Fat is a source of essential fatty acids and it provides the mechanism for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins (Vitamin A, D, E, K). Fat is also a concentrated energy source, 1 gram of fat providing 37 kJ energy or 9 calories, which is over twice the amount of energy provided by carbohydrate or protein.

Cholesterol plays an essential role in the formation of cell membranes, some hormones and Vitamin D. However problems occur when there is too much cholesterol in the body. If cholesterol builds up in the arteries, which carry the blood away from the heart, plaques form narrowing the arteries. If the flow of blood is slowed or blocks the arteries, this can lead to atherosclerosis, which leads to chest pain, commonly known as angina. If a plaque ruptures, blood clots are formed which can cause heart attacks or stroke.

Two main lipoproteins (fat and protein complexes) play central roles in the development of plaques and cardiovascular (heart) disease. The two forms are known as HDL (high density lipoprotein) and LDL (low density lipoprotein). LDL cholesterol, considered the ‘bad’ cholesterol, transports cholesterol from the liver to the rest of the body. If there is too much cholesterol in the blood, then it is deposited in the walls of the coronary arteries. HDL cholesterol carries cholesterol from the blood to the liver for removal from the body and hence is called the ‘good’ cholesterol. When the level of LDL cholesterol in the blood is high, and HDL cholesterol is low, there is a greater risk of heart disease. One of the factors which determines the level of blood cholesterol is the amount of cholesterol consumed in the diet.

It is important that people have sufficient fat intake to meet their energy requirements and a balance of different types of fatty acids.

The NZ Nutrition Taskforce suggests that the total energy supplied by different sources of fat should be 30-33%, which should be made up of:

Saturated fat: no more than 12%

Monounsaturated fats: 10-20%

Polyunsaturated fats: 6-10%

New Zealanders have decreased their intake of fat over the years but fat intakes are still above the recommended levels and consumption of saturated foods is still high. 22.5% of the total fat intake in New Zealand is contributed by the discretionary addition of fat to foods, for example, frying foods at home or spreading butter on scones.

The Ministry of Health suggests that it is important to New Zealanders to reduce the amount of fat being consumed in the diet but it is also important to be aware of the type of fat being consumed. The following are suggestions on how to achieve these two goals:

Include the recommended servings of breads and cereals (at least six servings a day), vegetables and fruits (at least five servings a day), dairy products (at least two servings per day) and lean meat, chicken, seafood, eggs or legumes (at least one serving per day).
Choose snacks based on vegetables and fruits, breads, cereals and low-fat milk and milk products rather than high-fat snacks, e.g. potato crisps.
Trim all visible fat from meat and remove the skin from chicken.
Use less fat in cooking – grill, steam, boil or microwave as alternatives to frying foods.
When using fat, choose a vegetable oil or an oil high in monounsaturated fat such as olive, canola, or avocado oil.
Use less spread on bread and rolls or use alternatives like hummus or avocado.
Select lower-fat milk products such as reduced or low-fat milk, yoghurt, cottage cheese, or lower-fat cheese, e.g. Edam.
Eat processed meats, e.g. sausages and luncheon meat, less frequently as they are particularly high in saturated fat. Grill these meats rather than frying them so as not to add more fat to an already high-fat food.
Eat fried foods only occasionally.
When reducing fat in the diet make sure that these foods are not replaced with high-sugar foods. This especially needs to be checked when buying ‘low-fat’ foods. Check the nutrition panel to compare the fat and sugar content of the low fat and regular product.

The quantity of fat in bread is small, ranging from approximately 2-5 g per 100 g, while the saturated fat content is usually less than 1 gram. All breads made in New Zealand contain vegetable oil in small amounts to improve the texture and keeping quality of the bread. The most commonly used vegetable oil is canola, which is a monounsaturated oil or a ‘good oil’ as it lowers total fat and LDL cholesterol in the blood. Bread contains no cholesterol as no animal fats are added during its manufacture.

If you notice on the nutritional label of bread that the fat level seems higher, check the ingredients of the bread. Some breads have a large amount of seeds added. Seeds contain high levels of monounsaturated fats and some also contain omega 3, both of which have positive benefits for health. So the total fat will be higher due to the increase in monounsaturated and omega 3 fats, but if you check the saturated fat level you will see that this is still low and similar to the levels in other breads.

Be aware of what you are spreading on your bread as this can dramatically increase the amount of fat and energy of the meal/snack. All yellow spreads (butter, margarine) are high in fat, with some margarine containing 12-16 g fat/tablespoon. It is not the bread that is fattening but the spread. Trial using jam and honey on bread without butter/margarine or alternatives like light cream cheese (3 g fat/tablespoon) or avocado (4 g fat/tablespoon) for sandwiches.