What are ‘good fats’ and what makes them ‘good’?

What are ‘good fats’ and what makes them ‘good’?

If fats are good for me, should I eat them all the time? Which fats are ‘bad’? What about total fat, how much of that should I have?

If fats are good for me, should I eat them all the time? Which fats are ‘bad’? What about total fat, how much of that should I have?

Labelling fats as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is an easy way to simplify the science of how the different types of fats affect us. Unfortunately it can also be an easy way to leave us confused, unsure which is which, or what to do with what we do know. I would recommend you keep it simple and stick to the basics – a balanced and varied diet which allows you to maintain a healthy weight.

‘Bad Fats’

  • Saturated Fats
  • Trans Fats

‘Good Fats’

  • Monounsaturated Fats
  • Polyunsaturated Fats

The Australian Dietary Guidelines (1) recommends to moderate total fat intake to reduce the risk of overweight or obesity (a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease).Actions to take to reduce your total fat intake:

  • Reduce the amount of fried foods, convenience and takeaway foods, baked products and processed meats
  • Choose lean meats and low fat dairy options
  • Bake and Grill foods where possible
  • For packaged food products – use product claims as a guide towards healthier options – but always compare labels between similar products to find the best option; look for the words fat free, reduced, less, low

Saturated Fats

Saturated Fat is found predominantly in animal products; meat, dairy & eggs but can also be found in plant products such as coconut & palm oil (these fats tend to be solid at room temperature).

Saturated Fat is associated with Heart Disease and the increase of LDL (harmful) cholesterol (2).

Trans Fats

Small amounts of Trans Fats are found naturally in animal products, but can also be found in commercial products such as baking, pastries, and deep fried foods.

Trans Fats are associated with an increased risk of heart attack, an increase in LDL (harmful) Cholesterol and a decrease in HDL (healthy) Cholesterol (2).

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommends to limit Saturated Fat Intake (1).Actions to reduce your saturated and trans fat intake:

  • Choose lean cuts of meat, and drain off any fat released during cooking, choose low fat dairy products – milk, yoghurt, low fat ricotta or cottage cheese
  • Reduce amounts of pastries, takeaway, fried and fast food products, along with products using butter such as baking
  • Avoid coconut oil and coconut cream
  • Look for product claims to guide you towards healthier products – low, less, reduced eg. Less than 3% Saturated Fat
  • Look for the ‘Heart Tick’ on margarines – these must comply with a very low level of trans fats

Monounsaturated Fats

Monounsaturated fats are healthier fats to include in the diet and can be found in avocados, nuts, seeds, flaxseed oil, and canola, olive and sunflower oils/margarines.

Studies show that these fats can actually lower LDL (harmful) cholesterol and increase HDL (healthy) cholesterol (2.).

Polyunsaturated Fats

Polyunsaturated Fats are important to include in the diet as our body cannot make all of these. Good sources: Omega 6 – Sunflower Seeds, Brazil Nuts, Peanuts, Fish, Flaxseed, Canola, Olive and Sunflower Oils/Margarines. Omega 3 – Salmon, Tuna, Walnuts, Flaxseed, Canola, Olive and Sunflower Oils/Margarines.

Polyunsaturated fats lower levels of LDL (harmful) cholesterol and increase HDL (healthy) cholesterol (2.).

The Heart Foundation of Australia (2) recommends to replace saturated fats and high fat snacks with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as Canola, Olive and Sunflower oils or margarines, and include sources of polyunsaturated fats in your diet such as nuts, seeds and oily fish – these will usually also contain monounsaturated fats.

  1. The National Health and Medical Research Council. (2013). Australian Dietary Guidelines. Retrieved from http://www.nhmrc.gov.au
  2. National Heart Foundation of Australia (2009). Dietary Fats, Dietary Cholesterol and Heart Health. Retrieved from http://www.heartfoundation.org.au