The facts about fats

It's not all bad. Understanding fat will enable you to eat tastier and healthier.
Are there really ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fats? 

The only really bad fats are trans-fats – fats artificially processed with water to make them spreadable. They are linked with health problems such as heart disease so manufacturers have begun to remove most of them from processed foods and spreads. But they’re not actually illegal so avoid products that list partially-hydrogenated fat or oil on the label.

Some saturated (animal) fats are converted into cholesterol in the body. For this reason they were considered ‘bad’. However, they are often present with good nutrients that minimise these effects (for example, egg yolks are also rich in lecithin and vitamins). 

Monounsaturated fats (found, for example, in olive oil, nuts and avocados) and omega-3 fats (found, for example, in oily fish, rapeseed oil and walnuts) are called ‘good’ fats as they have beneficial effects on cholesterol balance in the body. 

But all fats are high in calories?

Yes. Remember that all fats are concentrated sources of energy (9 calories per gram) so go easy. A little bit of everything does you good (except trans-fats). Use rapeseed or olive oil to cook with and extra virgin olive oil or nut oils for salad dressings. (But it’s best not to cook with extra virgin olive oil as it smokes at lower temperatures and loses its benefits. Use plain olive oil.)

Define HIGH fat

When checking labels: 

  • 3g (per 100g - or per serving if less than 100g) is a LITTLE fat
  • 17.5g (per 100g) is a LOT of fat
  • 1.5g of SATURATED fat is a LITTLE fat
  • 5g of SATURATED fat is a LOT of fat.
What about milk and dairy?

Yes. Milk and dairy products like cheese and yoghurt form part of a healthy diet. They are great sources of protein, calcium and B vitamins - but go easy: they contain saturated fat. Try semi-skimmed or low-fat instead of full-fat.

And it's OK to eat meat? 

Yes. Meat is an excellent source of protein, energy, vitamins and minerals (especially iron and zinc) but eating too much processed or char-grilled meat appears to increase the risk of bowel cancer. 

Guidelines suggest no more than 90g red meat or processed meats such as bacon, sausages, ham or salami per day: 90g is around three thin slices of roast beef, lamb or pork. Replacing half the meat in a recipe with chopped fresh mushrooms is an easy way to cut back on meat while adding flavour and filling power.

If you want to eat less meat, maintain your protein intake from pulses, soy products and Quorn (derived from a nutritious type of fungus and tastier than it sounds). 

The NHS suggest a healthy diet should include at least two portions of fish a week.

Yes. Plain tinned and prepared frozen fish are just as good as fresh and are easy to use in cooked dishes (tinned mackerel in a pasta sauce, for example) or sandwiches.

For fresh fish, fishmongers will do all the fiddly bits like removing skin and bones. The simplest way to cook fresh fish is to brush with olive oil, add some fresh stuff (herbs, lemon juice and garlic), and either grill, steam or wrap in foil and bake (which reduces cooking smells). Steam or bake vegetables alongside the fish. 

Keep deep-fried, battered fish as an occasional treat as it’s high in fat and calories – especially if served with deep-fried chips.

Should I choose 'low-fat' options of foods?

If you choose lower fat, lower calorie or lower sugar versions of foods you eat regularly such as mayonnaise, salad dressings, yoghurt or milk, check labels carefully.

Whatever is taken out is usually replaced with something else so low-sugar may be high-fat and low-fat may be high-sugar.

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This content is wholly based on the Men's Health Forum's man manual Eat. Drink. Don't Diet. which was prepared in line with the NHS England Information Standard of which the MHF is a member. Follow the links for more information or to buy copies.


Date published 18/06/15
Date of last review 28/02/15
Date of next review 28/02/17

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