Healthy vs ‘bad’ fats: How to get the balance right

Written by Accredited Dietitian Themis Chryssidis

From Sprout Cooking School & Health Studio

Posted: Dec 23 2022

Choosing the right types of dietary fats, in the right amounts can make a big difference to your health, in particular your heart health. So what types of fats are health promoting and which are not, and how do you get the balance right?

Unsaturated fats

The healthiest fats to include in your diet are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (omega-3 and omega-6) fats. Eating these fats can improve the cholesterol balance in your blood by decreasing the ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol and increasing the ‘good’ (HDL) cholesterol. Replacing saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats helps to reduce your risk of heart disease.

Sources of monounsaturated fats include:

  • Avocados
  • Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts and peanuts
  • Olive oil

Sources of polyunsaturated fats include:

  • Oily fish (e.g. tuna, salmon, sardines and blue mackerel)
  • Tahini
  • Linseed (flaxseed) and chia seeds
  • Walnuts, pine nuts and Brazil nuts

Saturated fats

Saturated fats are the least healthy fats to include in your diet. Too much saturated fat can increase your risk of heart disease by increasing the ‘bad’ (LDL) blood cholesterol which can result in increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Saturated fats are found in discretionary foods such as biscuits, pastries and takeaway. Smaller amounts are found in everyday foods like meat and dairy. Unlike discretionary products, these foods contain important nutrients (eg. protein, calcium) and can be included in your diet by making smart choices such as choosing lean meats and eating small portions.

Sources of saturated fats include:

  • Processed and takeaway foods
  • Fatty meats and poultry
  • Full-fat cheese, butter and cream
  • Palm and coconut oil

Trans fats

Trans fats act like saturated fats in the body. They raise the ‘bad’ (LDL) blood cholesterol, but also lower the ‘good’ (HDL) cholesterol making them more damaging than saturated fats. Naturally occurring trans fats are found in small amounts in dairy, beef and lamb.

The most concerning trans-fat is industrially produced and formed when liquid unsaturated vegetable oils are partially hydrogenated during processing taking them from a liquid to a solid. They are used by some food manufacturers because they are cheaper, help crisp up products when heated (think pastries, chicken nuggets etc) and have a longer shelf life than most other fats.

Unfortunately the presence of trans fats does not need to be listed on food labels in Australia so it is best to limit your intake of highly processed baked foods as they are the biggest contributor of both saturated and trans fats.


Cholesterol is a type of fat used to build and maintain cells in your body. It is produced by the liver and found in your blood. Cholesterol can also be found in foods. The cholesterol in food only has a small effect on the level of cholesterol in your blood. When it comes to improving blood cholesterol levels, it is most important to focus on replacing saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats and increasing your intake of fibre from foods such as fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and oats.

Plant sterols

Plant sterols are cholesterol-like substances that can reduce blood cholesterol levels. They are naturally occurring in fruits, vegetables, nuts and cereals. When eaten in large amounts (2-3 grams per day), plant sterols can reduce ‘bad’ (LDL) blood cholesterol by blocking its absorption. Some food products are fortified with plant sterols to help people eat higher levels.

Sources of plant sterols include nuts, wholegrains, legumes and seeds.

Getting the balance right

To get the right balance of fat in your diet, replace saturated and trans fats with healthier unsaturated fats. Ways to achieve this include:

  • Use extra virgin olive oil when preparing meals
  • Include a small handful (30g) of nuts as a snack most days
  • Include fish and seafood in meals 2-3 times per week
  • Swap butter for other plant based spread such as avocado, tahini or hummus
  • Sprinkle linseed or chia seeds over your morning cereal, porridge or smoothie
  • Choose lean cuts of meat and trim excess fat from meat and poultry
  • Limit processed deli meats
  • Eat less takeaway products, and premade cakes, biscuits and pastries
  • Avoid packaged products that have ‘hydrogenated oils’ or ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oils’ listed in the ingredients

As a Health Partners member, enjoy exclusive member discounts with Sprout Cooking School and Health Studio.

Member discounts at Sprout

Themis Chryssidis is an Accredited Practising Dietitian at Sprout Health Studio – a multidisciplinary health care studio in Adelaide. He has a Bachelor of Psychology, a Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics and a Cert IV in Fitness.

Posted: Dec 23 2022


The information contained here is of a general nature and does not take into account your personal medical situation. The information is not a substitute for independent professional medical advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or used for therapeutic purposes. Should you require specific medical information, please seek advice from your healthcare practitioner. Health Partners does not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information provided. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them.

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