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Examples of dietary questions we receive from the public and health professionals, along with our answers

We hope you find these useful for your clinical practice.

Fats and Oils

'Walnuts, seeds, and “healthy” oils that contain Omega 3 are also sky high in calories and contain saturated fat.  I see them as less unhealthy alternatives, and I avoid them as my priority is cutting saturated fat. Am I wrong to avoid them?'  

Many foods contain a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fats; however they tend to get classed according to which fat is present in the highest amounts. Walnuts, seeds and ‘healthy oils’ contain higher amounts of unsaturated fats than saturated fat. Whereas butter, lard, pastries, fatty meats, chocolates, cakes, etc contain higher amounts of saturated fat.

The advice is to cut back on the foods which are high in saturated fats and replace them with foods that contain more unsaturated fat. So, if you are replacing these high saturated fat foods with healthy oil/ seeds/ nuts, the net effect would be an overall reduction in saturated fat. The important thing is to swing the balance so that there is a higher proportion of unsaturated fats to saturated fats over the day. Also, nuts and seeds contain other heart healthy nutrients e.g. fibre. As such these foods are included in our ultimate cholesterol lowering plan.

Incorporating moderate amounts of healthy oils into the diet are included in heart health dietary recommendations. But it is important to consider what foods they will be replacing and how much are being consumed. As all fats are high in calories, it’s important to consider the amount being eaten to maintain a healthy weight.

Also, this advice is in the context of the overall diet which includes eating at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day; including wholegrain starchy foods into meals (wholemeal pasta, brown rice, wholegrain breakfast cereals (like oats); including 2 portions of fish a week (one of which should be oily); and including more beans, peas and lentils into meals (as a substitute for meat).

To find out more about the different fats please see our information on fats and oilssaturated fat and omega 3s


'Are there particular nuts of benefit to lower cholesterol?'

We know that the majority of tree nuts and peanuts share a similar nutritional profile which is rich in monounsaturated fats, plant protein, fibre, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium and phytonutrients such as flavonoids and natural plant sterols. The skins of nuts are particularly rich in flavonoids so they are best eaten with their skins intact. Almonds and Walnuts tend to be the best researched nuts, largely because of the research grants available from “Growers Associations”. Almonds was the choice of nut in the portfolio research and walnuts are the only nut with an appreciable amount of omega 3 PUFAs.

HEART UK advises on a handful of nuts (28-30g) of nuts a day as part of our Ultimate Cholesterol Lowering Plan (UCLP©) but we do not specify any particular nut. Chestnuts are very low in fat and therefore would not be recommended as a source of unsaturated fats.