Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Dietary fats

4-minute read

Fats are important for a healthy diet. But some are better for you than others. It's best to choose foods containing monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as omega-3 and 6. Eating too much saturated and trans fats, on the other hand, will increase your risk of heart disease and high cholesterol.

What are fats?

Fat is a kilojoule-dense nutrient needed for energy and to help absorb vitamins A, D, E and K. There are different types of fats.

Unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fats help reduce the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels. There are 2 types of unsaturated fats:

  • polyunsaturated fats such as omega-3 and omega-6 fats (found in fish, nuts, and safflower and soybean oil, for example)
  • monounsaturated fats (found in olive and canola oil, avocado, cashews and almonds, for example)

Saturated fats

Normally solid at room temperature, 'sat fats' are often in dairy foods (butter, cream, full-fat milk and cheese), meat, coconut milk and cream, palm oil, cooking margarine, snacks like chips, cakes, biscuits and pastries, and takeaway foods. Consuming more than the recommended amount of saturated fat is linked to heart disease and high cholesterol.

Trans fats

Trans fats have been processed so they 'behave' like a saturated fat. Trans fats increase the levels of 'bad' cholesterol and decreases the levels of 'good' cholesterol in the body, which increases the risk of heart disease. They can be found in butter, margarine (in small amounts), deep-fried and processed foods, cakes and pastries.


Cholesterol is a type of fat that comes from foods such as eggs and is also found in your blood. The 2 main types of cholesterol are: 'good' HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol; and 'bad' LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease.

However, eating foods that contain any type of cholesterol won't actually raise your body's cholesterol levels. Eating saturated or trans fats is far more likely to give you high cholesterol.

Are fats good for you?

Healthy fats are unsaturated. They keep cholesterol levels within a healthy range, reduce your risk of heart problems and may be good for the skin, eyes and brain. Unsaturated fats are the best choice for a healthy diet.

Unhealthy fats are saturated and trans fats, which can raise levels of 'bad' cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease.

You only need to consume small amounts of any dietary fat, since it contains a lot of kilojoules. Over-consuming dietary fat can lead to weight gain and other health problems.

How to include healthy fats in your diet

To stay healthy, less than 10% of the total energy (kilojoules) you take in should come from saturated fat, and less than 1% should come from trans fat.

Check food labels. Choose products that are higher in poly- and monounsaturated fats. Avoid foods that contain 'hydrogenated oils' or 'partially hydrogenated vegetable oils' since these contain trans fats.

What are the best foods to eat?

Opt for foods that are high in unsaturated fats, which increase levels of 'good' cholesterol (HDL) and help lower levels of 'bad' cholesterol (LDL). These include:

  • avocado
  • almonds, cashews, peanuts, pine nuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts
  • cooking oils including canola, olive, peanut, soybean, rice bran, sesame and sunflower
  • spreads made from soybean, sunflower, safflower or canola
  • fish, especially tuna, salmon, sardines and blue mackerel
  • tahini
  • linseed (flaxseed)
  • chia seeds

Avoid foods that have higher levels of unhealthy fats. These include:

  • processed meats (such as bacon, ham, salami and frankfurts)
  • butter and cream
  • crisps and chips
  • pies and pastries
  • takeaway pizza
  • takeaway burgers
  • fried foods (e.g. spring rolls)
  • biscuits, doughnuts, muffins and cake
  • chocolate
  • ice cream

Healthy-eating tips

  • Use extra virgin olive oil in cooking.
  • Replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats; for example, use avocado, tahini, nut or seed butter instead of dairy butter.
  • Eat fish, especially oily fish, twice a week.
  • Consume legume- or bean-based meals twice a week.
  • Snack on nuts or add them to your cooking.
  • Throw avocado in salads.
  • Choose lean meats and trim any fat you can see (including chicken skin).
  • Use table spreads that have less than 0.1g of trans fats per 100g.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2019

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Saturated fat -

Saturated fats are usually solid or waxy at room temperature and some saturated fatty acids can increase your cholesterol level and put you at increased risk of heart disease.

Read more on myDr website

Should I be worried about trans fats? - Dietitians Australia

Nourishing Nutrients Should I be worried about trans fats? Should I be worried about trans fats? Usually, unsaturated fats are ones we think of the healthy ones

Read more on Dietitians Australia website

Fat | Eat For Health

Fat are an essential part of our diet and is important for good health. There are different types of fats, with some fats being healthier than others. To help make sure you stay healthy, it is important to eat unsaturated fats in small amounts as part of a balanced diet.

Read more on NHMRC – National Health and Medical Research Council website

Where do I find saturated fats in food - Dietitians Australia

Nourishing Nutrients Where do I find saturated fats in food Where do I find saturated fats in food Saturated fats are often called ‘bad fats’ – they are not considered essential for good health, and have been linked with an increased risk of high blood cholesterol levels in the body which in turn is a risk factor for heart disease

Read more on Dietitians Australia website

LiveLighter - Healthy Fats & What Fats to Eat

View our guide on different types of fats and the effects they have on our bodies, so we also need to watch the type of fats we eat as well as how much we eat.

Read more on LiveLighter website

About fat in your child's diet

We need some fat in our diet. It’s important to know where to find fats, and how to make healthy choices for your kids.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Eating for a healthy heart

Healthy ‘unsaturated’ fats are to be included in your day everyday along with plant sterols and soluble fibre.

Read more on Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute website

Modifying recipes

Modifying recipes Helpful hints Use ingredients and recipes that: Are lower in fat, particularly saturated fat

Read more on Diabetes Australia website

Nourishing Nutrients - Dietitians Australia

Smart Eating Fast Facts Nourishing Nutrients Pumping iron Anaemia: my doctor says I need more iron Why do we need calcium? Carbohydrates – what you need to know Fat: to cut or not to cut, that is the question Where do I find saturated fats in food The ins and outs of unsaturated fats Should I be worried about trans fats? All about plant sterols and stanols for cholesterol management All about protein Dietary fibre: key for a happy, healthy gut Folate: crucial for women under 50 What are the current Nutrient Reference Values (NRVs)? Nourishing Nutrients Our bodies need nutrients but what are they? They’re substances that give us energy, help us grow and repair, protect our body, and make our body run efficiently

Read more on Dietitians Australia website

Label reading

This fact sheet gives you guidance on understanding how to read nutrition information panels to help you identify healthy choices.

Read more on Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo