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Whether you’re looking for reliable information to support your own diet or searching for science-based, nutritional insights - you're in the right place.

What is fat?

​​Fat is an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. 


We need some fat in our diets to help us absorb the vitamins A, D, E and K. Fats are also a source of essential fatty acids, which the body cannot make itself.


However, too much fat in our diet can be bad for our health. All types of fat are high in calories and so eating a lot of fatty foods can make it easy to consume more calories than we need. Over time, this can lead to weight gain.


A diet high in saturated fat from foods like ghee, butter, coconut oil, cakes, biscuits and fatty meats, can raise cholesterol levels in your blood – this can increase the risk of severe health problems such as heart disease and stroke.


Helena Gibson-Moore, Nutrition Scientist, British Nutrition Foundation

How does fat affect our health?

A diet high in saturated fats may: 

  • Raise cholesterol - too much saturated fat in our diet can raise cholesterol in our blood, which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke
  • Increase risk of obesity - because fats are high in calories, if we eat more than we need we can gain too much weight. Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for heart disease and other health related issues. 

Key facts about fat

  1. ​​Small amounts of fat are an important part of a healthy, balanced diet.
  2. Fats in foods can either be saturated or unsaturated. It is important that most of the fats we eat are unsaturated.
  3. The government recommends that total fat intake should not make up more than 35% of our total daily calories. On average in the UK we are achieving this.
  4. A diet high in saturated fats may increase the risk of obesity, heart disease and stroke

Fat FAQs

Coconut oil has become popular as a cooking ingredient, but it is very high in saturated fat – it actually contains more than butter! Therefore, coconut oil should be consumed less often and in small amounts.

Although most of the fat in dairy foods is saturated fat, more evidence is emerging that dairy foods may actually reduce the risk of heart disease. 


Dairy foods can form an important part of a healthy, balanced diet, as they are important providers of protein, calcium and other minerals such as iodine.


However, it is still recommended that we choose lower fat versions of dairy foods most of the time, such as semi-skimmed, skimmed or 1% fat milk, reduced or lower fat cheeses (cottage cheese or quark) and lower fat yogurts as these provide the important nutrients with fewer calories. Because many UK adults are overweight or obese, lower fat dairy can be important for weight control.

Foods that are high in fat are also ‘energy dense’, that is, they have a high number of calories per gram. High-fat foods can also be very tasty and both these factors can make it easy to eat a lot of calories from these foods.

If we eat more calories than we need then, over time, this will lead to weight gain. However, weight gain can be a result of excess calories from any source in the diet.

Last reviewed October 2023. Next review due October 2026.

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Please note that advice provided on our website about nutrition and health is general in nature. We do not provide any individualised advice on prevention, treatment and management for patients or their family members.