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Healthy fats: the fats that are good for your health

Lesley Dobson / 22 September 2014

Not all fats are bad for you - some are even healthy. Here's our guide to some of the fats that are good for your health.

butter and oil
Not all fats are bad for you - some are even necessary for good health.

Saturated fat, which is found in butter, pies, cakes, sausages, fatty meat, cream and cheese, can increase the amount of cholesterol in your blood and raise your risk of heart disease. But that doesn’t mean that we should cut all fats from our diet. Some are important for our health, protecting our hearts, helping our brains function well, and reducing the risk of dementia and depression.

Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids

Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids are well known for their health benefits. Two - eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaeonic acid (DHA), are particularly good for us. “There is a good body of evidence showing the benefits of EPA and DHA,” says registered dietitian and nutritionist Priya Tew, spokesperson for BDA, the Association of UK Dietitians.

“The benefits include reducing blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease, improving our cognitive function and reducing inflammation. They can also reduce the risk of macular degeneration and aid vision.”

Oily fish, such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, are a good source of omega-3 Fatty Acids. The current advice is to eat two portions (140g.) of fish a week, one of which should be oily fish. You can also find omega-3 fatty acids in nuts, seeds, olive and sunflower oils. 

Read more about the health benefits of fish here.

Olive oil

Olive oil is probably one of the most-studied foods. It is an integral part of the Mediterranean diet, and has been found to be good for our health in many different ways. Olive oil contains high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs).

Studies have found that people who regularly eat olive oil, and foods prepared in olive oil, are less likely to suffer from high blood pressure, stroke, and high cholesterol. 

Other studies have found that olive oil may reduce our risk of developing breast cancer, can reduce our risk of suffering from depression, and may protect against depression (although this study was carried out in mice, not humans).

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Rapeseed oil

Rapeseed oil, also known as canola oil, is low in saturates, and high in monounsaturated fats, which makes it a good choice for a healthy heart. “Rapeseed oil also contains the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which the body is unable to make on its own,” says Priya Tew. “A lot of cheaper vegetable oils are actually rapeseed oil, so a money-saving tip is to check the label and choose these over sunflower oil.” 

Read more about the health benefits of different oils here.

Flaxseed oil

“Flaxseed Oil contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and ALA, so is also good for your heart,” said Priya Tew. There is evidence that following a Mediterranean diet, with plenty of fish, fruit and vegetables, and ALA (from flaxseed oil and walnuts), means you are likely to have healthy cholesterol levels, and a reduced risk of heart disease. It isn’t clear if you would get the same benefit from having flaxseed oil as a supplement.

Flaxseed oil may also help reduce blood pressure, and help prevent breast tumours. (If you have breast or any other kind of cancer, always check with your doctor before taking any supplements.)

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.