Fats

Too much fat, especially saturated fat, can increase the risk of heart disease.

Fats

It is important to remember that we are generally eating too much fat in our diet. Fats are high in calories, and consuming too many calories can lead to weight gain. Being overweight or obese increases our chances of developing many common diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

However, reducing overall fat intake, as well as choosing the right fats to eat, can help. The information on this page is designed to help you make healthier choices. More information on a balanced diet can be found on the Eatwell Guide

Good to know

  • It's easier than you think to reduce your fat intake
  • Check food labels and choose lower fat products
  • Choose lean cuts of meat and cut off any visible fat
  • Grill, bake, poach or steam rather than frying or roasting – you won’t need to add any extra fat
  • Add extra vegetables, beans or pulses to meals – you can use less meat and it’s cheaper too
  • Use cooking oils and spreads sparingly
  • Use high fat products less often examples
  • Using a light version mayonnaise or salad cream means you may not need to add butter or spread
  • Switch to low fat spreads that are easier to use straight from the fridge
  • Choose lower fat dairy food like semi-skimmed, 1% or skimmed milk, reduced fat yoghurt or low-fat cheese
  • Try grating your cheese or using a stronger flavoured cheese as you tend to use less

Saturated Fat

Most people in the UK eat too much saturated fat. Cutting down on saturated fat can reduce your risk of heart disease. It’s a good idea to choose fewer foods which are high in saturated fat, including:

  • Fatty cuts of meat and meat products like sausages and pies
  • Butter, ghee and lard
  • Cream, soured cream, crème fraîche and ice-cream
  • Many cheeses
  • Pastries, cakes and biscuits
  • Coconut oil, coconut cream and palm oil

Choosing lower saturated fat versions of these foods can help reduce your overall fat intake. Using food labels can help you to choose the healthiest products. See information about food labeling below.

Good to know

UK health guidelines recommend that:

  • men should eat no more than 30g of saturated fat a day, which is 270 calories
  • women should eat no more than 20g of saturated fat a day, which is 180 calories

You may be surprised to find out that it doesn’t take much to consume this:

  • Just one pat of butter contains around 5g of saturated fat and 75 calories
  • One tablespoon of coconut oil contains around 9.5g of saturated fat and 99 calories
  • One croissant contains around 6g of saturated fat and 224 calories
  • One medium sausage roll contains around 6g of saturated fat and 211 calories
  • One scoop of dairy vanilla ice cream contains around 3g of saturated fat and 101 calories
Calculated using data from McCannce and Widdowson & MAFF Portion sizes

Unsaturated fat

Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats can lower blood cholesterol and help to reduce risk of heart disease. Unsaturated fats usually come from plant sources, with the exception of coconut and palm oils, which are saturated fats.

Good sources of unsaturated fats include:

  • Sunflower, rapeseed, vegetable and olive oils and spreads
  • Oily fish, including mackerel, sardines, trout and salmon (aim for one portion per week)

Good to know

It’s easy to swap saturated fats for healthier unsaturated fat. Examples of swaps you can make include:

  • Using unsaturated oils like sunflower or rapeseed oil instead of butter, lard and ghee for cooking
  • Choosing lower fat spreads rather than butter

Omega 3 fatty acids

Oil-rich fish is the best source of the essential omega 3 fatty acids. These can help reduce the risk of heart disease. We should aim to eat two portions of fish a week,  one of which should be an oil-rich fish such as sardines, mackerel, salmon or herring.

Trans fats

Trans fats are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Trans fats are found naturally in many animal foods such as meat and dairy products. Industrially produced trans fats may be present in a wide range of foods as a result of incomplete hydrogenation of vegetable oils.  However, UK manufacturers have greatly lowered levels of trans fats in their products. Therefore average intakes of trans fats are now well below maximum recommended levels.  Saturated fat, rather than trans fat, is therefore the main issue of public health concern in relation to fat intake in Scotland.  

Understand the label

Checking the labels on your food is one way to cut back on fat. Where colour coded labels are used you can tell at a glance if they are high, medium or low in total fat or  saturated fat. For a healthier choice, try to pick products with more greens and ambers and fewer reds on the label.

Good to know

On food labels, saturated fat is sometimes called saturates or sat fat.

Example of a front of pack food label

Total fat

  • High fat means there’s more than 17.5g of fat per 100g of food
  • Low fat means 3g or less of fat per 100g of food (1.5g per 100ml of liquids)
  • Fat free means there is 0.5g or less per 100g or 100ml

Saturated fat

  • High in saturated fat means there’s more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g of food
  • Low in saturated fat means 1.4g of saturates or less per 100g of food (0.75g per 100ml of liquid)
  • Saturated fat free means 0.1g of saturated fat per 100g or 100ml

More on this topic

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Publication

​Eatwell Guide Booklet

The Eatwell Guide shows the proportions in which different types of foods are needed to have a well-balanced and healthy diet.

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Vitamins & minerals

Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that our body needs to work properly.

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Sugar

Most of us need to cut down on the sugar we consume, it's low in nutritional value and shouldn't be part of a healthy diet.

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Salt

Two-thirds of us eat too much salt. Around 75% of salt we eat comes from everyday foods like bread, breakfast cereal and ready meals.

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