For many years we have been told that saturated fat is a no-no if you want to look after your health, but recent research has confused matters considerably.
In fact, by looking at data from 72 separate studies involving some 600,000 participants, researchers from the University of Cambridge have now claimed that there is no evidence to suggest that switching from 'bad' saturated fats to the supposedly healthier mono or polyunsaturated variety will cut your risk of developing heart problems after all.
So what's the difference between the good and bad, and should you be changing your diet?
Saturated fat and trans fats are generally labelled the 'bad' variety. Processed meats such as sausages and pies, dairy such as butter, cheese and cream, and sweet treats such as biscuits, cakes, pastries and chocolate, as well as many savoury snacks are all high in saturated fat. Until recently it was thought that saturated fat was linked to high cholesterol, and consequently an increased risk of heart disease. According to the NHS, most Brits eat around 20 per cent more than is recommended by the British Dietetic Association, which is 30g a day for men and 20g a day for women.
Trans fats, which are formed in oils during the hydrogenation process, are similarly thought to increase cholesterol levels, and in turn the risk of heart disease and stroke. Usually present in oils and some spreads, they can also be found in processed foods such as biscuits and cakes.
Both the NHS and the British Heart Foundation advise cutting back on saturated fat and instead using its unsaturated counterparts.
Monounsaturated fat is found in the likes of olive and rapeseed oil, as well as some nuts and seeds, while polyunsaturated fats occur in soya, vegetable and sunflower oils, nuts and seeds, and oily fish. According to the BHF, both can help to maintain healthy cholesterol levels, but should still be consumed in small amounts.
What's the verdict?
It's important to remember that fat is an essential part of our diet. It gives us energy and helps the body to absorb certain nutrients, as well as providing essential fatty acids and vitamins A and D, so going fat free won't necessarily benefit your health. Too much fat, however, is likely to lead to weight gain, and obesity is strongly linked with long-term health problems including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary heart disease.
Though this latest research suggests saturated fat may not be the food demon we once thought, the British Heart Foundation, which co-funded the study, insists more research is necessary, and we should still opt for unsaturated fat where possible. In the end, the key to maintaining good health is a well-balanced diet and regular exercise.
Have you switched saturated fat for unsaturated, and do you believe you're healthier for it? Leave your comments below...