The bottom line on fat

Good or bad? - let’s investigate


What is fat and why is it so controversial?

We are constantly hearing the voice of the media in magazine, TV and in online information, that we should avoid fat at all cost because not only is it likely to contribute to our becoming overweight, it also causes heart attacks and strokes amongst other chronic health issues.

It is true that the proportion of the world’s population that is obese is rising at a very frightening rate with 1 in 5 people expected to be obese by 2025; even governments have had to sit up and take notice of the problem

There is truth and myth in both these views and it is about attempting to balance these facts in order for us to move forward to a healthier lifestyle.

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Fat is one of the three macronutrients required to sustain health and provide energy through their calorific content alongside carbohydrates and protein.  Although, as we have said, fat is constantly slated in the media as being the ‘enemy’, in actual fact we need fat in the right form and correct quantity in order to sustain good health.


What is the function of fat in the body?

One of the most important functions of fat is as an energy reserve that can preserve life in times of famine.  It is stored in the body as adipose tissue as a result of ‘overeating’ in good times.  This is, of course, not the actual case today but is reflected in the tendency of humans to overindulge in food, gain weight and then diet to lose it again.

Fats are also necessary in order that we can absorb fat-soluble vitamins which are vital for our health, vitamins A, D, E and K


Types of fat

Generally speaking, we can divide fats into groups:

  • Saturated fats
  • Trans fats
  • Monounsaturated fats
  • Polyunsaturated fats

These fats vary in their physical properties and chemical makeup.

What we consider to be bad fats are saturated and trans fats and they tend to be solid at room temperatures, for instance, butter and lard.  The healthier fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats tend to be liquid at room temperature, for example, olive oil and rapeseed oil.

It is also the case that ‘good’ and ‘bad fats have different effects on the cholesterol levels in your body.  The saturated and trans fats increase the levels of bad cholesterol or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in the body whereas the unsaturated fats can lower those levels.  For this reason, unsaturated fats are beneficial when included in a healthy diet.

We also carry ‘good’ cholesterol in the body otherwise known as high-density lipoprotein (HDL).  This form of cholesterol will pick up LDL cholesterol from parts of the body where there is too much and return it to the liver for elimination.  High levels of HDL reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Foods high in saturated fats include:

  • Biscuits, cakes and pastries
  • Cheese, especially hard cheese
  • Cream and ice cream
  • Chocolate confectionary
  • Meat products, for instance, sausages and pies
  • Palm oil
  • Coconut oil and coconut cream

Foods high in unsaturated fats include:

  • Olive oil
  • Rapeseed oil
  • Avocados
  • Almonds, brazil nuts and peanuts
  • Corn
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Oily fish such as trout, herring, mackerel and salmon


Balancing fat consumption

The bottom line is that we should exclude saturated and trans fats from our diet and ensure that we have enough of the unsaturated fats whilst also making sure that we are not consuming excess calories overall.

There is now extensive labelling of our foods by manufacturers to highlight ‘low in saturated fats’ and ‘low in sugar’.  Whilst these can be very useful, particularly when planning a calorie-controlled diet, it is necessary to be aware that whilst something is labelled ‘low fat’, do not fall into the trap of thinking that the product may be low in calories.  This may be a marketing ploy and the reduced-fat may have been substituted for extra sugar; we need to be aware of the balance of the contents of the product.

Eating the odd treat is fine but be aware that ‘empty’ calories involving fatty and sugary food should be kept to a minimum



  1. Carbs vs. fats:  what's the bottom line?
  2. Fat: the facts
  3. Dietary fats
  4. Fats and cholesterol
  5. What is dietary fat?

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