Fat

Fat are an essential part of our diet and is important for good health. There are different types of fats, with some fats being healthier than others. To help make sure you stay healthy, it is important to eat unsaturated fats in small amounts as part of a balanced diet.

When eaten in large amounts, all fats, including healthy fats, can contribute to weight gain. Fat is higher in energy (kilojoules) than any other nutrient and so eating less fat overall is likely to help with weight loss.

Eating less saturated and trans fats may help lower your risk of heart disease. When buying products check the labels and choose the varieties that are lower in saturated and trans fats and higher in poly and monounsaturated fats.

So a diet that is low in saturated fats and trans fats, but that also includes moderate amounts of unsaturated fats will help you stay healthy.

Image of man reading a food label at a supermarket to illustrate the importance of reading labels.

Saturated fats

Eating greater amounts of saturated fat is linked with an increased risk of heart disease and high blood cholesterol levels. These fats are usually solid at room temperature and are found in:

Animal-based products:

Dairy foods – such as butter, cream, full fat milk and cheese

  • Meat – such as fatty cuts of beef, pork and lamb and chicken (especially chicken skin), processed meats like salami, Some plant-derived products:
  • Palm oil
  • Coconut
  • Coconut milk and cream
  • Cooking margarine

Many manufactured and packaged foods:

  • Fatty snack foods (such as potato chips, savoury crackers)
  • Deep fried and high fat take away foods (such as hot chips, pizza, hamburgers)
  • Cakes and high fat muffins
  • Pastries and pies (including quiche, tarts, sausage rolls, pasties, croissants)
  • Sweet and savoury biscuits

Unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fats are an important part of a healthy diet. These fats help reduce the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels (among other health benefits) when they replace saturated fats in the diet.

There are two main types of unsaturated fats:

Polyunsaturated fats:

  • omega-3 fats which are found in fish, especially oily fish
  • omega-6 fats which are found in some oils such as safflower and soybean oil, along with some nuts, including brazil nuts.

Monounsaturated fats:

  • found in olive and canola oil, avocados and some nuts, such as cashews and almonds.
An image of almonds to illustrate a potential source of monounsaturated fats.

Trans fats

Trans fats are unsaturated fats that have been processed and as a result, behave like saturated fats. Eating trans fats increases the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol and decreases the levels of ‘good’ cholesterol in the body which is a major risk factor for heart disease. It is important to lower the amounts of trans fats you eat to help you stay healthy.

Trans fats are found in many packaged foods and also in butter and some margarines. Use food labels to compare foods and choose those with fewer trans fats.

It is great for health to replace saturated and trans fats with mono and polyunsaturated fats.

Source: Dietitians Association of Australia.

Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a type of fat found in food, but also in our blood. Cholesterol has many important functions in the body but having high levels of the wrong type of cholesterol in the blood increases heart disease risk.

It was once thought that eating too many cholesterol-containing foods (such as eggs) was the major dietary cause of high blood cholesterol level. But we now know that eating too many foods containing higher amounts of saturated and trans fats is a bigger problem and has a much greater influence on blood cholesterol levels.

Source: Dietitians Association of Australia.