Fat, Sugar and Salt
What's all the fuss?
Fat, sugar and salt get a lot of bad publicity, but do you understand what all the fuss is really about? It is important for parents and children know the issues around fat, sugar and salt, and have an understanding of how much is too much and why.
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On this page:FatSugarSalt
Fat is used to improve the taste and texture of many foods. Foods cooked in fat or with fat added to them usually taste and smell better than those that without the extra fat. All foods provide energy, but fat provides more than twice the energy of carbohydrates. If you are eating a lot of fat and not burning up the extra energy in physical activity, it will be stored as excess fat in the body. As well as contributing to overweight, obesity and high cholesterol levels, excess fat stores clog the arteries and can lead to serious heart disease.
However, not all fats are created equally and some are much better for you than others. Healthy fats are an essential part of the daily diet. The healthiest fats are unsaturated - these can be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. These fats help to lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Unsaturated fats are usually either liquid or soft at room temperature such as olive, sunflower and canola oils. Healthy fats are also found in nuts, seeds and oily fish such as tuna, salmon and sardines.
Saturated and trans fats are unhealthy fats that should be kept to a minimum in your diet. Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature and are found primarily in animal products such as full fat dairy foods, fatty meat and sausages, and tropical oils such as coconut and palm oils. Trans fats are made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil to make them more stable at room temperature. They are found in many baked and fried foods such as biscuits, donuts, crackers, cakes and hot chips.
Eating too many fatty foods is bad for your health. Keep saturated and trans fats out of your diet as much as possible, and check food labels to ensure total fat content is kept to under 10g per 100g.
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Sugar can be found in many different types of processed foods and drinks and most people eat more of it than they need. It is used to sweeten foods and it is also used to extend shelf life by slowing the growth of bacteria. Vinegar and salt serve a similar function.
Sugar provides a rapid burst of energy that our bodies are able to use quickly. The effects of sugar fade fast and can leave you craving more to get another burst of energy. Sugar highs and lows are a common symptom of people who eat a lot of sweet foods. Sugar tastes good but it contains empty kilojoules that are lacking in essential nutrients. If you consume more sugar than you burn up in physical activity your body will convert it into fat and lead to overweight.
Sugar also has a highly detrimental impact on teeth. Sugar promotes the growth of bacteria in the mouth which causes dental cavities. Brushing at least twice a day helps to clean the bacteria off the teeth but cutting back on eating sugary snacks and drinks is the only way to ensure minimal decay.
You should try not to eat foods with more than 10g of sugar per 100g.
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It is essential for good health to eat some salt but too much can cause high blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Many people love the taste of salty foods and eat far more of them than they need.
Salt is made up of sodium and chloride. Both parts serve a useful function. The sodium helps the nervous system to transmit messages around the body and to regulate blood pressure. Chloride is used by the stomach to make acid that helps in food digestion and to kill unhealthy bacteria. Salt is usually listed on food labels as sodium.
Salt is also used to preserve foods and extend their shelf life. Many processed foods contain high quantities of salt, and it can even be found 'hidden' in foods that you may not expect to find it in such as breakfast cereals and biscuits.
The damage to health caused by salt is insidious. Salt raises blood pressure and many people are unaware that it is damaging their health to the extent that it is. High blood pressure is very common amongst adults and often causes no symptoms until it is too late and they suffer from a devastating heart attack or stroke.
A liking for salty foods usually develops in childhood so it is important for future health that children avoid eating foods that are overly processed and high in salt. Parents should also actively discourage children from sprinkling extra salt onto their meals at the table. Unprocessed foods and fresh foods are the best choices. Otherwise, look for foods that are either low in salt or salt-reduced.
Try to choose foods that contain less than 420mg of salt per 100g. Less than 120mg per 100g is ideal.
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