Healthy fats and unhealthy fats: the basics

Healthy fats and unhealthy fats: the basics

Healthy fats are unsaturated fats

Healthy fat is sometimes called unsaturated fat.

Unsaturated fats can be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.

Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids.

Why unsaturated fats are healthy fats

Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are healthy because they can help you avoid heart problems later in life. They do this by:

  • keeping your arteries clear
  • helping you produce good cholesterol and moving it around your body
  • reducing bad cholesterol, but only when they replace unhealthy fats in your diet.

Polyunsaturated fats also have other health benefits. For example, omega-3 fatty acids:

  • can help brain and eye development in unborn babies and during the first six months of life
  • are good for general heart, eye, joint and mental health
  • can boost brain and nervous system development, and strengthen the immune system
  • can be good for rheumatoid arthritis, pain relief, morning stiffness and inflammation in adults.

Polyunsaturated fats can reduce cholesterol better than monounsaturated fats.

Healthy fats: where you get them

You can get monounsaturated fat from:

  • oils like olive, canola, rice bran and grape seed oil
  • almonds, cashews, peanuts and seeds
  • lean meat
  • avocado.

Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the main kinds of polyunsaturated fats. You can get them from:

  • oily fish like tuna, salmon and mackerel
  • walnuts, flax seeds and chia seeds
  • soy foods
  • breastmilk.

Omega-6 fatty acids are another kind of polyunsaturated fat. You can get them from vegetable oils like sunflower, peanut, canola and soy oils.

Unhealthy fats are saturated fats and trans fats

Unhealthy fat comes in the form of:

  • saturated fat
  • trans fat

Why saturated fats and trans fats are unhealthy fats

Saturated fats and trans fats are unhealthy because they make your body produce more bad cholesterol. Bad cholesterol can lead to health problems, particularly heart disease.

These fats can also reduce good cholesterol.

Saturated fats and trans fats have no known health benefits.

Saturated fats and trans fats: where they're found

Saturated fats are found in:

  • animal products like the visible fat on meats
  • palm and coconut oil used in home cooking, commercial frying, or the production of commercial foods like biscuits, chips and slices
  • full-fat dairy products like butter and cream.

Trans fat is found in:

  • commercially made cakes and biscuits
  • takeaway food
  • ready-made or frozen meals
  • snack foods like chips
  • energy bars.

How much healthy fat to include in your family diet

The amount of unsaturated fat to include per day in cooking, baking, spreads or dressings depends on your children's ages. For children aged:

  • 1-2 years - 1 serve
  • 2-3 years - ½ serve
  • 4-8 years - 1 serve
  • 9-11 years - 1 serve
  • 12-13 years - 1½ serves
  • 14-18 years - 2 serves.

The daily recommendation for men under 70 years is 4 serves. For women and older men, the daily recommendation is 2 serves.

As a guide, one serve of unsaturated fat equals:

  • 1-2 teaspoons (5-10 gm) of olive, canola and rice bran oil or margarine
  • 1-2 teaspoons (5-10 gm) of nut pastes and spreads
  • 1 tablespoon (20 gm) of avocado.

How to reduce or replace unhealthy fats in your family diet: tips

When you're shopping:

  • Buy lean cuts of meat and reduced-fat mince instead of fatty cuts like bacon and sausages. Ask your butcher about the leanest cuts.
  • Choose low-fat dairy products, except for children under two years. They need full-fat dairy products because they're growing so quickly.
  • Check food labels. Look for foods with less than 3 gm per 100 gm of saturated fat, and less than 10 gm per 100 gm of total fat. For cheeses, it should be less than 15 gm per 100 gm, and less than 2 gm per 100 gm for other dairy foods.

When you're cooking or preparing food:

  • Use margarine made from olive, canola and sunflower oils in sandwiches and cooking instead of butter. You can also use nut pastes or avocado as spreads.
  • Try roasting, steaming, baking, stewing or poaching your food instead of frying foods in oil, butter or animal fat.
  • Use the amount of oil needed for the recipe by measuring it out.
  • Reduce oil by using oil spray instead of oil. Use non-stick pots and pans, use baking paper to line pans, or add water to the bottom of baking dishes.
  • Before cooking, trim fat off meats and remove skin from chicken.
  • After cooking, soak up extra oils with paper towel, or wait for fats to harden and then skim them off.

When you're planning family meals and snacks:

  • Choose tomato or vegetable-based sauces, curries and stews instead of creamy or buttery dishes.
  • Choose chopped fruit or vegetable sticks for snacks instead of cakes, biscuits, chocolates and lollies.

Aim to serve a wide variety of foods from the five food groups. To find out what your family needs to eat, check out our dietary guidelines 1-2 years, dietary guidelines 2-3 years, dietary guidelines 4-8 years, dietary guidelines 9-11 years, dietary guidelines 12-13 years, and dietary guidelines 14-18 years.