You probably know that you should not consume too much fat. But is fat all bad? What else should you know about this nutrient? Read on to find out.
Fat plays an important role in our body, functioning as an energy store, a cushion for vital organs and a transport system for fat-soluble vitamins. That is why we require some fat in our diet. However, as fat is a concentrated source of calories (9kcal/g compared to 4kcal/g for carbohydrate and protein), eating too much may lead to weight gain and obesity.
So how much fat should I have?
Fat should make up about 25-30% of our total energy intake. Based on a typical 2000kcal diet, the total fat allowance is about 55 to 65g a day. It s easy to exceed this allowance if one is not mindful. For example, if you have a curry puff for breakfast, a bowl of laksa for lunch and a plate of chicken rice for dinner, you would have already consumed 70g of fat.
Are there different types of fat?
Yes, there are 4 types of fat:
- Saturated fat
- Monounsaturated fat
- Polyunsaturated fat
- Trans fat
Fats and oils in food are a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fats. There is usually a higher proportion of a particular type of fat in the mixture. Fats or oils that contain mostly saturated fat are often termed "saturated fat"; likewise, those that contain mostly unsaturated fat of either type are termed "monounsaturated fat" or "polyunsaturated fat".
Did you know that different types of fat can affect your health differently?
The bad fats
Trans fat is formed when vegetable oils undergo hydrogenation, an industrial process that hardens liquid oil to produce fats like hard margarine and shortening. Trans fat raises LDL ( bad ) cholesterol and lowers HDL ( good ) cholesterol levels, thus increasing the risk of heart disease. The main sources of trans fat in our diet are pastries, cakes, cookies, biscuits, commercially deep-fried food as well as products containing vegetable shortening and hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.
A diet high in saturated fat raises the level of LDL-cholesterol in our body, which increases the risk of heart disease. Major sources of saturated fat include animal fats (e.g. lard, fatty meat, skin of poultry); high-fat dairy products (e.g. full cream milk, butter, ghee); food prepared with palm-based vegetable oil; as well as dishes containing coconut milk or coconut cream.
The good fats
There are two main families of polyunsaturated fat: omega-3 and omega-6.
Omega-3 fat helps reduce blood clotting in the arteries, protects arteries from hardening, and reduces the level of triglycerides in the blood. This in turn lowers the risk of heart disease. Good sources of omega-3 fat include fish e.g. salmon, sardine, longtail shad (terubok) and Spanish mackerel (tenggiri papan); walnuts; canola oil and soybean oil; as well as products enriched or fortified with omega-3 (e.g. bread and eggs).
Omega-6 fat also helps improve heart health by reducing total and LDL-cholesterol levels in the blood. Good sources of omega-6 fat include: vegetable oils (e.g. corn oil, soybean oil and sunflower oil); and seeds (e.g. sunflower seeds and sesame seeds).
Monounsaturated fat tends to lower total and LDL-cholesterol ( bad cholesterol) levels in the body. Food rich in monounsaturated fat include vegetable oils (e.g. olive oil, canola oil and peanut oil); most nuts (e.g. almonds, cashew nuts and hazelnuts); as well as avocados.
So what should I do?
As part of healthy eating, aim to consume fat in moderate amounts. Remember, having too much fat, even the good types, will provide excess calories. Limit the intake of saturated fat and trans fat in your diet, and replace them with unsaturated fats. Here are some ways for you to do just that:
- Use less oil in cooking. Choose oils higher in unsaturated fat, and avoid re-using oils more than twice.
- Adopt healthier cooking methods (e.g. steaming, baking) more often. Replace coconut milk or coconut cream in cooking with low fat milk.
- Use fat spreads (e.g. margarine, butter, kaya, peanut butter) sparingly.
- Choose low fat dairy products, lean meats, fish and skinless poultry
- Consume fish at least twice a week. Replace meat in dishes with beans and bean products (e.g. tofu) on some days.
When eating out
- Choose dishes prepared without coconut cream or coconut milk
- Replace fried noodles with soup noodles occasionally
- Limit deep-fried food to no more than twice a week.
- Consume high-fat bakery products (e.g. pastries, cakes and cookies) less often.
- Remove visible fat and skin from meat and poultry.
- Ask for less oil and gravy in food.
- Read the ingredient list to identify products that contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats/oils/shortening. These are likely to be high in saturated and trans fat.
- Read the Nutrition Information Panel on food labels to compare the amount of fat in food products.
- Choose products with the Healthier Choice Symbol as they are lower in total and saturated fat compared to other products in similar categories. These products also have no trans fat or only negligible amounts of it per serving.
What about cholesterol?
Cholesterol is not a type of fat. It has a different chemical structure and has different functions in the body. Our liver makes most of the cholesterol our body needs. For some people, a diet high in cholesterol can increase their blood cholesterol levels. To be safe, limit your cholesterol intake to less than 300mg per day. Avoid consuming organ meat and shellfish more than twice a week, and have no more than 4 egg yolks per week
- Moderate the total fat you consume.
- Limit the intake of saturated fat and trans fat and replace them with mono- or polyunsaturated fats.