Think you’re following a healthy diet? Even if you avoid deep-fried foods and large portions of red meat, you could still be falling prey to hidden sources of saturated fat – overconsumption of which is linked to high cholesterol, heart disease and more. Despite most of us knowing that saturated fat is unhealthy, dietary surveys show that we’re still eating too much of it. Why? Common foods such as sausages, chicken skin, butter and cheese contain significant amounts of saturated fat, but it’s also often hiding in unexpected places.
22g saturated fat per 450ml serve
Compare this to a 450ml skim iced coffee at 0.2g
Milk is good for you, right? Not in this café staple. An average 450ml serve of iced coffee, made with whole milk, ice-cream and cream, contains 22g saturated fat: 92% of your daily intake (%DI), which leaves you almost no room for any other sources of saturated fat in your day. At a whopping 2210kJ, it has as many kilojoules as a meal, or about 25% of the average adult’s daily energy needs! Enjoy a smaller serve made of skim milk and skip the cream and ice-cream.
9g saturated fat each
Compare this to a plain bagel at 0.2g
Croissants ooze French charm, but don’t be deceived – French women (and men) do get fat, and have heart attacks and strokes. In 2002, death rates from cardiovascular disease in France were 183 per 100,000 versus 196 in Australia. While croissants are light in texture, they are heavy on saturated fat and kilojoules: a plain 70g croissant contains 9g saturated fat (38%DI) and 1058kJ (12%DI). They are essentially flour and butter made fluffy with yeast. Commercial croissants are often made with partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening and contain trans fats too, making them a truly special occasion food. Limit yourself to one and avoid eating the ones with added highsaturated-fat ingredients, like cheese or chocolate.
23g saturated fat per 150g burger
Compare this to kangaroo mince at 0.75g per 150g
Beef mince is very versatile, and most people regularly eat meatballs, burgers or bolognese, but if you don’t buy the lean version, you’ll be chowing down on 15g saturated fat per 100g. That means even a 150g burger patty – small, by today’s standards – can bring you to your maximum daily saturated fat quota (and that’s before you even think about dessert!). Look for ‘premium’, ‘lean’ or ‘heart smart’ beef, or choose kangaroo mince. You can also try mixing legumes, such as lentils or mashed kidney beans, into smaller amounts of mince to add bulk.
Organic vegie chips
7g saturated fat per 45g pack (Absolute Organic brand)
Compare this to Ajitas natural vege chips at 0.5g per 25g serve
If you believe organic foods are always healthier, think again. It’s a pity, but some organic snack food manufacturers appear to have focused so much on the organic bit, they’ve forgotten to make sure the ingredients are actually good for you! Organic palm oil is a major offender. This brand of beautiful organic beetroot chips, which are fried in palm oil, contain 7g saturated fat per pack – almost a third of your daily intake – compared to the ‘natural’ vegie chips. It just goes to show that you should always read labels when comparing products – organic or not.
Unless you buy a healthier frozen version, or cook up a lighter version yourself, this dish is not advisable as an everyday food. Traditional recipes contain all the usual saturated-fat-rich suspects: butter, cream and cheese, with a large dose of sodium from bacon or ham to boot. As a restaurant meal, it is usually a vegetable-free zone and served in excessively large portions. You can smarten it up at home by using reduced-fat table spread instead of butter, lowfat evaporated milk instead of cream and smaller amounts of a strongly-flavoured cheese, like parmesan. Bonus health points for using wholemeal pasta, dishing up smaller portions and adding a generous side salad.
3.8g saturated fat per biscuit
Compare this to an Arnott’s Nice biscuit at 0.8g per biscuit
That biscuit-with-a-cuppa habit could be your saturated fat downfall – especially if you can’t stop at just one. Shortbread is so named because of the high proportion of shortening (ie. saturated fat) it contains – that’s why it melts in your mouth. On average, each shortbread biscuit contains a teaspoon of butter, half of which is saturated fat. Adding ‘cream’ or chocolate to shortbread increases the saturated fat total.
13g saturated fat per 200g
Compare this to low-fat plain yoghurt at 0.2g per 200g
Yoghurt has a good reputation in health circles, and the Greeks are healthy because of their Mediterranean diet, right? The health halo of Greek style yoghurt starts to slip when you consider the regular version contains 10% fat, of which 6.5g is saturated. This is because the yoghurt is mixed with cream to achieve that rich texture and flavour. It’s fine to use a dollop as a cream substitute, but don’t get hooked on eating it by the tub like low-fat yoghurt: a 200g serve contains just over half your daily saturated fat limit. Look for the low-fat varieties.
19g saturated fat per 100ml
Compare this to coconut flavoured evaporated milk at 1.1g per 100ml
We love creamy Thai curries but bear in mind that coconut is an exceptional plant food (like palm oil) because it is high in saturated fat. Coconut cream has the most at 19g saturated fat per 100ml (79%DI), followed by coconut milk with 14g per 100ml and ‘light’ coconut milk at 12g per 100ml (some brands have less). When cooking at home use the lightest brand you can find or try low-fat coconut-flavoured evaporated milk. When eating out, if you choose a creamy curry, limit your portion. You may have heard the fat in coconut is good for you, but don’t believe the hype. Coconut oil contains 85% saturated fat and both the Heart Foundation and American Heart Association agree that too much is unhealthy.
Going vego is not necessarily going to help you lower your cholesterol or lose weight. Meat-free meals that have too much dairy fat from cheese, milk and cream are the main trap – vegetable lasagne is a classic case in point. A small 350g serve contains 11g saturated fat (46%DI). To make matters worse, if it doesn’t contain legumes, such as lentils, you’ll probably still be hungry afterwards because of the lack of protein. Dished up in cafes with the obligatory serve of chips, this meal is not a healthy one.
Spinach is a highly nutritious vegetable, but combining it with cream and cheese, then wrapping it up in buttery pastry seriously compromises its health credibility. Individual quiches are the worst, since they have more pastry, with 15g saturated per 175g serve (63% DI), but most commercially made spinach quiches are serious offenders. A healthier idea is to make a frittata (or the Basic quiche recipe in this issue), skip the cream and go easy on the cheese. Serve with a wholemeal breadroll and a salad for a complete make-over.
How much is too much?
The average adult should aim for no more than 24g saturated fat a day – and many of us should aim for less than 20g. Saturated fat is the main dietary cause of high blood cholesterol, and one in two Australians have high blood cholesterol.
There’s another baddie lurking in our food: trans fats. These fats have a double whammy effect: they increase bad (LDL) cholesterol and deplete good (HDL) cholesterol in our blood, adding up to an increased risk of heart disease. They’re found in commercial shortenings used in baked and fried foods and in confectionery. Surveys show that on average we eat very small amounts of trans fats in Australia, but regularly eating pastries, pies, cakes, slices, fried fast foods and fried snack foods is asking for trouble.
What about chocolate?
Although cocoa solids and cocoa butter contain mostly saturated fats, the majority is in the form of stearic acid – a type of saturated fat that has little effect on blood cholesterol (it’s still just as fattening, however). Dark chocolate with a high cocoa solids content is your best bet for this reason, but read the label and avoid items that substitute cocoa butter with cheaper alternatives, such as palm oil (and, as always, watch your portion size). Milk chocolate has less cocoa and more milk fat with 18g saturated fat per 100g (75%DI).