Fat is essential. We need a small amount of fat to protect our organs, absorb certain vitamins and help us to grow. We just need to be careful about the type and amount of fat we eat because fat is high in energy.

Unsaturated or ‘healthy’ fats

Unsaturated fats can help to keep our heart healthy when replacing saturated fat – there are two types of unsaturated fat:

  • Polyunsaturated fat: found in nuts, seeds, fish and their oils. Essential fatty acids omega-3 and -6 are types of polyunsaturated fat that help to keep the brain, heart and eyes healthy.
  • Monounsaturated fat: found in avocados, rapeseed oil, vegetable oil and olive oil. It helps to maintain levels of ‘good’ cholesterol and reduce levels of the type of cholesterol that is unhealthy for us.

Saturated or ‘less healthy’ fats

Found in foods such as beef, pork, chicken skin, butter, cream, cheese, and coconut and palm oils. These fats increase the type of cholesterol that is unhealthy for us, which puts us at a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.

A note on hydrogenated or trans fats

Artificial trans fats are a man-made type of fat that should be avoided where possible. They’re made by pumping hydrogen into vegetable oil to make it solid. It’s thought that the presence of trans fats in the diet can raise cholesterol in the blood, which in turn increases the risk of coronary heart disease. Trans fats are sometimes used in processed foods like cheap chocolate, cakes and deep-fried products. They are also found naturally in meat and dairy products, such as cheese; but are present in such small quantities that they are unlikely to cause us harm.


Cholesterol is made in the liver – there are two types of cholesterol: ‘good’ (HDL) and ‘bad’ (LDL). Eating too much saturated fat can increase levels of bad cholesterol in the blood, which can put us at risk of heart disease.


The reference intake of fat is a maximum of 70g per day for adults (of which no more than 20g of saturated fat should be consumed). Both types of fat contain the same amount of calories, so eating too much of either type may lead to weight gain. Artificial trans fats should be avoided.


To know whether a product or ingredient is high in fat, read the label and use the quantities below as a guide.

Cooking with fat

Saturated fat is generally solid at room temperature, like butter; whereas unsaturated fats are generally liquid at room temperature, like olive oil. It is important to cook with liquid fats whenever possible. To reduce saturated fat in the diet, here are some useful tips:

  • Trim away the visible fat from meat where possible.

  • When using meat in stews, skim away any fat that rises to the top and choose leaner cuts.
  • Use yoghurt instead of cream, wherever possible.
  • Cook with healthy oils, such as olive or rapeseed, instead of butter or lard.

Other tips to control fat in cooking

  • Measure oil with a measuring spoon and be aware of the amount you use.
  • When frying meat or fish, rub with a little oil before cooking, rather than putting oil directly into the pan.
  • Grill, poach, boil, steam or bake food where possible.
  • Use beans, lentils and vegetables to bulk out dishes instead of high-fat-content mince.