Types of Fats


Fats have been given a bad wrap over the past few decades and we have been made to believe that they are bad for us and should therefore be avoided. But healthy fats have several benefits and should be included as part of a balanced diet.

Healthy fats provide us with the essential fatty acids that the body can’t make itself. Fats are needed so the body can absorb fat soluble vitamins such as Vitamins A, D, E and K. We also need fat for energy, insulation and to keep us warm. Fats cushion the organs, help with nutrient absorption and support cell growth. They also keep our fatty tissue, like our brains, nerves, and cell membranes, healthy so they really are essential for our bodies to function properly. Fats are needed for our bodies to make hormones and if we deprive our bodies of the right types of fats, we run the risk of disrupting our hormone balance as well.

Fats take longer to digest so they keep us fuller for longer and can help with appetite control, but the type of fat we consume is important. High quantities of saturated fats and trans fats increase our risk for cardiovascular disease and unhealthy weight gain and should be avoided or eaten in moderation. Good fats, on the other hand, help to keep our good and bad cholesterol in balance.

There are four main types of fats namely saturated fats, trans fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats. 

Saturated fats

These are predominantly found in animal products such as meat and dairy products but can also be found in some plant foods. Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature so think of butter, lard, the fat on a piece of steak or lamb chop, and coconut or palm oil. Not all saturated fats are bad for us, but the quantities we consume is what matters. Fatty or processed meats such as cold meats, burger patties, bacon, and sausages as well as hard cheeses and ice cream usually contain higher amounts of saturated fats and these .

Trans fats

These are unhealthy fats that can be found in most processed foods, some baked goods like pies, biscuits, pastries, and cakes, as well as fried foods and takeaways. They are also present in partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and hard margarines. These fats are high risk for raised cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.

Monounsaturated fats

These are healthy fats found in olive oil, avocados, and nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, pecan nuts, peanuts, and Brazil nuts. In their oil form these are liquid at room temperature but will harden if refrigerated.

Polyunsaturated fats

These are also healthy fats which get in our diets through the consumption of foods rich in omega 3 and omega 6. Oily fish like mackerel, tuna, salmon, and kippers as well as walnuts, pine nuts, sunflower and sesame seeds are good options in this category.

Ideally, we want to include more mono and polyunsaturated fats in our diets. It’s also important to be careful of eating low fat products, which are usually loaded with sugars and have a higher carbohydrate value than full fat options. Consuming smaller quantities of full fat products can be a better option because they will be more filling and are more likely to keep your blood sugar levels stable as well.

Listen to my interview with Brad Kirsten from Radio Cape Pulpit on 10 August 2023 to learn more. Listen to my next interview on Thursday at 7.45am.