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Fats, oils and heart health
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Fats, oils and heart health

Get the right balance of healthy fats in your diet

Key takeaways

  • The type of fat you eat plays an important role in your heart health.
  • ​Choose healthy fat options, which include nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and their oils for cooking. 
  • Discover easy swaps and tips to increase your intake of healthy fats. 
5 min read

While eating fatty food may sound like a bad thing, some fats can play an essential role in keeping your heart healthy. 

Many foods we eat contain different fats and some are healthier than others.  

Choosing healthy fats can:

  • Aid healthier blood cholesterol levels. 
  • Lower other cardiovascular (heart) risk factors. 
  • Add flavour to food. 

What are the different types of fats? 

There are four main types of fats:

  • Monounsaturated fats 
  • Polyunsaturated fats 
  • Saturated fats 
  • Trans fats. 

Healthy (unsaturated) fats 

Healthy fats tend to be liquid at room temperature. They include: 

  • Monounsaturated fats  
  • Polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 and omega-6). 

Unhealthy fats  

Unhealthy fats tend to be solid at room temperature. They include:

  • Saturated fat  
  • Trans fat. 
Replace saturated and trans fats with healthy unsaturated fats as part of a healthy diet. 

The relationship between heart disease and fats 

Unsaturated fats  

Unsaturated fats can help improve cholesterol levels by decreasing bad (LDL) cholesterol and increasing good (HDL) cholesterol. Low LDL cholesterol levels can help lower your risk of heart disease. 

Omega-3 fats

Omega-3 fats are a type of polyunsaturated fat that can help: 

  • Lower heart rate and improve heart rhythm. 
  • Decrease the risk of clotting. 
  • Lower triglycerides. 
  • Reduce blood pressure. 
  • Improve blood vessel function.  
  • Delay the build-up of plaque (a fatty substance) in your arteries. 

Unhealthy saturated and trans fats  

Unhealthy saturated and trans fats can heighten your risk of heart disease by increasing the bad (LDL) cholesterol and lowering the good (HDL) cholesterol. 

How much fat should you eat a day? 

It’s the big picture that matters. The type of fat you eat is more important than the total amount.  

You can get the balance of fats right by: 

  • Swapping unhealthy fats for healthy fats in your diet. 
  • Enjoying a combination of heart-healthy foods regularly over time. 
  • Follow our guidelines for eating for a healthy heart to helps provide you with the right balance of fats. 

Eat more healthy fats  

Foods that contain healthy monounsaturated fats include:

  • Avocados 
  • Unsalted nuts such as almonds, cashews and peanuts  
  • Olives  
  • Cooking oils made from plants or seeds, including: olive, canola, peanut, sunflower, soybean, sesame and safflower. 


Foods that contain healthy polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 and omega-6) include: 

  • Fish 
  • Tahini (sesame seed spread) 
  • Linseed (flaxseed) and chia seeds 
  • Soybean, sunflower, safflower, canola oil and margarine spreads made from these oils 
  • Pine nuts, walnuts and brazil nuts. 

Try to eat omega-3 from all three sources 

1. Marine

  • Oily fish, such as tuna, salmon, and sardines 
  • Barramundi 
  • Flathead 
  • Scallops 
  • Mussels. 

2. Plant  

  • Walnuts 
  • Linseeds (flaxseeds) 
  • Chia seeds 
  • ​Oils and spreads. 

3. Animal  

  • Eggs 
  • Chicken 
  • Beef. 

Help lower your cholesterol with plant sterols 

Plant sterols are cholesterol-like substances that can lower cholesterol levels. They are found naturally in foods such as: 

  • Fruits 
  • Vegetables 
  • Nuts 
  • Cereals. 


Plant sterols are also added to some foods in Australia. You can check the food label to see what a serving size is and if plant sterols have been added. Foods that often have plant sterols added include:  

  • Margarine 
  • Milk 
  • Yoghurt 
  • Breakfast cereal. 

Eat less unhealthy fat-containing foods 

Saturated fats  

Saturated fats can be found in both animal and plant products. When eating less saturated fat, the foods you replace it with are important. Follow the Heart Foundation’s heart healthy eating pattern to achieve a healthy mix of fats. 

Foods that commonly contain saturated fats include: 

  • Butter 
  • Coconut oil 
  • Palm oil (often called vegetable oil in products) 
  • Processed foods, such as biscuits, cakes, pastries, pies, and takeaway foods 
  • Lard 
  • Ghee 
  • Copha 
  • Dripping 
  • Fat on meat  
  • The skin on chicken and other poultry 
  • Processed or deli-style meats, such as salami, ham, and bacon 
  • Cream 
  • Ice cream. 

Trans fats  

Trans fats are found naturally in some foods, such as butter, dairy and some meat products. Most of the trans fats eaten in Australia are from processed foods. 

Some trans fat-containing foods to eat less of include:  

  • Deep-fried foods 
  • Biscuits, cakes and pastries 
  • Butter 
  • Takeaway foods, such as hamburgers, pizza and hot chips 
  • Foods that list ‘hydrogenated oils’ or ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oils’ on the ingredients list. 

Increase healthy fats in your diet  

Making healthier food choices can be difficult. The table below provides some healthy alternatives for a snack or meal.

Swap this For this 
Muffins, chips or biscuits Fruit, nuts or veggie sticks 
Deep-fried foods Steamed, boiled or pan-fried foods 
Butter or coconut oil in cookingOlive, canola, peanut or sunflower oils 
Butter as a spread Avocado, nut butters, tahini or margarine made from healthy oils  
Sausages and other processed deli meats Healthy protein sources (fish, legumes, chicken, lean red meat) 


Learn more about reduced-fat options in dairy

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