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, says nutritionist Nicole Senior.
Despite most of us knowing that saturated fat is unhealthy, dietary surveys show that we are 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.
Starbucks Frappuccino blended coffee
14g saturated fat per 470ml serve
Compare this to a light Frappuccino with trim milk with less than 1g saturated fat.
Milk is good for you, right? Not in this café staple. An average 470ml serve of blended coffee, made with whole milk and cream, contains 14g saturated fat: 61 per cent of your recommended daily intake (RDI), which leaves little 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 per cent of the average adult’s daily energy needs! Enjoy a smaller serve made of trim milk and skip the cream.
15g saturated fat per serve
Compare this to HFG lasagne at 6g per serve.
Traditional lasagne is a family favourite which can be high in kilojoules, fat and saturated fat as it is basically cheese, meat and pasta. By adding more vegetables, using a low-fat cottage cheese with a strong-flavoured parmesan cheese and choosing a lean beef mince, the meal is lower in fat and saturated fat and is just as tasty.
Up to 3.8g saturated fat per biscuit
Compare this to an Arnott’s Nice biscuit at 0.8g per biscuit.
That homemade 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 is why it melts in your mouth. On average, each shortbread biscuit contains one teaspoon of butter, half of which is saturated fat.
Up to 6.5g saturated fat per 100g
Compare this to Hubbards Berry Berry Lite Reduced-fat Muesli with 1.2g saturated fat per 100g.
If you believe gluten-free foods are always healthier, take another look. Gluten-free foods are necessary for people on gluten-free diets, but unfortunately this can come at a health cost in many categories of food. It can be necessary to add sugar and fat to foods to compensate for the lack of gluten. Gluten-free muesli – especially toasted varieties – can contain oils and coconut which contribute to a higher-than-ideal saturated fat content. Compare the ‘per 100g’ columns on products and go for the lowest numbers in the ‘saturated fat’ category.
Up to 6g saturated fat per 100g
Compare this to low-fat plain yoghurt at 0.4g per 100g.
Yoghurt has a good reputation in health circles, and the Greeks are healthy because of their Mediterranean diet, right? The health halo of Greek yoghurt starts to slip when you note the regular version contains eight per cent fat, of which six per cent is saturated. This is because the yoghurt is mixed with cream to get 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. Look for the low-fat varieties.
38g saturated fat
Compare this to Tomato, parmesan and courgette quiche at 7g per serve.
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, but most commercially made spinach quiches are serious offenders. A healthier idea is to make a frittata (or our quiche), skip the cream and go easy on the cheese. Serve with a wholemeal bread roll and a salad for a complete makeover.
Standard beef mince
15g saturated fat per 150g
Compare this to lean ‘premium’ beef, venison, trim pork or lamb mince at 4g per 150g.
Beef mince is versatile and most people regularly eat meatballs, burgers or bolognese but if you don’t buy the lean version, you will be chowing down on 15g saturated fat per 150g. That means even a 150g burger patty – small, by today’s standard – is 65 per cent of the RDI.
Look for ‘premium’, ‘lean’ or ‘heart smart’ beef, or choose lean venison, pork or lamb, mince. Also try mixing legumes such as lentils or mashed kidney beans into smaller amounts of mince for bulk.
Up to 26g 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 – 26g saturated fat per 100ml, more than the RDI – followed by coconut milk with saturated fat content ranging from 14-22g per 100ml and ‘light’ coconut milk ranging from 6.5-12g per 100ml. When cooking at home use the lightest brand you can find or try low-fat coconut-flavoured evaporated milk.
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 178 in New Zealand. While croissants are light in texture, they are heavy on saturated fat and kilojoules: one plain 75g croissant contains 9g saturated fat (40 per cent of RDI) and 1245kJ (14 per cent of RDI). 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 high saturated- fat ingredients such as cheese or chocolate.
Up to 25g saturated fat per serve
Compare this to HFG fettucine carbonara at 6g per serve.
That gourmet recipe may sound appealing, but unless you tweak it to make it a lighter version, 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 spread instead of butter, low-fat evaporated milk instead of cream and smaller amounts of a strongly flavoured cheese such as parmesan. Bonus health points for using wholemeal pasta, dishing up smaller portions and adding a generous side salad.
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 content of cocoa solids 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 per cent RDI).
There is 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.
Trans fat intake in New Zealand is very low compared to the rest of the world – about half a per cent of our total energy comes from trans fats, compared to between two to four per cent in other western countries. New Zealanders are unique in that we eat very little trans fat from the hydrogenated oils found in processed foods such as pies, cakes and confectionery. In fact, most of our trans fats come from dairy foods and red meat.
How much is too much?
The average adult should aim for no more than 23g saturated fat a day – and many of us should aim for less than 20g (see our nutrition information). Saturated fat is the main dietary cause of high blood cholesterol, and one in 12 adult New Zealanders is medicated for high blood cholesterol.
Menu minefield (where the saturated fat hides on restaurant menus)
Watch out for these items on menus – ask about how they are prepared.
- Mashed potato, potato purée, pommes purée (often made with butter and cream)
- Creamy soups (cream, crème fraiche or sour cream often added)
- Scrambled eggs, omelettes (can be made with butter and cream)
- Creamed spinach (as the name suggests, cream added)
- Rich meat sauces (it’s common practice to finish these with butter)