Saturated and trans fat
Eating a lot of saturated fat increases your blood cholesterol, in particular increasing the bad (LDL) cholesterol.
Saturated fat can be found in 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 less than 10% of your total energy intake. Currently Australians have about 12% which is more than they need.
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 want to make sure it stays lows by calling for mandatory labelling of trans fat on all packaged food products.
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 4 g 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.
Beware of butter
Butter has around 50% saturated fat and 4% trans fat. Some people think butter is more ‘natural’ than margarine spread. A better ‘natural’ choice would be using olive oil, avocados, nut butter or tahini, so try those instead. Compared to butter, these foods provide unsaturated fats, minimally saturated fats and no trans-fat, and are all linked to having a healthier heart.
Watch out for coconut oil claims
You’ve probably seen claims about coconut oil being a healthy food, and perhaps even a ‘superfood’. Coconut oil is 92% saturated fat, and recent reviews of evidence show that coconut oil consumption raises your total blood cholesterol (both good HDL and bad LDL). High LDL cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease. The research suggests coconut oil may be better than butter in how it affects blood cholesterol, but it’s not as good as other plant oils like olive and canola oil.
Tips for eating less saturated and trans fats
- Eat less bought cakes, biscuits and pastries. Also limit takeaway food like hamburgers, pizza and hot chips. These foods, as a whole group, are the leading contributors to saturated and trans fat intake. They should only be eaten sometimes and in small amounts.
- On packaged food products in the supermarket, check the ingredients list for ‘hydrogenated oils’ or ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oils’ and avoid foods with these as they contain added trans fat.
- Trim all the fat you can see off meat, and remove skin from chicken and avoid processed meat (e.g. sausages and salami).
- Choose reduced fat milk, cheese and yoghurt as a strategy to lower saturated and trans fat as part of a healthy eating pattern
- 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.
- Eat fish instead of meat 2–3 times a week, and choose legume or bean-based meals twice a week.
What we recommend
All Australians should follow the steps in our food and nutrition guide which help to achieve the right balance of fats by including healthier unsaturated fats and limiting unhealthy saturated and trans fats.
- The Heart Foundation recommends less than 10% total energy from saturated fat.
- The Heart Foundation recommends less than 1% total energy from trans fat.
Learn more about why you should eat more healthy fats.