Fat is the most energy-dense nutrient, containing more than twice as many calories as carbohydrate and protein. All types of fat, from olive oil to ghee, contain 9kcal per gram. A small amount of fat is essential for a healthy diet. There is no need to add extra fat though; there are plenty of good fats to be found already present in food.
A small amount of fat is an essential part of a balanced diet. Fat helps the body to absorb vitamins A, D and E.
Any fat you eat is broken down during digestion into smaller units called fatty acids. Any fat not used by your body’s cells or to create energy is converted into body fat. Unused carbohydrate and protein is also converted into body fat.
To achieve a healthy balance, cut down on saturated fats and cut our trans fatty acids. Saturated fat comes from animal sources such as butter, suet, meat and lard and a small amount does no harm. Man-made trans fats are found in commercially processed foods such as cakes, biscuits and pies. They prolong shelf life but prevent your liver from processing fats properly, causing an imbalance in cholesterol levels and increasing your risk of heart disease and stroke. They are the ones to be avoided.
For a product to be labelled lower fat, reduced fat, lite or light, it has to contain at least 30% less fat than a similar product. However, if the type of food in question is still high in fat in the first place, the lower-fat version may still be high in fat.
Something labelled low-fat doesn’t necessarily mean it’s low calorie. Sometimes fat is replaced with sugar and the energy content is ultimately the same. Check the nutrition labels carefully to be sure.
These recipes are all low in fat, but big on taste.
Italian Beef and Macaroni Bake
- Preheat oven to 180c, gas mark 4.
- Boil 100g/3.5oz pasta in a saucepan of water until tender.
- Drain well.
Finely chop one onion and crush one clove of garlic. Cook in 60ml of beef stock until softened.
- Stir in 175g/6oz lean minced beef and cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add 250ml passata, a pinch of sugar, a small bunch of chopped fresh basil. Mix and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make a white sauce. Blend 1 tablespoon of cornflour with a few tablespoons of skimmed milk. Heat 250ml skimmed milk in another saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir the hot milk into the cornflour mix, return to the pan, stirring until it thickens. Remove from the heat, stir in two tablespoons fat-free fromage frais, a pinch of ground nutmeg and one beaten egg. Season with black pepper.
- Add half of the cooked pasta to an ovenproof dish. Spoon the mince over the top, add the remaining pasta and then the white sauce over the top.
- Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until bubbling and golden brown. Serve with a green salad.
- Peel and thinly slice 2 large potatoes, 1 large onion and 4 carrots.
- In a heavy-based saucepan, layer up potatoes, onion and carrots, with 300g boned lean lamb that has been cut into chunks. Finish with a layer of potatoes.
- Pour in 300ml of beef stock and cook gently over a very low heat for about 2-2.5 hours until the meat is tender and the stew has thickened. To brown the top, pop it under a hot grill for a few minutes.
- Serve with steamed green vegetables.
- Preheat the oven to 190c, gas mark 5.
- Make a cucumber raita. Use a potato peeler to cut half a cucumber into long strips lengthways. Mix in a bowl with 5 tablespoons low fat natural yoghurt, 2 tablespoons chopped mint, 1 tablespoon chopped coriander, a squeeze of lime juice and the seeds of half a pomegranate. Chill in the fridge.
- Mix 85g low fat natural yoghurt, 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric and 2 teaspoons tandoori curry paste. Coat 300g skinned white fish fillets with the mixture. Sprinkle with black pepper, place into an overproof dish and cover with foil.
- Bake for 10 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for a further 5-10 minutes until the fish is cooked and slightly browned.
- Serve with the cucumber raita, plain boiled rice and steamed green vegetables.
Fat saving tips
- Conserve vitamins in vegetables by steaming, pressure cooking or microwaving them rather than boiling.
- Always choose lean cuts of meat and before cooking, trim visible fat and remove the skin from poultry.
- Make a low-fat white sauce using skimmed milk and fat-free fromage frais.
- Instead of using salt, boost the flavour of your food by marinating, cooking and dressing with herbs, spices, garlic, chilli, lemon or lime juice, vinegars, tomato puree, capers, olives or mustard.
- Choose very lean meat, with a maximum of 5% fat, or swap the meat for vegetables.
- Even fruits and vegetables contain tiny traces of fat, but unsaturated fats from plants play a healthy role in your diet. These include monounsaturated fats in nuts, seeds and olive oil; and polyunsaturated fats.
- Polyunsaturated fats are divided into two groups: omega-6 and omega-3. Oily fish, flaxseed, linseed and walnuts are good sources of omega-3. Omega-6 fats are found in nuts, seeds, soya, wholegrains, meat and dairy products.
- When a recipe calls for double cream, swap it for thick, low-fat natural yoghurt for a delicious, low-fat alternative.