Healthy fats and oils

Healthy fats and oils

Dietary fats fall into four main groups: saturated, trans, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and these have different effects on the heart and health.

However, all types of fat are high in calories and can contribute to weight gain when consumed in excess. Eating less fat overall in our diets has a beneficial effect on blood cholesterol (fat) levels.

Saturated fat is found mainly in foods of animal origin, such as meat and products, poultry skin, dairy products such as full fat milk, cheese yoghurt and butter. It is also found in most margarine, coconut oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil and many processed foods such as burgers, sausages, pies, cakes and biscuits.

Saturated fat tends to raise bad blood cholesterol (LDL) levels and lower good blood cholesterol (HDL) levels. This in turn can increase the risk of heart disease. It is therefore an important part of a cardio-protective diet to limit consumption of saturated fat.

Trans fats, also found in processed and takeaway foods are associated with increased risk of heart disease.

Fats and oils


Unsaturated fats such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats do not raise blood cholesterol levels. Replacing saturated fat in diet with moderate amounts of monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat can reduce harmful blood cholesterol.

Polyunsaturated fats consists of two main types, omega-3 and omega-6 fats and are known as essential fatty acids as they cannot be made by the body. Omega-6 fats are found in sunflower oil, canola oil, corn oil, soyabean oil and their spreads.

As well as being cardio-protective, they are essential for growth and healthy immune system.   Omega-3 fats are found mainly in oily fish and benefits heart health by reducing blood triglyceride (fat) levels, reducing blood pressure and preventing blood clotting.

Monounsaturated fats are found in many foods including plant sources such as olive oil, canola oil, avocado pear and nuts such as almonds, cashew nuts and groundnuts.


To help reduce your cholesterol level, cut down on saturated fats and replace them with small amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Oily fish such as herrings, sardines, salmon and fresh tuna are rich sources of omega-3 fats. Aim to have at least 2 portions of oily fish per week. A portion is roughly the size of your palm.

Reduce the total amount of fat you eat – especially if you are overweight

Cut down on the amount of high fat snack foods you eat, such as pastries, crisps and biscuits, and replace them with healthier alternatives such as fruits and vegetables.

Cut down on the amount of fat used in cooking and choose low fat cooking methods such as boiling, grilling and roasting instead of frying.

Cholesterol found in foods such as eggs, liver, kidneys and prawns does not make a significant contribution to your blood cholesterol levels. There should be no problem in having up to four eggs a week, as long as your overall diet is healthy and well balanced.


Source: Olivera Kegey (MSc, Registered Dietitian)

Laurene Boateng (MPhil, Registered Dietitian)


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