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Are Fats our Friend or Foe?

articles Mar 27, 2024

Gone are the days where you need to scared of fat, but it's important to know which are your friends and foes

Fats are essential for good health and play an important role in many bodily functions. Some of these include:

  • assisting in brain and nerve functioning
  • delivering fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) around our body
  • maintaining our cell walls
  • help us keep satiated (feeling full) – assisting with weight management
  • not to mention, making our food taste and feel delicious in our mouth!

Dietary fats can be classified broadly into two different categories: unsaturated and saturated fats. However, interestingly the fat found in our food will always contain both unsaturated and saturated fat, just in different ratios.

Which fat do you want to focus on the most in your diet?

Unsaturated fats are commonly labelled as ‘good’ fats, as they are associated with lowering LDL cholesterol in our blood, reducing the risk of heart disease.
Now to break it down even further, there are two types of unsaturated fats:

1. Mono-unsaturated Fats: Found in: Olive oil, avocado, some nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans, macadamias), canola oil, olives.

2. Poly-unsaturated Fats: Polyunsaturated can be broken down in further into two categories (last time I break it down, I promise)
Omega 3 fatty acids
Omega-3’s gets thrown around as a bit of a buzz word these days and rightly so! It is associated with a myriad of health benefits, being one of nature’s most powerful anti-inflammatories. Omega 3’s has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia and even depression!

Found in: fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, trout), eggs, flaxseeds and flaxseed oils, walnuts, soybeans, tofu, canola oil.
Omega 6 fatty acids
These may help control blood sugar, reduce diabetes risk and decrease blood pressure.

Found in: soybeans, corn, safflower and sunflower oils, nuts and seeds, meat, poultry, fish and eggs.


Saturated fats

Saturated fats seem to be a continual debate in the health world, is it as bad as everyone makes out? Saturated fats have been often associated with having a host of negative effects on our health, including increased risk of heart disease. However, evidence suggests the real issue is less of what type of fat it is, and more of where it comes from that counts.
Saturated fats are naturally found in many animal based products, such as dairy and meat, as well as plant based, such as the famous coconut oil.
However, it is important to note that both saturated and unsaturated fats appear in the nutritional profile of animal products and are not always the main culprit increasing our intake of saturated fats.
Where most of the undesired saturated fats are found, tend to in highly processed foods such as:

  • cakes
  • biscuits
  • confectionary
  • potato crisps
  • processed deli meats

Take home message here: worry less about reducing dairy products (that are deemed as everyday foods and have a higher nutrient profile) and focus more on reducing highly processed foods.


Trans fats

Behaving like saturated fats, are trans fats which are naturally found in very small amounts in beef, veal and lamb. However, they are mainly consumed in highly processed foods so its preferably to also limit your intake of these.
Trans fats are formed during a manufacturing process called ‘partial hydrogenation’. This is where cheap liquid oils such as vegetable oil are converted into solid form to achieve a desired mouth feel etc. In Australia, foods are generally low in trans fats however it's best to still keep an eye for them on the nutrition information panel.

Written by Phoebe Ashford (provisional accredited practising dietitian)

*Content included on this site is prepared as general information only. It is not advice and should not be substituted for personal advice which takes into account your individual health, financial or other circumstances.