Fats & cholesterol
Understanding fats and cholesterol
Fats have got a bad rap over the past few years, but fats are an essential part of healthy eating.
Healthier fats include monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats - omega-3 and omega-6. These fats reduce the 'bad' LDL cholesterol in your blood and increase the 'good' HDL cholesterol. This helps to lower your risk of getting heart disease.
Unhealthy fats include saturated fats and trans fats. Too much saturated and trans fat increases LDL levels in our blood contributing to the build up of fatty material, called plaque, on the inside of your blood vessels which is a major cause of heart disease.
Replacing unhealthy fats with healthier fats
To reduce the risk of heart disease, foods with unsaturated fat should be used in place of foods with saturated fat, and trans fat should be limited as much as possible.
Sources of saturated fat include:
- Processed meat such as sausages, burgers and salami
- Fatty or fried take-away foods
- Packaged cakes and biscuits
- Hard and full fat soft cheeses
- Full fat dairy products
- Crème fraiche
- Chicken skin
- Fat on meats
- Coconut oil
- Coconut milk
- Palm oil
Sources of unsaturated fat include:
- Oils made from olives, nuts and seeds (e.g. olive oil, canola, sunflower, safflower)
- Oily fish
- Lean meats and poultry, eggs
- Margarine spreads (both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated)
What about cholesterol?
Cholesterol in foods (dietary cholesterol) has only a small effect on your blood cholesterol, especially when compared with the much greater increase caused by saturated and trans fat in food.
Choosing less unhealthy fat (saturated and trans fat) and more healthier fats is more important to your blood cholesterol than dietary cholesterol.
What can I do?
- Choose vegetables, fruit, wholegrains and nuts and seeds everyday.
- Including fish two to three times a week instead of meat or chicken is a simple way to reduce saturated fat in the diet while getting the added benefits of omega-3.
- Limit deep fried foods and fatty take-away foods and fatty snacks, such as crisps, cakes, pastries, biscuits and chocolate.
- Use reduced fat milk, cheese and yoghurt.
- Select lean meat, poultry and game. Try to trim all visible fat from the meat before cooking. Remove the skin from chicken and turkey.
- Use spreads and margarines made from canola, sunflower or olive oil and dairy blends with the Heart Foundation Tick instead of butter. Spread thinly so you can still see the bread.
- Cook with polyunsaturated or monounsaturated oils, such as canola, sunflower, soybean, olive, sesame and peanut oils. Measure out your oil with a teaspoon or use a spray oil.
- Grill, bake, poach, steam or stir fry rather than shallow or deep frying and roasting in oil so that you don't need to use a lot of fat.
What is the Heart Foundation doing?
The Heart Foundation, through the Tick Program, works with manufactures to improve the nutrition profile of commonly consumed processed foods. The Tick Program sets strict criteria for saturated and trans fat. For example, the Heart Foundation began challenging Australian margarine manufacturers to remove trans fats to the lowest possible levels in the early 90s.
As a result the levels of trans fats in almost all margarines in Australia are now amongst the lowest levels in the world.
Read more about margarine vs butter here
The Heart Foundation also works to improve the food supply, so that healthier oils are used when Australians choose to eat out. Find out more about the Healthier Oils initiative
Healthy heart tip
Include a handful of nuts everyday, not only are they delicious but they are nutritious providing healthier unsaturated fats, fibre and vitamins and minerals. Choose raw, dry roasted and unsalted varieties. More information
Heart Foundation recipesHealthier fats
and trans fats