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Fats and oils

We all need some fats in our diet. It’s getting the right balance of the different types of fats that will help keep your cholesterol and triglycerides levels and your heart healthy.

Why we need to eat some fats

  • for energy
  • to absorb some vitamins from food, these are the fat soluble vitamins, A, D E and K
  • for a healthy immune system
  • for our brains to function.

Types of fats

There are two main types of fat – saturated and unsaturated – and we need some of each. Eating a healthy balance of fats can help to lower your cholesterol levels. 

Saturated fats 

Too much saturated fat will raise your cholesterol. Cut down on foods high in saturated fat and replace them with foods higher in unsaturated fat. 

Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature. Most foods foods high in saturated fats come from animals, as well as coconut products. For example:

  • dairy foods such as cream, cheese and full fat milk and yoghurt
  • butter and other solid fats such as ghee, lard and hard margarine
  • fatty and processed meats such as sausages and bacon
  • coconut and palm oil.

Read all about saturated fats 

Unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fats are more heart-healthy. There are different types of unsaturated fat known as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and they do different jobs in the body. It’s good to eat a range of foods so that you get both.

Unsaturated fats are found in plant foods and oily fish, and they are usually liquid at room temperature. They're found in:

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

One type of unsaturated fat which are particularly good for you are omega 3 fats. These are the type found in oily fish. They're also found in flaxseed, linseed and hemp and foods that have been fortified with omega 3s. There are other types of unsaturated fats called omega 6 and omega 9s. Eating a variety of the foods above will help you to get enough of these. 

Trans fats

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

Trans fats are made when unsaturated fats such as vegetable oils are heated to high temperatures during food processing. Most food companies have now stopped adding trans fats to the food they make 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. Look out for the words 'partially hydrogenated fat' on the label as they contain trans fats and avoid these 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.

How much fat should I eat?

Fats are very high in energy so they can lead to weight gain, so you need to keep an eye on how much you eat in total.

About a third of your 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 high in saturated fats for foods which are higher in unsaturated fats or low in fat altogether. Don’t simply eat more unsaturated fats as you could eat too much fat in total.

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

Simple swaps

Use these simple swaps to replace some high saturated fats foods with healthier options. 

Eat less Swap for
Butter, ghee, lard, suet, goose fat, hard margarines, coconut oil 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 the skin removed.
White fish, and oily fish at least once a week. Have meat-free days, and instead try dishes based on beans, pulses, Quorn, tofu, nuts or soya meat alternatives.
Full fat dairy foods including milk, yogurt, cream and 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, and biscuits which are sweet, filled or coated. 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, and fruit crumbles made with unsaturated spread.
Pastry, sausage rolls, and 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 such as making 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, a seed or nut oil, or low fat mayonnaise.

See more ideas for cutting down on saturated fats

Choosing oils for cooking at high temperatures 

When you are frying, roasting, grilling or barbecuing, the cooking temperature will be very high, so you need to choose oils that are stable at high temperatures and have a high 'smoke point'.

The smoke point is the temperature at which the oil starts to smoke, which is different for all oils. When an oil starts to smoke, the fat breaks down and harmful substances are produced. 

  • Choose rapeseed, sunflower and corn oils for cooking at high temperatures. Most oil sold as vegetable oil is rapeseed oil. Check the label to make sure. 
  • Avoid coconut oil, goose fat, lard, dripping and butter. 

Whichever cooking method you choose, use small amounts of oil as they are still high in calories. 

Repeat frying with a deep fat fryer can also lead to harmful substances and trans fats forming over time, so it's best to avoid deep frying. If you do, use the oil once and then throw it away.  

The composition of fats, oils and spreads

See the proportions of different types of fats that make up oils and spreads. 


Get ideas for healthy snacks that are low in saturated fats