In the past, we’ve been cautious of foods high in fat, opting instead for low-fat diets in an effort to improve our health and wellbeing. Recently we are becoming increasingly aware that not all fats are created equally, and certain types of fats are actually essential for keeping our bodies healthy and strong.

What are unsaturated fats?

Unsaturated fats are typically found in plant-based products and are seen as the 'good' heart-healthy fats as they can help raise HDL, or 'good' cholesterol levels. These include both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats which are found in a variety of oils and foods including olives, nuts, canola and olive oil, seeds, leafy greens and fish.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that is particularly good for heart health and is found in foods such as flaxseeds, walnuts, beans and oily fish (such as tuna, salmon and sardines).

Some foods, including avocados, contain both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Most unsaturated fats will be liquid at room temperature.

What are saturated fats?

Saturated fats are generally found in animal products including meat, poultry, some seafood and dairy products (such as cheese, butter, yoghurt). These fats are are usually labelled as 'bad' fats as they raise LDL, or 'bad' cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

This doesn't mean we need to exclude them from our diets completely; we simply need to be mindful to limit our intake and follow doctors' advice if we need to reduce them for health reasons.

Trans fats are a type of saturated fat which is more commonly found in processed foods and those that include partially hydrogenated oils. Studies have indicated trans fats are particularly bad for you and should be avoided whenever possible. They will usually be marked up on food packaging nutrition labels.

Most saturated fats will be solid at room temperature.

How can I get more good fats into my diet?

Here are some ideas on how you can include more good fats in your diet:

  • Opt for a handful of nuts for a snack several times a week.
  • Spread half an avocado on a piece of toast or across several crackers with some salmon and cracked pepper for a tasty lunch.
  • Sprinkle a handful of nuts or seeds over your salad.
  • Include leafy greens in an omelette or frittata for breakfast or lunch. If you are concerned about cholesterol, use egg whites only.
  • Make guacamole to use as a dip for special occasions.
  • Try to include oily fish in your main meals at least 2-3 times a week.
  • Use omega-3-fortified eggs and breads, or consider a fish oil supplement if you feel you aren't getting enough omega-3.
  • Cook with unsaturated fats whenever possible.
  • Use olive oil in marinades and salad dressings.

The importance of moderation

Even though we are learning more about the types of fats that are better for us, it's important to bear in mind that regardless of whether you are eating a 'good' or a 'bad' fat, it will still contain the same amount of calories so they should still all be eaten in moderation.

It's also important to maintain perspective. Some foods, such as eggs, can contain both saturated and unsaturated fats. And coconut oil - which is currently being hailed as a health food - has a high saturated fat content but contains no cholesterol. This is why it's important to look at where foods come from and what other nutritional benefits they may hold before choosing to include or exclude them from your diet.

Always aim to make the best choice for your personal dietary requirements to help improve your health and wellbeing.


NZ Real Health is an online magazine where you can find practical information and advice on health, wellbeing and fitness. For more articles like this, visit www.nzrealhealth.co.nz.

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