Good Fats, Bad Fats

What is fat?

Fats are made up of molecules called fatty acids and glycerol. They are essential because they are an important source of energy. They’re also vital for the development of the trillions of cells in our body, lining our nerves, producing hormones, absorption of key vitamins and to help sustain our temperature. Some fats such as cholesterol, can be made by our bodies, however there are some essential fatty acids which our bodies cannot make. As a result, it is essential that our diets do comprise of some fat.

Good fat

Although fat is an essential part of our diet, fat is also very readily available, and we often eat more fat than our bodies require. Fats can be broadly categorised into either saturated fats or unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are better for you in comparison to saturated fats. In general, unsaturated fats can be found in oils from plants and fish and are often liquid at room temperature. This includes oils such as olive oil, sunflower oil and rapeseed oil as well as nuts, avocados and oily fish like sardines, salmon and tuna.

Bad fat

Saturated fats are sometimes referred to as the ‘bad fats’. These are typically solids at room temperature and are found in many foods including savoury snacks, chocolate, cakes and pastries as well as butter and cheese. They are also found in meat such as lamb, pork and fatty beef.


Cholesterol is a type of fat in our bodies. It does occur occur naturally, and like other fats, it is essential because they aid many functions such as the production of hormones and comprise cell membranes. Eating too much saturated fat has been found to increase your cholesterol levels in your blood. Having high cholesterol levels can increase your risk of a heart attack, stroke and peripheral arterial disease. Thus it is recommended to reduce the amount of overall fat in your diet and try to swap saturated fats in your diet for unsaturated fats.


High cholesterol levels can be caused by eating too much saturated fats, however there are other causes too. Lifestyle causes include a lack of exercise, drinking a large amount of alcohol regularly, obesity and smoking. There are also long-term conditions that can raise cholesterol levels such as kidney disease, liver disease or hypothyroidism. Lastly, genetics can also increase your risk of high cholesterol. An inherited condition called familial hypercholesterolemia can cause you to have high cholesterol despite a healthy lifestyle.

How to test

High blood levels of cholesterol does not cause any symptoms itself. However you can be easily tested by having a blood test that measures your cholesterol levels. You may be asked to have a fasting blood test which means not eating 10–12 hours before your test.

How to lower your cholesterol

If you have been diagnosed in high cholesterol levels then you should first aim to change your lifestyle by improving your diet, exercising regularly and stopping smoking if you smoke.

Reducing your overall fat intake and in particular, reducing your saturated fats is important for lowering your cholesterol levels. Here are some things that you could do:

  • Trim off excess fat on meat and and choose leaner cuts of meat.
  • Grill, steam or bake foods instead of frying or roasting.
  • Drink semi-skimmed or skimmed milk instead of whole milk.
  • Instead of using butter, use spreads instead.
  • Look at food labels and choose food items that have lower fat contents
  • Reduce snacking on chocolate, sweets and pastries and swap with healthier snack choices such as a small handful of unsalted nuts or fruit.

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