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Diets that are high in fat, sugar and salt are associated with a higher incidence of many of today’s common health conditions such as heart disease, some types of cancer, high blood pressure, stroke, obesity and tooth decay.
Download our Healthy eating guide (PDF 2MB)
Many processed foods, ready meals and savoury snacks can be relatively high in fat and salt, so try to get in the habit of reading pack labels and comparing brands before you buy.
Some food manufacturers and supermarkets use the 'traffic light' system where levels of fat, saturates, sugars and salt are demonstrated by red, amber and green symbols on the front of pack – red for high levels, amber for medium and green for low.
Foods that are high in fat, sugar or salt should be eaten in moderation as part of a balanced diet and in many cases it may be best to consider them as treats.
It is important to keep an eye on the overall amount of fat you eat and what type of fat this is. There are three main types of fat:
Where is it found?
Saturated fat is found In foods like cakes, biscuits, sausages, pies, butter, lard, cream, cheese, pastries, chocolate and coconut oil.
About saturated fat
Saturated fat is known to raise the ‘bad’ type of cholesterol in the blood, which increases the risk of heart disease.
How much is too much and how much is ok?
Check for saturates on food labels, or use the ‘traffic light’ symbols to see how much fat is in packaged food before you buy.
Unsaturated fat is found in foods like vegetable oils, oily fish (sardines, mackerel, salmon, trout), avocados and nuts and seeds.
About unsaturated fat
Unsaturated fats can be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Monounsaturated fats are found in certain plant oils, such as olive oil. Polyunsaturated fats are found in other plant oils, such as sunflower oil or spreads made from them.
Omega 3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated and may help to protect against heart disease. They are found in some plant oils, but oily fish is the best source.
Having unsaturated fat can help raise the level of ‘good’ cholesterol in the blood and gives us the essential fatty acids that we need.
Trans fats are found mainly in foods containing hydrogenated vegetable fat, and is typically used in baked goods, such as biscuits and cakes.
About trans fats
Like saturated fats, trans fats tend to raise the 'bad' type of cholesterol in the blood that increases the risk of coronary heart disease. Intake of trans fats is not high in this country, and many food manufaturers are reducing the amount of hydogenated fat in their products.
Sugar is found in foods like fizzy drinks, sweets, cakes and biscuits.
Too much sugar can make you prone to becoming overweight, as sugary foods tend to be relatively high in calories, particularly if they are fatty as well – like cakes, biscuits, chocolate and pastries. Having frequent sugary snacks and drinks can lead to tooth decay.
Some of the sugars on the label could represent sugars in fruit or milk, so a food containing milk or fruit will be a healthier choice than one with same amount of sugars, but no milk or fruit ingredients.
Relatively high levels of salt can be found in:
Bread and breakfast cereals do not taste salty, but can make a significant contribution to our salt intake because many of us eat a lot of them on a regular basis.
Too much salt is linked to high blood pressure, people with high blood pressure are three times more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke than people with normal blood pressure. Although salt is essential in our diet, it is only needed in small amounts. Adults should aim for no more than 6g salt each day, but you may be surprised to know that around 75% of the salt we eat is found in the foods we buy, or ‘processed’ foods, with the remaining 25% added during cooking or at the table.
Did you know...? Every day 26 million adults in the UK eat too much salt.
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