Your body needs some fat to absorb certain vitamins that are important for your health – such as vitamins A and D. Some fats have vital functions in your body, and you have to get them from your diet because your body can’t make them. These are called essential fatty acids and include omega-3. They’re important because they can help to keep your heart healthy.
It’s because fat is such a good source of energy that you need to be careful about how much of it you eat. If you eat too much fat, your body can’t use it quickly enough and stores it as fat. This can make you put on weight. Being overweight or obese increases the likelihood of developing some serious long-term conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. So it’s important to get the right amount of the right kinds of fat to stay healthy.
Making sure you get the right amount of fat, and eating the right types of fat, is important for two main reasons. It can help you to maintain a healthy weight, and it can lower your risk of developing diseases like type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease.
Eating a lot of saturated fat is likely to increase the amount of LDL (bad) cholesterol in your blood. This is then thought to increase your likelihood of developing heart disease or having a stroke. Like saturated fat, trans fats can increase the amount of LDL (bad) cholesterol in your blood, which increases the risk of developing heart disease or stroke.
It’s thought that unsaturated fats can increase the amount of good cholesterol in your blood (HDL cholesterol), which may help to protect you from heart disease and stroke. Choosing foods that contain less saturated fat and larger amounts of unsaturated fat is better for your health.
The current guidelines in the UK are that men should have no more than 30g of saturated fat and woman no more than 20g of saturated fat a day. It’s recommended to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats where you can.
A 30g portion of cheddar cheese has about 7g saturated fat in it, a beef burger and a croissant both have about 11g. So, it can be easy to reach your daily limits in just one or two meals.
You can see how much fat you’re eating by checking the labels on the foods you eat. The amount of total fat in the food will be listed, along with the amount of saturated fat. Foods that have less than 3g of fat per 100g of food, and less than 1.5g of saturated fat per 100g of food are low-fat foods.
Many companies now use a colour-coding system using traffic light colours (red, amber and green) to show the amount of fat, sugar, salt and carbohydrate in a food. The foods with the lowest amount of fat are those with a green colour next to the listing for fat and saturated fat.
Try these tips to get the right amount and balance of fats in your diet.
- Opt for foods low in saturated fat when you can. Choose lean meat or alternatives to meat, such as beans, tofu or lentils. And if you do have fatty meat, cut off any fat you can see. Choosing low-fat dairy products such as skimmed milk and reduced-fat cheese can also help you to cut down on fat.
- Eat only small amounts of foods that are high in saturated fats, such as processed meats and full-fat cheese.
- Choose low-fat ways of cooking, such as grilling, steaming or baking foods.
- When you do cook with fat, use an unsaturated fat, such as olive oil, sunflower oil or rapeseed oil.
- Eat only small amounts of foods that may contain trans fats, such as bought cakes, biscuits and pastries.
- Eat two portions of fish each week, including at least one oily fish, such as mackerel or salmon.
- Snack on a handful of unsalted nuts, rather than cakes and biscuits.
- Fat. British Dietetic Association. www.bda.uk.com, published January 2015
- Good fats and bad fats. British Nutrition Foundation. www.nutrition.org.uk, published December 2013
- Weight management: lifestyle services for overweight or obese adults. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2014. www.nice.org.uk
- Fats and fatty acids in human nutrition: Report of an expert consultation. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Chapter 2. www.fao.org, published 2010
- Overview of nutrition. The MSD Manuals. www.msdmanuals.com, published November 2013
- Hypercholesterolaemia. BMJ Best Practice. bestpractice.bmj.com, last updated January 2016
- Schwingshackl L, Hoffmann G. Monounsaturated fatty acids and risk of cardiovascular disease: synopsis of the evidence available from systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Nutrients 2012; 4:1989–2007. doi:10.3390/nu4121989
- Delgado-Lista J, Perez-Martinez P, Lopez-Miranda J, et al. Long chain omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease: a systematic review. Br J Nutr 2012; 107(s2):S201–S213
- Healthy diet. World Health Organization. www.who.int, published January 2015
- Healthy living. Oxford handbook of general practice. Oxford Medicine Online. oxfordmedicine.com, published April 2014
We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.
Let us know what you think using our short feedback form Ask us a question
Reviewed by Pippa Coulter, Bupa Health Content Team, April 2016.
About our health information
At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.
Information StandardWe are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.
What our readers say about us
But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.
“Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.”
“It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.”
“Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.”
Meet the team
Head of health content and clinical engagement
- Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor – UK Customer
- Nick Ridgman – Lead Editor – UK Health and Care Services
- Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor – User Experience
- Pippa Coulter – Specialist Editor – Content Library
- Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor – Insights
- Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor – Quality
- Michelle Harrison – Editorial Assistant
Our core principles
All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.
In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.
We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.
We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.
Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.
The Information Standard certification scheme
You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.
It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.
Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.
British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards
We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.
If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: email@example.com. Or you can write to us:
Health Content Team
15-19 Bloomsbury Way