A fat introduction – blog 1 of a series on fats and diabetes

Guest Post, Sally Marchini, Dietitian

I thought it was about time for another blog mini-series and fat is a topic that we see written about a lot so it’s easy to be misled when you’re provided with information that may be influenced by sales and marketing, and ‘fat’ is a huge topic to cover. The benefit of having such topics explained by an Accredited Practising Dietitian is that we’re not trying to sell you anything – just wanting to help you to make the best decisions for your d-health and we base our advice on the best available evidence through scientific research which is constantly being reviewed and updated where appropriate.

As an introduction I’ll remind you that fats are an important part of our diets, as are carbohydrates and proteins (these 3 being the major macronutrients that produce energy) and every cell in our body needs quality fats to protect it, help it communicate with other cells and to allow important biological processes to occur in our bodies.  It’s important for us, especially as people with or at risk of diabetes, to understand about the different types of fats, or fatty acids, and choosing the right fats in the right amounts can benefit our wellbeing in many ways.  In this blog I’ll explain what the different types of fats are and where they’re found, as well as how much the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommends for people with diabetes.


From a healthy weight perspective, the Australian Dietary Guidelines reminds us that, “When eaten in large amounts, all fats, including healthy fats, can contribute to weight gain. Fat is higher in energy (kilojoules) than any other nutrient and so eating less fat overall is likely to help with weight loss.” So again, it’s all about balance!

Something I found enlightening when learning about foods applies particularly with fats, in that they’re not black and white in the varying types, but more like differing shades of grey. To demonstrate my point, nuts are a perfect example. If you refer to page 2 of this tree nut ready reckoner you can see that every nut has a different amount of all the different types of fat within it. I make this point to reinforce that, as with most things in diabetes, it’s about making healthy choices whenever you can but not worrying too much about small amounts of things that we know we’re better without (such as saturated and trans fats).

Which is a perfect segway to talk about Types of Fats

I think the most straightforward explanation of the different types of fats is found on the Dietitian’s Association of Australia website where they explain:

“There are two main types of fats: saturated fats and unsaturated fats.

Saturated fats

Saturated fats are ‘unhealthy’ fats, and eating greater amounts of saturated fat is linked with an increased risk of heart disease and high blood cholesterol levels. These fats are solid at room temperature and are found in:

Animal-based products:

  • Dairy foods – such as butter, cream, full fat milk and cheese
  • Meat – such as fatty cuts of beef, pork and lamb, processed meats like salami, and chicken (especially chicken skin)

Some plant-derived products:

  • Palm oil
  • Coconut
  • Coconut milk and cream
  • Cooking margarine

Saturated fats are also commonly found in many manufactured and packaged foods such as:

  • Fatty snack foods
  • Deep fried take away foods
  • Cakes
  • Pastries and pies
  • Biscuits

Unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fats are ‘healthy’ fats and are an important part of a healthy diet. These fats help reduce the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels (among other health benefits) when they replace saturated fats in the diet.

There are two main types of unsaturated fats: polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats.

Polyunsaturated fats:

  • omega-3 fats which are found in fish
  • omega-6 fats which are found in some oils such as safflower and soybean oil, along with some nuts, including brazil nuts.

Monounsaturated fats:

  • found in olive and canola oil, avocados and some nuts, such as cashews and almonds.

Trans fats

Trans fats are unsaturated fats that have been processed and as a result, behave like saturated fats. Consumption of trans fats increase the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol and decrease the levels of ‘good’ cholesterol in the body which is a major risk factor for heart disease. It is important to lower the amounts of trans fats you eat to help improve your health.

Trans fats are found in many processed foods, also in butter and some margarines. When buying these products check the labels and choose the varieties that are lower in saturated and trans fats and higher in poly and monounsaturated fats.”

In summary, we should aim to have most of our fat intake from mono- and poly-unsaturated fats.

How much should we have?

You may remember from my blog on label reading that on nutrition information panels we should aim for less than 10g/100g total fat, and less than 2g/100g saturated fats. This is because people with diabetes tend to have higher rates of bad cholesterol, and reducing amounts of saturated fats (and poor quality carbohydrates) is one of the most effective ways of reducing that bad cholesterol.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines advises that in addition to the serves outlined for the five food groups, “an allowance for unsaturated spreads and oils for cooking, or nuts and seeds can be included in the following quantities: 28-40g per day for men less than 70 years of age, and 14-20g per day for women and older men.”

That’s probably enough info for this first blog. If you have specific fat-related questions that you’d like answered in the rest of the fat-series, just comment below and I’ll do my best to answer them for you.

Also remember to see your Accredited Practising Dietitian if you think some personalised advice could be useful, or arrange for an e-consultation with our e-dietitian at Diabetes Counselling Online.

Sally is owner of her private practice (Marchini Nutrition), and has had type 1 diabetes for close to 40 years and coeliac disease for many years too.


  1. Garry Wainscott on July 15, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    Thanks Sally. Keep up the good work !!

    I appreciate very much the difficulty of putting “enough” important info into a blog, but I was a little concerned about the over-simplification, especially now that some saturated fats (in moderation) are being incorporated into a “healthy” diet, and the lack of differentiation between various unsaturated fats. It is now considered that omega-6 can be “pro-inflammatory” and long-chain omega-3 are “anti-inflammatory”. This is a matter of some concern as the shift away from saturated to unsaturated fats has seen a MAJOR shift in n-6 to n-3 ratios with probable adverse effects. Further there are differences in outcomes between PUFA n-3 and LCPUFA n-3.

    In my book “How to Choose a Baby Formula” (Amazon/Kindle) I have a couple of chapters about n-3 differentiation. My second book “Pregnancy Nutrition. A great start for Baby”, which is currently in the final stages of going into publication with Amazon goes into greater depth on n-3 as well as the over-done shift in n-6 to n-3 ratios.

    Best wishes, Garry Wainscott, Specialist Nutrition Consultant

  2. Sally on July 15, 2014 at 5:52 pm

    Hi Garry,

    Thanks for your comment. Indeed I will provide more detail in these areas as part of this mini-series, so keep an eye out for them.

    Out of interest, what is your qualification as a ‘specialist nutrition consultant’?

    With warm regards, Sally.