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Extra virgin olive oil

Fat (Total)

Fat is something many of us associate with unhealthy eating and weight gain, however there are several different types of fats and some of them are essential to good health. When it comes to reading food labels, understanding the difference between ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ fats can be very helpful.

What is fat?

Fat is the most concentrated form of energy or kilojoules. Chemically, most fat in food are triglycerides – made up of a unit of glycerol combined with three fatty acids which may be different or the same. Some fat needs to be included in a healthy diet as it’s a source of essential fatty acids, which the body cannot make itself. Fat is important for many body processes. For example, it helps move some vitamins around the body and also helps with making hormones.

Choosing the healthiest fats, instead of unhealthy fats, can provide a number of health benefits. Healthy fats (unsaturated fats) should be included in your daily diet, while consumption of unhealthy fats (saturated and trans fats) should be limited.

Polyunsaturated fats and oils

Health benefits: can help to increase HDL* (good cholesterol) and reduce LDL* (bad cholesterol)

Foods that contain this type of fat

  • Oily fish and seafood (e.g. sardines, salmon, tuna, mussels)

  • Walnuts, hazelnuts and brazil nuts

  • Soymilk and soybeans

  • Canola, sunflower, grapeseed and soybean oil

  • Chia, flaxseed and sunflower seeds

  • Tahini

  • Omega-3 enriched eggs

  • Oil-based spreads (e.g. canola and sunflower)

Suggested intake

  • 2-3 servings of fish per week
    (single serve = 150-200g)

In addition, consume at least one of the following foods per day:

  • 30g walnuts

  • 2 tsp of seeds

  • 1 tbsp of tahini

  • 2 tsp of canola spread

Monounsaturated fats and oils

Health benefits: can help to reduce LDL* (bad cholesterol)

Foods that contain this type of fat

  • Avocado

  • Almonds, peanuts and cashews

  • Extra virgin olive oil or peanut oil

  • Oil-based spreads

Consume at least one of the following foods per day:

  • 14 avocado

  • 30g almonds

  • 1 tbsp of 100% natural nut spread (e.g. peanut butter)

  • 3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil

Saturated fats and oils and trans fats

Health risks: Will increase LDL* (bad cholesterol)

Foods that contain this type of fat

  • Animal fat (e.g. butter, ghee, lard)

  • Fat on meat and skin on poultry

  • Coconut oil, cream and milk

  • Palm oils

  • Full fat dairy (e.g. cheese, yoghurt, milk)

  • Sour cream and cream

  • Discretionary foods (e.g. deep fried foods, pastries, baked goods, chocolates, biscuits)

Suggested intake

  • Not to be consumed daily

Suggestions and substitutions:

  • Use extra virgin olive oil instead of butter or coconut oil

  • Choose reduced-fat dairy products

  • Choose skinless turkey or chicken breast, thighs or tenderloins

  • Remove excess fat from meat and avoid highly marbled meat (e.g. scotch fillets)

  • Use reduced-fat yoghurt instead of cream or sour cream

Why do our bodies need fat?

Dietary fat is important for many body processes, which makes it an essential part of our diet. However, it is important that even healthier versions of fat are eaten in small amounts due to it being a concentrated form of energy. Dietary fat also aids absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and other fat-soluble biologically-active components.

What are the recommendations for fat intake?

RDIs have not been set for total fat consumption. In relation to chronic disease prevention, 20-35% total energy intake from fat has been suggested as a healthy percentage, however it’s important to choose the healthier fats, which are polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

The two main types of polyunsaturated fats are omega-3 fats and omega-6 fats, which need to be included in the diet as they aren’t produced by the body. Omega-3 fats are the most beneficial for health as they help to prevent heart disease. Omega-3 fats are found in marine (e.g. oily fish such as sardines and salmon), animal (e.g. eggs and beef) and plant-based foods (e.g. walnuts, chia seeds, canola oil). However, it’s important to note that the omega-3 fats contained in plant-based sources need to be converted to another form of omega-3 fats in the body. So, if you are only consuming plant-based sources, you’ll need to eat a higher amount of omega-3 rich foods to meet your body’s needs.

Omega-6 fats can also help to decrease the risk of heart disease. Sources of omega-6 fats include margarines, nuts (such as walnuts, pecans, brazil nuts), sunflower seeds and some oils (sunflower, soybean and sesame oils). Most Australians are getting enough omega-6 fats from their diet, but need to focus on increasing their intake of omega-3 fats.

When reading nutrition information on packaged foods, it’s best to look for products with 10g or less fat per 100g Total Fat. Products with less than 3g of fat per 100g are the healthiest choice.

What happens if we consume too much or too little fat?

Any fat consumed that is not used by the body or used as energy is converted to body fat and stored. Therefore, all fats (including the healthier options) can contribute to weight gain and increased risk of cardiovascular disease if consumed too much.


*Based on the Baker Heart & Diabetes Institute Dietary fats fact sheet.

*There are two main types of blood cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. LDL is known as ‘bad’ cholesterol as it contributes to narrowing of the arteries, which can lead to cardiovascular disease (such as heart disease and stroke). HDL is known as ‘good’ cholesterol as it carries cholesterol from the blood back to the liver where it is broken down.