Fats, Oils and Spreads

Web Resource Last Updated: 09-05-2024


The role of fat

Fat has an important role in the body. It fulfils a wide range of functions which include

  • supplying energy for the body
  • providing essential fatty acids the body can’t make itself
  • helping the body to absorb certain vitamins (A, D, E and K)
  • insulating the body and providing a protective layer around vital organs.

Although our bodies need small amounts of fat, it is important that we do not eat too much. Your risk of heart disease is increased when you have diabetes, so it is important to follow an eating plan that helps to keep your heart healthy.

Eating too much fat can cause you to put on weight, as when compared to other nutrients, fats and oils are very high in calories:

1 tablespoon of oil (15 g fat) = 135 calories

Being overweight can contribute to high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It can also make it more difficult for you to manage your diabetes.

Types of fat

There are several different types of fat and choosing the right type is important for the health of our heart.

Table 1 below explains the different types of fat, foods they are found in and the implications each one has on our health.

Table 1: Types of fat


Food sources

Health implications

Saturated fat

Butter, lard, ghee, palm oil, dripping, coconut oil, hard cheese, cream, fatty meat

Can increase the amount of cholesterol in your blood, especially harmful LDL cholesterol (‘bad cholesterol’)

Trans fat

Biscuits, cakes, pastries, deep-fried foods

Most trans fats are industrially produced and can cause the same problems as saturated fats

Monounsaturated fat

Olive and rapeseed oils and spreads

Can help to maintain HDL cholesterol (‘good cholesterol’) levels, with positive health benefits

Polyunsaturated fat

Soya, sunflower and corn oils and spreads, nuts, seeds, oily fish

Provide essential fatty acids that the body can’t produce. Can lower levels of triglyceride (a type of fat in the blood), with positive health benefits


Replacing saturated and trans fats with moderate amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can be beneficial.

However, many people wrongly think that these ‘good’ fats are lower in calories. All types of fats are high in calories, so whichever fat you choose to use, make sure that you limit the amount. One gram of fat contains nine calories, whereas one gram of carbohydrate or protein contains only four calories.

Recommended amounts

The maximum amount of fat that you should eat in one day is outlined in Table 2 below.

Table 2: Recommended daily fat intake


Male adults

Female adults

Total fat per day

90 g

70 g

Saturated fat per day

35 g

20 g


Tips to reduce your fat intake

  • Use less butter, ghee, lard, coconut oil and spreads.
  • Measure out oils onto a teaspoon rather than pouring them from the bottle.
  • Choose lower-fat cooking methods such as grilling, poaching or steaming.
  • Use spray oils.

Food labels 

Reading food labels carefully can also help you cut down on the amount of total and saturated fats you eat.

For a product to be labelled ‘lower fat’, ‘reduced fat’, ‘lite’ or ‘light’, it has to contain at least 30% less fat than a similar product. This does not mean that it is low in fat, however. A lower-fat cheddar cheese has 30% less fat than normal cheddar, but it is still high in fat.

Low-fat foods can also be higher in sugar, so they may not always be lower in calories. To be sure of the fat and calorie content of the food, it is important to always check the label.

Total fat

  • High-fat – more than 17.5 g of fat per 100 g
  • Low-fat – 3 g of fat or less per 100 g or 1.5 g of fat per 100 ml
  • Fat-free – 0.5 g of fat or less per 100 g or 100 ml

Saturated fat

  • High in saturated fat – more than 5 g of saturates per 100 g
  • Low in saturated fat – 1.5 g of saturates or less per 100 g or 0.75 g of saturates per 100 ml
  • Saturated fat free – 0.1 g of saturates per 100 g or 100 ml


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