I am
Fats, oils and heart health
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Fats, oils and heart health

Get the right balance of healthy fats in your diet

Key takeaways

  • The type of fat you eat plays an important role in your heart health.
  • ​Choose healthy fat options, which include nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and their oils for cooking. 
  • Discover easy swaps and tips to increase your intake of healthy fats. 
5 min read

While eating fatty food may sound like a bad thing, some fats can play an essential role in keeping your heart healthy. 

Many foods we eat contain different fats and some are healthier than others.  

Choosing healthy fats can:

  • Aid healthier blood cholesterol levels. 
  • Lower other cardiovascular (heart) risk factors. 
  • Add flavour to food. 

What are the different types of fats? 

There are four main types of fats:

  • Monounsaturated fats 
  • Polyunsaturated fats 
  • Saturated fats 
  • Trans fats. 

Healthy (unsaturated) fats 

Healthy fats tend to be liquid at room temperature. They include: 

  • Monounsaturated fats  
  • Polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 and omega-6). 

Unhealthy fats  

Unhealthy fats tend to be solid at room temperature. They include:

  • Saturated fat  
  • Trans fat. 
Replace saturated and trans fats with healthy unsaturated fats as part of a healthy diet. 

The relationship between heart disease and fats 

Unsaturated fats  

Unsaturated fats can help improve cholesterol levels by decreasing bad (LDL) cholesterol and increasing good (HDL) cholesterol. Low LDL cholesterol levels can help lower your risk of heart disease. 

Omega-3 fats

Omega-3 fats are a type of polyunsaturated fat that can help: 

  • Lower heart rate and improve heart rhythm. 
  • Decrease the risk of clotting. 
  • Lower triglycerides. 
  • Reduce blood pressure. 
  • Improve blood vessel function.  
  • Delay the build-up of plaque (a fatty substance) in your arteries. 

Unhealthy saturated and trans fats  

Unhealthy saturated and trans fats can heighten your risk of heart disease by increasing the bad (LDL) cholesterol and lowering the good (HDL) cholesterol. 

How much fat should you eat a day? 

It’s the big picture that matters. The type of fat you eat is more important than the total amount.  

You can get the balance of fats right by: 

  • Swapping unhealthy fats for healthy fats in your diet. 
  • Enjoying a combination of heart-healthy foods regularly over time. 
  • Follow our guidelines for eating for a healthy heart to helps provide you with the right balance of fats. 

Eat more healthy fats  

Foods that contain healthy monounsaturated fats include:

  • Avocados 
  • Unsalted nuts such as almonds, cashews and peanuts  
  • Olives  
  • Cooking oils made from plants or seeds, including: olive, canola, peanut, sunflower, soybean, sesame and safflower. 


Foods that contain healthy polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 and omega-6) include: 

  • Fish 
  • Tahini (sesame seed spread) 
  • Linseed (flaxseed) and chia seeds 
  • Soybean, sunflower, safflower, canola oil and margarine spreads made from these oils 
  • Pine nuts, walnuts and brazil nuts. 

Try to eat omega-3 from all three sources 

1. Marine

  • Oily fish, such as tuna, salmon, and sardines 
  • Barramundi 
  • Flathead 
  • Scallops 
  • Mussels. 

2. Plant  

  • Walnuts 
  • Linseeds (flaxseeds) 
  • Chia seeds 
  • ​Oils and spreads. 

3. Animal  

  • Eggs 
  • Chicken 
  • Beef. 

Help lower your cholesterol with plant sterols 

Plant sterols are cholesterol-like substances that can lower cholesterol levels. They are found naturally in foods such as: 

  • Fruits 
  • Vegetables 
  • Nuts 
  • Cereals. 


Plant sterols are also added to some foods in Australia. You can check the food label to see what a serving size is and if plant sterols have been added. Foods that often have plant sterols added include:  

  • Margarine 
  • Milk 
  • Yoghurt 
  • Breakfast cereal. 

Eat less unhealthy fat-containing foods 

Saturated fats  

Saturated fats can be found in both animal and plant products. When eating less saturated fat, the foods you replace it with are important. Follow the Heart Foundation’s heart healthy eating pattern to achieve a healthy mix of fats. 

Foods that commonly contain saturated fats include: 

  • Butter 
  • Coconut oil 
  • Palm oil (often called vegetable oil in products) 
  • Processed foods, such as biscuits, cakes, pastries, pies, and takeaway foods 
  • Lard 
  • Ghee 
  • Copha 
  • Dripping 
  • Fat on meat  
  • The skin on chicken and other poultry 
  • Processed or deli-style meats, such as salami, ham, and bacon 
  • Cream 
  • Ice cream. 

Trans fats  

Trans fats are found naturally in some foods, such as butter, dairy and some meat products. Most of the trans fats eaten in Australia are from processed foods. 

Some trans fat-containing foods to eat less of include:  

  • Deep-fried foods 
  • Biscuits, cakes and pastries 
  • Butter 
  • Takeaway foods, such as hamburgers, pizza and hot chips 
  • Foods that list ‘hydrogenated oils’ or ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oils’ on the ingredients list. 

Increase healthy fats in your diet  

Making healthier food choices can be difficult. The table below provides some healthy alternatives for a snack or meal.

Swap this For this 
Muffins, chips or biscuits Fruit, nuts or veggie sticks 
Deep-fried foods Steamed, boiled or pan-fried foods 
Butter or coconut oil in cookingOlive, canola, peanut or sunflower oils 
Butter as a spread Avocado, nut butters, tahini or margarine made from healthy oils  
Sausages and other processed deli meats Healthy protein sources (fish, legumes, chicken, lean red meat) 


Learn more about reduced-fat options in dairy

You might also be interested in

Five foods to help lower blood pressure

Five foods to help lower blood pressure

Five foods to help lower blood pressure

One the easiest steps you can take to prevent high blood pressure is choosing healthy foods....

Tasty recipes to start the day | Breakfast Recipe Booklet

Tasty recipes to start the day | Breakfast Recipe Booklet

Tasty recipes to start the day | Breakfast Recipe Booklet

Have an easy and delicious start to your day. Get your free copy now....

10 ways to get the right balance of fats 

10 ways to get the right balance of fats 

10 ways to get the right balance of fats 

Getting the right balance of fats in your diet can improve your heart health....

Chimichurri sauce

Chimichurri sauce

Chimichurri sauce

5 minutes

Heart Foundation recipes

Heart Foundation recipes

Heart Foundation recipes

Search all of our heart healthy recipes ...

Key healthy eating messages for heart attack recovery 

Key healthy eating messages for heart attack recovery 

Key healthy eating messages for heart attack recovery 

Eating healthy foods can help you recover and reduce your risk of more heart problems. ...

Five ways to lower cholesterol

Five ways to lower cholesterol

Five ways to lower cholesterol

Lower your cholesterol, whether you're eating breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert or even a snack....

Heart Healthy Dinner Plan

Heart Healthy Dinner Plan

Heart Healthy Dinner Plan

Sign up now and discover delicious, easy to follow dinner recipes. Plus shopping lists, tips and other helpful information to make healthy eating easy. ...

Dairy and your heart health

Dairy and your heart health

Dairy and your heart health

Not all dairy products are equal. Discover different types of dairy foods and their impact on heart health....

Heart Foundation recipes

Heart Foundation recipes

Heart Foundation recipes

Check out our recipe categories to find your next heart healthy meal....

Heart Age Calculator

Heart Age Calculator

Heart Age Calculator

Could you be at risk of heart disease? Get your estimated heart age now....

Environment, climate change and heart health

Environment, climate change and heart health

Environment, climate change and heart health

Information on how air pollution, heatwaves and bushfires can impact heart health, and what you can do to look after yourself. ...

Jump Rope for Heart

Jump Rope for Heart

Jump Rope for Heart

Jump Rope for Heart teaches school children how to keep fit and healthy through skipping!...

Healthy Active by Design

Healthy Active by Design

Healthy Active by Design

Improving the design of our cities, towns, streets and buildings makes it easier for Australians to lead heart-healthy lives....

Getting active at school

Getting active at school

Getting active at school

Physical activity resources for school staff....

Building physical activity into urban planning and design

Building physical activity into urban planning and design

Building physical activity into urban planning and design

Resources available for built environment professionals to help guide in the development of active outdoor and indoor spaces....

Physical activity in the workplace

Physical activity in the workplace

Physical activity in the workplace

Resources to help you create a more physically active workplace....

Your heart is your most important tool

Your heart is your most important tool

Your heart is your most important tool

Men’s Health Week is the perfect time to think about your heart....

More Australians die of Heart Disease than any other cause.

More Australians die of Heart Disease than any other cause.

More Australians die of Heart Disease than any other cause.

And the heartache lasts a lifetime. But you can help the Heart Foundation fund life-saving research to keep more families together....

Stay informed about COVID-19

Stay informed about COVID-19

Stay informed about COVID-19

If you have heart disease, you are more vulnerable to severe complications....

Heart Foundation recipes

Heart Foundation recipes

Heart Foundation recipes

Check out our recipe categories to find your next heart healthy meal....

Personal Walking Plan

Personal Walking Plan

Personal Walking Plan

Feel healthier and happier in six weeks with a free Personal Walking Plan...

Holiday Treats | Holiday Recipe Booklet

Holiday Treats | Holiday Recipe Booklet

Holiday Treats | Holiday Recipe Booklet

Bring family and friends together in the kitchen over this Festive season to help you create your favourite festive treats!...

Time to book a Heart Health Check?

Time to book a Heart Health Check?

Time to book a Heart Health Check?

If you're 45 and over, or 30 and over if you're of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, you should book your Heart Health Check today...

What is heart disease?

What is heart disease?

What is heart disease?

Heart disease is the broad term for conditions that affect the structure and function of the heart muscle. ...

Chest x-ray for heart disease

Chest x-ray for heart disease

Chest x-ray for heart disease

This test can help your doctor determine if there is anything wrong with your heart....

Medical tests for heart disease

Medical tests for heart disease

Medical tests for heart disease

Learn about the common tests your doctor may want you to have to diagnose your heart condition....

What is heart failure?

What is heart failure?

What is heart failure?

Heart failure is a condition where your heart isn’t pumping as well as it should be....

Women and heart disease

Women and heart disease

Women and heart disease

Information on women and heart disease for consumers....

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

There is no single cause for any one heart condition, but there are risk factors that increase your chance of developing one. ...

What is atrial fibrillation?

What is atrial fibrillation?

What is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia where your heart beats irregularly and fast....

How to make healthier meals at home

How to make healthier meals at home

How to make healthier meals at home

Cooking at home is often healthier than eating out....

Coronary Artery Calcium Scoring

Coronary Artery Calcium Scoring

A coronary artery calcium score can be used following a Heart Health Check to estimate your risk of heart attack....

What is an arrhythmia?

What is an arrhythmia?

What is an arrhythmia?

Arrhythmia is a fault in the heart’s electrical system, which affects your heart’s pumping rhythm....

What is heart valve disease?

What is heart valve disease?

What is heart valve disease?

Heart valve disease means that your heart valve or valves don't open or close properly....

Heart disease and pregnancy

Heart disease and pregnancy

Heart disease and pregnancy

Pregnancy is often referred to as the “ultimate stress test” for the body....

After being treated for atrial fibrillation, Boyd is now back on track

After being treated for atrial fibrillation, Boyd is now back on track

After being treated for atrial fibrillation, Boyd is now back on track

Running has been an important part of Boyd's life, so imagine his shock when a heart condition he had never heard of threatened to put a stop to it. ...

Cardiovascular disease risk factors and heart attack warning signs in women

Cardiovascular disease risk factors and heart attack warning signs in women

Cardiovascular disease risk factors and heart attack warning signs in women

Information for healthcare professionals and the public on cardiovascular disease risk factors and warning signs affecting women. ...

What is coronary heart disease?

What is coronary heart disease?

What is coronary heart disease?

Coronary heart disease (CHD) or coronary artery disease occurs when a coronary artery clogs and narrows because of a buildup of plaque....

What is a cardiac arrest?

What is a cardiac arrest?

What is a cardiac arrest?

With immediate help a cardiac arrest can be survived. Learn how to save a life....