The Eatwell Guide – Oils and Fats

Public health advice about oils and fats explained

UK dietary guidelines

The Eatwell Guide shows the different types of food you need to eat, and in what proportions, for a healthy balanced diet. It’s not meant to represent requirements for any one specific meal or over a particular timescale, rather it represents the overall balance of a healthy diet. It applies to most people regardless of weight, dietary restrictions, preferences or ethnic origin. It does not apply to children under the age of 2 years because they have different nutritional needs.

Eatwell Guide

More on the Eatwell Guide and healthy eating via NHS Choices website.

Why we need oils and fats – essential nutrient

We’re recommended to choose unsaturated spreads and oils like rapeseed oil, and eat in small amounts.

Fats and oils are used to describe concentrated energy sources (high in calories) found in many foods and are made up of building blocks called fatty acids. Too much fat in your diet, especially saturated fats, can raise your cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart disease. But without it our bodies would not function properly as it:

  • Provides a rich source of energy
  • Transports fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, K (they can only be absorbed by the body with the help of fats)
  • Provides the essential fatty acids omega 3, 6 and 9 involved in many important functions in the body, including heart health (essential because the body can’t make them itself)
  • Helps keep us warm and protects internal organs like the kidneys

Fats explained – definition

Fats and oils are defined as saturated or unsaturated depending on which of these they contain the most of.

All fats and oils will be made up of a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fats, but one type usually dominates, for example rapeseed oil is mostly made up of monounsaturated fat, whereas butter is mostly made up of saturated fat.

  • Saturated fats (also known as saturates) such as butter or the fat that remains on the baking tray long after the Sunday roast has been enjoyed, tend to be solid at room temperature and mostly come from animal sources, including meat and dairy products, but can be found in liquid form and from plant foods, such as coconut or palm oil.
  • Unsaturated fats (also known as unsaturates) such as rapeseed oil or olive oil, mostly come from oils from plants, are typically called vegetable oils, and tend to be liquid at room temperature. Unsaturated fat can either be mono-unsaturated or poly-unsaturated and contain the essential fatty acids: omega 3, 6, and 9.

Good and bad fats

Some fats and oils are better for us than others.

  • Good – unsaturated fats: can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels, beneficial for heart health.
  • Bad – saturated fats: too much can raise cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease and stroke.

UK diet and nutrition surveys estimate that as a nation we’re consuming too much saturated fat than recommended by health experts. The average man should eat no more than about 30g of saturated fat a day (95g total fat), and the average woman should eat no more than about 20g of saturated fat a day (70g total fat). Rapeseed oil contains less saturated fat than all other cooking oils and fats.

A note about trans fat: this can raise cholesterol levels in the blood, increasing risk of heart disease and stroke.

Found naturally at low levels in some foods, or in hydrogenated vegetable oil (an oil that has been chemically changed from a liquid at room-temperature to a solid, in order to increase the shelf life and flavour stability of foods). It’s recommended that adults should eat no more than about 5g a day. However, most people in the UK don’t eat a lot of trans fats. On average, we eat about half the recommended maximum. Most of the supermarkets in the UK have removed hydrogenated vegetable oil from all their own-brand products. If any trans fats are present, it must be declared on a food’s ingredients list.

Getting the balance right is what’s important

Current UK government guidelines advise cutting down on all fats and replacing saturated fat in the diet with some unsaturated fat like rapeseed oil. It’s important to get the balance right and not to increase overall fat intake as too much of any fat in our diet can lead to overweight and obesity. All types of fat provide the same number of calories (9kcal/g) regardless of where they come from. Frequently eating more energy than you need, whether it’s from fat, carbohydrate or protein, increases your risk of becoming overweight or obese.

More on the beneficial fat profile of rapeseed oil

More on the nutritional composition of rapeseed oil

More on fat and cholesterol via NHS Choices website

More on saturated fat via NHS Choices website

Watch this helpful video by the British Nutrition Foundation on the Eatwell Guide: