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Fats and diabetes

All of us need to follow a healthy, balanced diet which is low in fat.

Fat is very high in calories with each gram of fat providing more than twice as many calories compared to protein and carbohydrate.

Eating too much fat can lead to you taking in more calories than your body needs which causes weight gain which can affect your diabetes control and overall health.

The type of fat is important too. Having too much saturated fat in your diet can cause high levels of what’s known as ‘bad cholesterol’ (low-density lipoprotein or LDL), which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

People with diabetes are at increased risk of CVD, so it’s even more important to make healthier food choices.

In this section

Should I avoid fatty foods completely?

Fat plays a very important role in the body, so you need to include a small amount of it in your diet. Fat in our body fulfils a wide range of functions, which include:

  • supplying energy for cells
  • providing essential fatty acids that your body can't make
  • transporting fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K)
  • providing a protective layer around vital organs
  • being necessary in the production of hormones.

However, fats are high in calories, so it’s important to limit the amount you use – especially if you’re trying to manage your weight. Next time you’re cooking or shopping, have a look at the nutritional label to see what types of fats are in the product you’re buying.



Types of fat

The main types of fat found in our food are saturated and unsaturated, and most foods will have a combination of these. All of us need to cut saturated fat and use unsaturated fats and oils, such as rapeseed or olive oil, as these types are better for your heart.

Saturated fats

Saturated fat is present in higher amounts in animal products, such as:

  • butter
  • cream
  • cheese
  • meat
  • meat products and poultry
  • processed foods like pastries, cakes and biscuits.

Saturated fats increase the amount of bad cholesterol (LDL) in the body. LDL transports cholesterol from the liver to the cells and too much LDL cholesterol can lead to a build-up of fatty material in the artery walls, which increases the risk of CVD.

Unsaturated fats

There are two types of unsaturated fats:

  • monounsaturated
  • polyunsaturated.

They can help to maintain the ‘good cholesterol’ (high-density lipoprotein or HDL) in the body. HDL carries cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver, where it’s either broken down or passed out of the body as a waste product. Monounsaturated fats are present in a higher amount in olive oil, rapeseed oil and avocado. 

Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids

Polyunsaturated fats are further divided into Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids. Most dietary polyunsaturated fat is in the form of Omega 6, found in sunflower, safflower, corn, groundnut and soya oils. Oily fish, such as mackerel, sardines, trout and pilchards, is a good source of omega 3 oils.

Trans fatty acids or trans fats

Trans fatty acids have a similar effect to saturated fats, where they increase the amount of LDL in the body, but they also lower the amount of HDLs.

Trans fats are found in small amounts in milk, cheese, beef and lamb. Trans fats are also produced when ordinary oils are heated to fry foods at a very high temperature, which is why takeaway foods tend to be high in trans fats.

The main issue arises because they are also created by the food manufacturing industry using a chemical process known as hydrogenation that hardens vegetable oil to solid or semi-solid fats. These artificially produced trans fats are found in significant quantities in margarine and manufactured foods that contain partially hydrogenated fat.

Many manufacturers have now reduced the amount of trans fats in their products due to a movement to reduce them in manufactured foods over the years.

All fats are high in calories, contain the same amount of calories, and would contribute the same amount of weight gain. So, whichever fat you choose to use, make sure that you limit the amount.

Cholesterol in food – good or bad?

Cholesterol is a fatty, wax-like substance and is vital for the normal function of the body. It’s mainly made in the liver, but it can also be found in some foods. Cholesterol found naturally in some foods has very little influence on blood cholesterol levels. Foods that contain high amounts of dietary cholesterol, such as liver, egg yolk and shellfish, can be included in the diet, although the key is to cook them without fat or use small amounts of unsaturated fat.

Ways to cut down on fat

Follow these tips to help you reduce your fat intake – especially when it comes to cutting the amount of saturated fat you eat

  • Use skimmed or semi-skimmed milk and other low-fat dairy products
  • Choose lean cuts of meat and trim any visible fat.
  • Remove fat and skin from poultry.
  • Swap fatty foods such as butter, ghee, lard or coconut oils with small amounts of unsaturated fats and oils like rapeseed, sunflower or olive oils and rapeseed oilspreads.
  • Choose lower-fat cooking methods, such as grilling, poaching and steaming or stir-fry with a small amount of oil.
  • Limit fatty foods from takeaways. Some may be very high in saturated – and often trans – fats. Why not try the Fakeaway Feb challenge this February and ditch pre-packaged food for a month?
  • Spray oils are brilliant for saving calories – some are as low as 1Kcal per spray.
  • Always read the food label – this can tell you how much fat and saturated fat is in the product. Opt for foods that have more green or amber traffic lights to help make healthier choices.
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