugar sweetened soft drinks cordials, fruit drinks, vitamin waters, energy and sports drinks. Foods and drinks that are artificially sweetened can provide a useful alternative to those high in added sugars. But artificially sweetened soft drinks are still acidic and may erode tooth enamel so only drink them sometimes and in small amounts.
Alcohol is a food as well as a drug and is high in energy (kilojoules). Some studies show that small amounts of alcohol may help reduce heart disease and risk of dementia. But, the NHMRC Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol (2009) note that any potential cardiovascular benefit can also be gained by other means such as modifying the diet or exercise. Even small amounts of alcohol can be associated with increased risk of some cancers. Alcoholic drinks such as beer, wines, spirits and fortified wines increase the kilojoule content of the diet. Sugar-sweetened alcoholic drinks add a further risk for excessive weight gain. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit intake. It is recommended that healthy men and women drink no more than two standard drinks on any one day, and no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion. Not drinking alcohol is the safest option for women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, or breastfeeding. Children under 15 years of age are at the greatest risk of harm from drinking alcohol and should not drink. For young people aged 15–17 years, the safest option is to delay the initiation of drinking for as long as possible