Fats and oils

We all need some fat in our diets. It’s getting the right balance of the different types of fat that will help keep your heart healthy.

Why we need to eat some fats

We need some fats:

  • for energy
  • to absorb some vitamins from food
  • for a healthy immune system
  • for our brains to function.

Types of fats

There are two main types of fat – saturated fats and unsaturated fats and we need some of both. But too much saturated fat will raise your blood cholesterol, while unsaturated fats are more heart-healthy.

Cutting down on foods that contain a lot of saturated fat and replacing them with foods that contain more unsaturated fat can improve your cholesterol levels.

Saturated fats are found in animal foods, such as fatty meat and dairy products. They're also found in coconut products and palm oil. Read all about saturated fats

Unsaturated fats are found in plant foods, such as olive and vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, as well as oily fish.

How much fat should I eat?

Fats are very high in energy, so can make you gain weight. To make sure you’re not taking on too much energy, you need to keep an eye on how much fat you eat in total.

About a third of our energy should come from fat. That’s about 70g for a woman and 90g for a man per day.

Keep the amount of saturated fat you eat down by swapping foods which are high in saturated fats for foods which are either high in unsaturated fats or low in fat altogether. But don’t simply eat more unsaturated fats – so that you’re not eating too much in total.

Check the labels. Check the labels on foods to see how much fat and saturated fat they contain. Some are colour-coded which helps you to make a quick decision. 

Unsaturated fats

There are different types of unsaturated fat which do different jobs in the body. They are known as “mono - unsaturated” and “poly - unsaturated”. For a heart-healthy diet, it’s good to eat a range of foods so that you get both.

Foods which are high in unsaturated fats include:

  • oils from vegetables, seeds and nuts, such as sunflower, safflower, rapeseed, olive, walnut and corn oil
  • spreads based on these oils
  • nuts and seeds
  • oily fish such as herring, pilchards, mackerel, salmon and trout
  • avocado.

Unsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature, unlike saturated fats which are usually hard.

One type of mono-unsaturated fat which are particularly good for you are omega 3 fats, which are the type found in oily fish.

Trans fats

Like saturated fats, trans fats are bad for our health. They raise LDL cholesterol and also lower HDL (good) cholesterol.

Trans fats are made when unsaturated fats such as vegetable oils are heated to high temperatures by the food industry. Most food companies have now stopped adding trans fats to our food. So, most of us don’t eat a lot of trans fats.

Trans fats are sometimes present in pastries, cakes, biscuits, crackers, fried foods, takeaways and hard margarines. A sign that they are there is when you see the words 'partially hydrogenated fat' on the label. It’s best to avoid these foods as much as possible.

Some trans fats are present in dairy foods and red meats, but only in small amounts, and these are thought to be safe to eat.

Simple swaps

Use these simple swaps to replace some of the foods that you eat which are high in saturated fat with other foods that contain more unsaturated fat. Plus get ideas for other ways you can eat less fat and saturated fat.

Eat less Swap for
Butter, ghee, lard, suet, goose fat, hard margarines. Coconut and palm oil. Oils made from vegetables and seeds such as olive, rapeseed, sunflower and soya oil, and fat spreads made from these.
Fatty meat and processed meat products such as sausages, bacon, salami and canned meat. Lean meat, chicken or turkey with skin removed, white fish, oily fish at least once a week. Have meat-free days – try dishes based on beans, pulses, Quorn, tofu, nuts or soya meat alternatives.
Full fat dairy foods (milk, yogurt, cream, cheese). Lower fat milks such as semi-skimmed, 1% fat or skimmed milk and calcium fortified alternatives to milk. Low fat yogurts. Low fat cheese such as half fat cheddar and cottage cheese.
Cakes, sweet, filled or coated biscuits. Plain buns such as currant or hot cross buns, scones, semi-sweet biscuits.
Crisps. Hummus and vegetable sticks.
Coconut – fresh, dried and desiccated. Dried fruit and nuts.
Cream or pastry-based desserts. Fresh, baked or poached fruit, milk puddings and custard made with low fat milk, low fat yogurts, fruit crumbles made with unsaturated spread.
Pastry, sausage rolls, savoury pies. Potato topped pies.
Cream-based curries e.g. kormas. Cheese and cream based pasta dishes. Extra cheese or meat topped pizzas, sandwiches with cheese fillings.
Cream-based soups and sauces.
Tomato and vegetable based curries and pasta dishes. Thin crust pizzas with vegetable toppings, sandwich fillings such as hummus, lean chicken, egg salad and falafel. Vegetable and tomato based soups and sauces.
Roasting or frying with butter, lard, other animal fats or coconut oil. Use small amounts of vegetable oil or try other cooking methods e.g. casseroles, boiling, grilling, steaming, roasting bags.
Milk chocolate, toffee, fudge, crisps and fried salty snacks. Dark chocolate, chewing gum, nuts, seeds, popcorn. Lower fat crisps or baked savoury snacks.
Creamy salad dressings such as ranch and Ceasar dressing, and mayonnaise. Salad dressings made with olive oil, rapeseed oil or a seed or nut oil, or low fat mayonnaise.