Fat and Cholesterol

Most of us eat too much fat including too much saturated fat, which directly causes raised cholesterol and causes weight gain. Fatty foods contain huge numbers of calories compared to the same amount of carbohydrate foods and fruit and vegetables.
Due to the large amount of calories contained in fat, you should cut down on all types of fat. However, it is much more important to cut back on saturated fat, as this fat increases cholesterol.

Saturated Fat

This type of fat should be avoided altogether (the fat found in animal fat, coconut and palm oil) because it is known to increase blood cholesterol levels. This causes narrowing or furring of your arteries and increases your risk of a heart attack or stroke. This risk is much greater if you also have high blood pressure
There are two types of cholesterol in your body:

  • LDL (Low density lipoprotein) – This settles in your arteries, narrows them and can block them
  • HDL (High density lipoprotein) – This removes LDL cholesterol from your arteries
Your doctor will want to know your total cholesterol level as well as the ratio of the bad cholesterol (LDL) to good cholesterol (HDL).
You should be aiming for:

  • Total cholesterol level of less than 5mmol/l
  • LDL cholesterol of less than 3 mmol/l (ideally 2 mmol/l)
  • HDL cholesterol above 1 mmol/l
Eating saturated fats increases the amount of LDL cholesterol in your blood. In some foods saturated fat is easy to see, eg, the fat on meat, and cream on a pint of whole milk. However, much of the saturated fat that we eat is hidden in processed foods.

How do I cut down on saturated fat?

  • Eat less red meat. When you do eat red meat, cut off all the fat you can see and grill rather than fry it. Do not make gravy from the fat if you roast the meat
  • Avoid all meat products such as sausages, paté and bacon. These are very high in saturated fat and salt.
  • Eat only low-fat dairy products, eg, fully skimmed milk, low-fat yoghurts. Cheese (40-60% animal fat and high in salt), butter and cream should not be eaten or only eaten in very small amounts; choose half-fat or low-fat products where possible. Many ready prepared meals have cream added to make them taste richer so avoid these
  • Do not use lard (or other animal fats), coconut oil or palm oil
  • Avoid baked foods that are high in fat such as pastry, croissants, manufactured cakes and biscuits
  • Be careful with foods that are labelled as lower or reduced fat as these may still contain large amounts of fat. Look for packaged foods or ready meals with less than 1 gram of saturated fat in 100g
  • Butter and margarine should be avoided. Many contain large amounts of salt and some margarines contain trans fatty acids (see below). It is best to use olive oil or very low-fat spreads using soya or oils which contain no trans fatty acids

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Trans fatty acids are naturally present in small amounts in meat and dairy produce. In order to harden oils, some are “hydrogenated” (a manufacturing process) to produce trans fatty acids. These may be harmful as they increase LDL cholesterol and also lower HDL cholesterol. Avoid using foods or spreads that contain them; check the ingredients list for the word “hydrogenate” or look for products that state they contain no trans fats The two types of fat or oil to use are:

1. Monounsaturated fat: This fat is found in olive and rapeseed oil as well as walnut oil and avocados. Olive or rapeseed oils are the best fats or oils to use, but remember all oils are very high in calories. For example, one tablespoon of olive oil has the same calories as four apples or two slices of bread. Both olive oil and rapeseed oil can be used for salads, frying, pastry, cakes, biscuits etc.

2. Polyunsaturated fat: This is found in sunflower, soya, and cornflower oils etc, and can be used if rapeseed or olive oil is not available.


Some foods contain cholesterol, but most of the cholesterol in our blood is made from the saturated fat we eat, so small amounts of cholesterol in the diet are not harmful. Eggs, liver, kidney and shellfish all have cholesterol in them.

Do not eat more than two or three eggs a week and only eat these other foods now and again. If you have high cholesterol your doctor or dietitian may advise you cut out these foods altogether.

Some margarine and yoghurts claim they contain substances that will lower cholesterol. More evidence is needed from long-term studies to show whether they do work to lower cholesterol and thereby reduce the risk of a heart attack. They are expensive and it is better to cut your fat intake. If your cholesterol is high you may need tablets to lower it and you should see your doctor