These types of food should be eaten very occasionally and shouldn't replace one of the other food groups because they are what's called ‘high energy' foods. This means that they contain a lot of calories in a small portion so they're very easy to over-eat.
It is essential to have a small amount of fat in the diet (up to 30% of the calories we eat should come from fat), to protect our body and keep it warm, for essential fatty acids that the body can't make and for absorbing some vitamins. However, we should eat fat-containing foods sparingly as fats contain high amounts of energy which is stored if it's not used up. Fats can be separated into different categories: saturated, unsaturated and trans fats.
Saturated fats are found in many food products such as sausages, pies, butter, ghee, cream, crème fraîche, ice-cream, cheese, pastries, cakes and biscuits, some savoury snacks, some sweet snacks, chocolate, coconut oil, coconut cream and palm oil.
We should limit the amount of saturated fat in the diet, because eating too much can increase the risk of developing heart disease.
If you would like to know more about saturated fats why not click on the link and listen to our podcast.
Unsaturated fats are divided into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Neither is associated with the risk of heart disease like saturated fat, but they are still high in calories so eating too much can lead to weight gain. We should try to consume a higher proportion of unsaturated than saturated fats in our diet.
Some unsaturated fats in the diet provide essential fatty acids that the body can't produce, like the omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils and omega-6 fatty acids from vegetable oils.
Foods rich in unsaturated fat include oily fish, avocados, nuts and seeds, sunflower, rapeseed, olive and vegetable oils, and spreads made from these.
Trans fats tend to be found in processed foods such as cakes, biscuits, pastries and crisps. These types of fats are hard for the body to deal with and are linked to a higher risk of heart disease, so they are best avoided. Look out for ‘hydrogenated vegetable oil' or ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oil' on the list of ingredients.
Sugar occurs naturally in some foods, like fruit and milk, and can be added to food, such as in drinks, sweets, cakes, biscuits, ice-cream and jam.
Despite the sugar in fruit they are a much better sweet snack than chocolate, biscuits or sweets because the vitamins, minerals and fibre they contain are very important to health. Sugary snacks offer few nutritional benefits and often contain added fat as well.
Eating too many sugary foods can lead to dental caries (tooth decay), especially in children. Sugar in the mouth ferments and produces saliva to become more acidic which, in combination with the bacteria on the surface of the teeth (in the form of plaque) leads to the destruction of our tooth enamel.
Added sugars are most commonly associated with dental caries. The more frequently we eat sugary foods the more likely we are to be prone to dental caries, as we are exposing our teeth to the perfect conditions for tooth decay. Limit the amount of sugary foods and drinks you consume and stick to having them at meal times rather than between meals. This reduces the time that your teeth are exposed to these conditions.
Most fresh fruit isn't associated with dental caries because the sugar isn't released from the fruit until it's chewed. However, fruit juices can cause dental caries as the sugar has already been released during the juicing process. This is why it's better to consume fruit juices with your meals. Fruit juice is still a healthy component of the diet though, as it counts as one of your 5-a-day.
Tips for cutting down on sugar
- If you like sugar in hot drinks, gradually reduce the amount you add until you can tolerate it without sugar
- Swap sugary snacks for fruit
- Swap cakes or biscuits for a teacake, scone or currant bun
- Drink water, milk or fruit juice instead of sugary or fizzy drinks and if you still fancy a fizzy drink, dilute fruit juice with carbonated water (remember to dilute fruit juice for children)
- Look at traffic light labels on front of packs to make sure your food is low (green) or medium (amber) in sugar
- Choose tinned fruit in fruit juice instead of syrup
- Swap your sugar-coated cereal for a wholegrain option such as fruit and fibre, bran flakes or porridge. You could always add fresh fruit to sweeten it
Tips on keeping your teeth healthy
- Brush your teeth regularly and pay regular visits to the dentist
- Cut down on foods and drinks with added sugar
- Eating sugar-containing foods with meals, not as snacks
- Drink sugary drinks through a straw
- Avoid keeping sugary drinks or sweets in your mouth for a long time
We also have a podcast related to sugars and about dental caries in children. To listen to these simply click on the links or visit the podcast section of our website.