Saturated and trans fat
Eating a lot of saturated fat increases your blood cholesterol, in particular, 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 also 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, pizzas and other take-away foods.
When trying to reduce how much saturated fat you eat, the foods you replace it with are important. By following the Heart Foundation heart healthy eating pattern, you can naturally achieve a healthy mix of fats.
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.
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 low 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 part of a heart healthy eating pattern.
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 or deli meats (e.g. sausages and salami).
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.