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Fat. The highs. The lows.

These days there is always a low fat alternative. We believe our old friend Mr Fat has been misrepresented though. Low fat alternatives are not quite as healthy as what they are sometimes made out to be. Many people often reach for the low fat options thinking that the less fat they intake – the more weight they will lose. But is this actually the case?

This article takes it back to basics and explains; what fat is and why we need it, the different types of fats, and the downsides of low fat alternatives.

What is fat and why do we need it?

Fat is an essential part of our diet and nutrition. We simply cannot live without it. Our bodies require small amounts of ‘good fat’ to function and help prevent disease. Fat is used as a slow release energy source so that we can keep on going throughout the day.

A lot of modern diets contain far more fat than the body needs. Too much fat, especially too much of the wrong type of fat, can cause serious health issues including obesity, higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Which in turn lead to a greater risk of heart disease.

What types of fat are there?

The two main types of fat are saturated and unsaturated. Unsaturated fats are generally considered better for us than saturated fats. This is because the shape of saturated fat molecules allows them to stick together easier than unsaturated. This isn’t good news for Mr. Artery as it can clog him up!

Generally, (although not exclusively) saturated fats come from animal sources (meat, dairy, eggs etc.) and are usually solid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats come from vegetable sources (sunflower oil, olive oil, soya oil), oily fish (salmon, trout, mackerel etc.) and soft margarine’s.

The downsides of low fat alternatives

Many low fat foods promoted as healthy-eating options contain more sugar than their “full fat” equivalents – in some cases more than five times as much. This is normally because when you lower the fat content of food you remove the flavour. Companies then ‘introduce’ the flavour again by adding alternatives mainly in the form of sugars.

A number of the most popular cereals, yogurts, snacks and ready meals marketed at people wanting to eat a low fat diet contain levels of sugar which leading campaigners and scientists now warn are too high. It is this sugar which promotes weight gain rather than loss.

Having low fat foods can also sometimes leave you feeling hungry – which leads to snacking between meals. This can make those 'less than healthy' options more tempting for a quick top up.

Overall, it’s all about balance – everything is good in moderation alongside regular physical activity, just be mindful of your daily intake.

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