Good fat or bad fat? Australians are eating more of both

Good fat or bad fat? Australians are eating more of both

Good fat or bad fat? Australians are eating more of both

Updated 2 September 2017, 8:40 AEST

A mix of changing palates and evolving dietary advice means demand for fatty foods is booming.

Consumers have been bombarded by confusing and sometimes conflicting messages about what they should eat for decades.

And one of the most confusing messages in recent times has been around fat.

It has seen a strong 'avoid all fats' rule evolve into a more nuanced 'good fats, bad fats' message but ask farmers and food processors how that message is being received and they will tell you: fat is back.

Demand for nuts, coconut products, avocados, butter, cheese and whole milk, and pork belly have all shown strong growth over the past year.

ABC Rural looked at the numbers for some other popular fats and how farmers are responding to that demand.

Meat

One of the best examples comes from across the ditch with the development of Te Mana lamb.

Decades ago, in an effort to stay in step with dietary advice at the time, New Zealand lamb producers started breeding sheep that produced less fat.

The result, according to the Omega Lamb Project's Mike Tate, was a bland, flavourless meat that consumers overwhelming rejected.

"When you reduce fat, you're actually taking a lot of the taste and enjoyment qualities out of the product," Mr Tate said.

"The trick is putting the right fats into the lamb through genetics and feeding, to give you the right taste and a healthy fat mix."

Te Mana lamb is bred with the fat back on but in keeping with the advice, genetics and diet combine to produce the 'good fats', high in omega-3 and polyunsaturated fat, marbled through the muscle.

"When we put this in the hands of chefs, blind, they'd call back saying 'this is really different, send us more'," Mr Tate said.

"We were worried in the beginning that it could taste or small a bit 'fishy', but the end result is a milder lamb that's being used by chefs in places like Hong Kong, where lamb isn't that popular."

Dairy

Sometime in 2009, butter overtook margarine at the supermarket checkouts across Australia, as margarine came under increased scrutiny for its methods of manufacturing and content.

The trend at the supermarket checkout continued too, with butter sales overtaking "blends" like margarine in 2010.

Margarine has transformed a number of times since its inception and has always been a competitor for butter but in this case, Dairy Australia senior analyst John Droppert said the higher prices would stick around for a while.

"Increasingly the view is that those prices are likely to be sustained," he said.

"There's a seasonal peak in global butter demand through the Christmas period; there is a lot of baking and butter being used.

"While it had been expected that the southern hemisphere's spring peak, when there's lots of Australian and NZ milk, would pull those prices back, more people actually think there won't be enough supply, so prices will stay high until after Christmas."

Avocado

While butter is a toast staple, for many consumers, avocado is taking its place.

In fact avocado is increasingly appearing alongside dairy products on menus and in homes around Australia — on toast with goat cheese, in smoothies, and even in ice cream.

Experts place avocado firmly in the 'good fat' category as it is a source of monounsaturated fat and is high in Omega-3.

As a result, production is soaring and with it, the avocado's rise in fame as described by RN's The Money.

Are we eating the right fats?

While farmers and food producers move to keep up with consumers' growing taste for fat, nutritionists and public health experts remain as concerned as ever about our increasing waistlines.

Official dietary guidelines changed in 2013, and current recommendations suggest eating less saturated and trans fats, while eating a moderate amount of unsaturated fats.

But others have called for these recommendations to change, arguing that 'most of us have it wrong' when it comes to the balance of fats we are eating.

While debate continues about fat, all experts agree that increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables in our diets is the best way to boost overall health.