Saturated and trans fats

Too much unhealthy saturated and trans fat increases your risk of heart disease. Limit saturated fat, and avoid trans fat.

Saturated fat

Eating a lot of saturated fat increases your blood cholesterol, in particular increasing the bad (LDL) cholesterol.

Choosing foods with healthier fats instead helps to balance your blood cholesterol, by increasing the good (HDL) cholesterol and lowering the bad (LDL) cholesterol, which reduces your risk of heart disease.

Saturated fat mainly comes from the fat you can see on meat and chicken, from dairy products and from some plant foods like palm and coconut oil. It can be found in processed foods like biscuits, pastries and takeaway foods that have used ingredients like butter, palm oil (often simply called vegetable oil), cheese and meat.

Many Australians eat too much saturated fat, and a lot of it comes from biscuits, cakes and pastry.

For heart health, we recommend saturated fat be only 7% of your total energy intake. For example, for an average adult intake of 8700 kilojoules, 7% is about 16 grams of saturated fat.

Currently Australians have about 12% (e.g. 28 grams of saturated fat in an 8700 kilojoule intake). That’s about 70% more than they need.

Trans fat

To reduce the risk of heart disease, limit trans fat as much as possible.

Trans fat increases our risk of heart disease by increasing the bad (LDL) cholesterol and lowering the good (HDL) cholesterol in our blood.

Small amounts of trans fats naturally occur in dairy products, beef, veal, lamb and mutton. The way some fats and oils are processed during manufacturing produces artificial or ‘industrially produced’ trans fats. They’re in foods that use partially hydrogenated vegetable fats, like deep-fried foods and baked foods like biscuits, cakes, pastries and buns.

For heart health, we recommend that less than 1% of total energy should come from trans fat.

Currently, Australians are having less than this (about 0.6% of total energy) due to the lower levels of trans fat in the Australian food supply (compared to the United States for example).

Trans fat on food labels

Under Australian food law, manufacturers don’t have to list trans fat on the nutrition information panel. While Australia has been a leader in reducing trans fat in our food supply, we’re still trying to change that by calling for mandatory labelling of trans fat.

Trans fat in margarine spreads

Australian margarine spreads have some of the lowest levels of trans fat in the world and significantly less trans fat than butter. Australian margarine spreads now have on average 0.2 g trans fat per 100 g compared to 4g per 100 g in butter.

Through the Heart Foundation Tick Program, we led the way in removing trans fat from margarine spreads in Australia in the 90s.

Tips for eating less saturated and trans fats

  • Choose reduced fat milk, cheese and yoghurt.
  • On packaged food products in the supermarket, check the ingredients list for ‘hydrogenated oils’ or ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oils’ and avoid foods with these.
  • Eat less bought cakes, biscuits and pastries. Also limit takeaway food like hamburgers, pizza and hot chips. These foods should only be eaten sometimes and in small amounts.
  • 50% of the fat content in butter is saturated fat and 4% is trans fat. Swap butter for a margarine spread made from canola, sunflower, olive or dairy blends. If you don’t like margarine, use nut butters, avocado or tahini as a spread.
  • Trim all the fat you can see off meat, and remove skin from chicken.
  • Avoid processed meat (e.g. sausages and salami). If you do wish to choose these, look for products with the Heart Foundation Tick where available as these highlight healthier choices compared to similar products.
  • Eat fish instead of meat 2–3 times a week, and choose legume or bean-based meals twice a week.
  • Look for the Heart Foundation Tick. Tick approved products contain less saturated fat and no more than 1% trans fat of total fat for margarine spreads and oils and trace levels for other products (to allow for trans fats occurring naturally in foods).

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