Good fats, bad fats, and how to tell the difference

Created with the Heart Foundation
Food sources of healthy fats: salmon, avocado, chia seeds, nuts

The type of fat you eat plays an important role in your heart health – but how can you tell one type from the next? Learn about the differences between unsaturated, saturated and trans fats; find out how to avoid unhealthy fats; and discover how good fats can reduce your cardiovascular risk. 

Not all fats are the same

Just like there’s more than one type of vegetable, there’s also more than one type of fat. In fact, fats can be divided into four main groups:

  • Monounsaturated fats 
  • Polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 and omega-6)
  • Saturated fats 
  • Trans fats. 

Healthy fats

Unsaturated fats (mono- and polyunsaturated fats) are considered ‘healthy’ fats. That’s because they help increase good (HDL) cholesterol and decrease bad (LDL) cholesterol; low LDL cholesterol levels can help lower your risk of heart disease. 

Unhealthy fats

Saturated fats and trans fats are considered ‘unhealthy’ fats. They can heighten your risk of heart disease by increasing the bad (LDL) cholesterol and lowering the good (HDL) cholesterol. 

Eat more healthy fats  

Now that you know how healthy fats can benefit your heart, the next step is trying to incorporate more of them into your diet. The good news is that there are lots of different food sources you can try.

Foods that contain monounsaturated fats include:

  • Avocados 
  • Unsalted nuts such as almonds, cashews and peanuts  
  • Olives  
  • Cooking oils made from plants or seeds, including: olive, canola, peanut, sunflower, soybean, sesame and safflower. 

Foods that contain healthy polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 and omega-6) include: 

  • Fish 
  • Tahini (sesame seed spread) 
  • Linseed (flaxseed) and chia seeds 
  • Soybean, sunflower, safflower, canola oil and margarine spreads made from these oils 
  • Pine nuts, walnuts and brazil nuts. 

What’s more, omega-3 can be found in three main sources: marine (barramundi, flathead, scallops, mussels and oily fish such as tuna, salmon and sardines), plant (walnuts, linseeds, flaxseed and chia seeds), and animal (eggs, chicken and beef). Omega-3 from marine and plant sources have important links to heart health, so make them a regular feature of your daily meals.  

Eat less unhealthy fats  

Saturated fats can be found in both animal and plant products, while trans fats are found naturally in foods such as butter, dairy and some meat products, as well as in processed foods. Understanding where these fats are found can help you avoid them or replace them with healthier alternatives – keep reading for our healthy fat swaps below. 

Foods that commonly contain saturated fats include: 

  • Butter 
  • Coconut oil 
  • Palm oil (often called vegetable oil in products) 
  • Processed foods, such as biscuits, cakes, pastries, pies, and takeaway foods 
  • Lard 
  • Ghee 
  • Copha 
  • Dripping 
  • Fat on meat  
  • The skin on chicken and other poultry 
  • Processed or deli-style meats, such as salami, ham, and bacon 
  • Cream 
  • Ice cream. 

Foods that commonly contain trans fats include:

Deep-fried foods 

  • Biscuits, cakes and pastries 
  • Butter 
  • Takeaway foods, such as hamburgers, pizza and hot chips 
  • Foods that list ‘hydrogenated oils’ or ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oils’ on the ingredients list. 

Swap this … for this

Ready to start reducing your saturated and trans fat intake? The table below provides some healthy alternatives for foods high in these unhealthy fats.

Swap this For this
Muffins, chips or biscuits Fruit, nuts or veggie sticks
Deep-fried foods Steamed, boiled or pan-fried foods
Butter or coconut oil in cooking Olive, canola, peanut or sunflower oils
Butter as a spread Avocado, nut butters, tahini or margarine made from healthy oils
Sausages and other processed deli meats Healthy protein sources (fish, legumes, chicken, lean red meat)


Coles has partnered with the Heart Foundation to provide this content to you and help Australians live healthier and happier lives.

For personalised heart health information and support, contact the Heart Foundation Helpline 13 11 12.

 

Discover more tips & expert advice at the Health Hub