Food: the essential fats to include in your diet

    Essential fatty acids play a key role in skin and cell health and can only be obtained through diet

    Georgie Soskin and Jo Saunders of Cooking Them Healthy take the fear out of fat, revealing why it’s essential for a healthy diet 

    After years of being demonised by both health professionals and the public, the latest nutritional research reveals that fat it is not as harmful as once thought. Fats are found in many nutrient-dense foods and are, in fact, very important for our health.

    Essential fatty acids (Omega 3, 6 and 9) are those that can only be obtained through diet, and are key for many processes in the body. Our brains are comprised of around 60% fat, and hormones are made from cholesterol, so fat plays a key role in healthy hormone function. We also need fats to support both skin and cell health.

    As we know, fat is very tasty and satiating (helping to keep us feeling full) so it is worth being aware that many low-fat foods will contain added sugar or sweeteners to improve their flavour. Try to be label savvy where possible, opting for non low-fat varieties and checking for ingredients that don’t belong or that you don’t recognise.

    There are different types of fats, which can cause confusion. Overleaf, we explain the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats – polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, as well as unhealthy hydrogenated fats.

    Add a portion of oily fish to your diet three times a week

    Fat Facts

    Here’s what you need to know when it comes to including the right fats in your diet…

    Saturated fat: Mostly found in animal products such as meat, butter and cheese. A limited amount of good quality (preferably organic) saturated fat is acceptable in a healthy diet and provides nutrients, such as the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Saturated fat is useful in cooking as it is the most stable at high temperatures. Using butter, coconut oil or lard is preferable to heating up vegetable oils to very high temperatures. *Top tip:* Use saturated fat for cooking. Choose one that is solid at room temperature, such as butter, ghee, coconut oil or lard.

    Polyunsaturated fat: Polyunsaturated fats (Omega 3 and 6) are regarded as healthy fats, of which the essential fatty acids we need in our diet are made up. It is important not to cook with these however, as they are not stable at high temperatures, and you should ideally keep them refrigerated.

    Omega 3 EPA & DHA: Found in fish such as fresh salmon, mackerel, sardines, canned and smoked salmon, fresh tuna, herring and trout. Aim to eat 2-4 portions a week of oily fish (reduced to 1-2 portions in pregnant women).

    Omega 6: Found in nuts and seeds, including sunflower, chia, sesame and hemp, and their cold-pressed oils. It’s also important to eat the nutrients required to help the conversion of essential fatty acids in the body. These include magnesium (found in green veg, squash, pumpkin seeds), zinc and B vitamins (beef, pork, poultry and whole grains), biotin (eggs) and vitamin C.

    Hydrogenated fats: These are to be avoided. Hydrogenation occurs when liquid oil is processed to become a solid or semi-solid structure, for example, margarine. This takes place under extremely high temperatures, destroying the nutritional value. Hydrogenated fats are frequently used in processed foods such as cakes, cookies, biscuits, crisps and pastries.

    Monounsaturated fat (Omega 9): These healthy fats are found in olive oil, avocados, most nuts (including brazils, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, sesame seeds) and organic free-range poultry.

    Does your family need more fat?

    There are certain symptoms that may indicate that you would benefit from more essential fatty acids your diet. These include:

    • Dry skin

    • Pimples on upper arms

    • Eczema

    • Poor wound healing

    • Dandruff

    • Brittle nails

    • Behavioural disorders

    • Learning problems

    • Low immunity

    • Tiredness/weakness

    We would always encourage you to boost healthy fats through your diet using the foods mentioned above. However, you may wish to consider supplementing with a quality fish oil. Cod Liver Oil naturally contains vitamins A and D, which is particularly vital for healthy skin. If you are unsure, always seek advice from a health professional.

    Lucy Bee extra virgin organic coconut oil, £6,

     Kitchen Essentials

    Stock up your fridge and cupboards with these friendly fats…

    Butter is fairly stable at high temperatures so is a useful source of fat for cooking. Butter contains valuable nutrients, but try to source grass-fed
    and organic butter where possible.

    Coconut oil is more expensive than other oils, but it carries its own nutritional and health benefits. It contains lauric acid, which is known for its antibacterial and antiviral properties, and it remains stable at high temperatures. Its flavour lends itself well to stir fries and lots of Asian-inspired dishes.

    Olive oil is best when it is cold pressed and extra virgin. Avoid heating olive oil as it becomes unstable at high temperatures. Use in dressings and marinades, and drizzle over cooked vegetables. The fat content helps us to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D and E) found in vegetables. Or use at the end of cooking, for example, add to cooked stews to boost the essential fatty acid content. It should be kept in a dark green bottle to prevent oxidation, and stored in a cool, dark place.

    *Top tip:* When purchasing olive oil, always look for good quality oil in dark brown or green bottles as this helps to protect the oil from daylight to prevent oxidation.

    Rapeseed oil contains both mono and polyunsaturated fats, and is a sustainable and recently more popular choice. However, it is not stable at high temperatures due to its Omega 3 content, so use it in dressings and marinades instead.

    Here are some great recipes that make use of all those good fats…


    Miso Salmon

    Oily fish such as salmon contains anti-inflammatory and brain boosting Omega 3. This simple yet delicious marinade of sweet miso (fermented soy bean paste) and maple syrup not only tastes fantastic but is rich in protein and provides added digestive support.


    Serves 2

    •2 salmon fillets

    •1 tbsp sweet white miso paste

    •1 tbsp maple syrup

    •½ garlic clove, pasted


    Preheat the oven to 180°C. Mix the miso, maple syrup and garlic together and massage into the salmon fillets all over. Place the salmon on to a roasting tin and roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes, until the fillet is cooked through. Alternatively, heat a non-stick frying pan and pan-fry the salmon, starting skin-side down, flipping half way through to ensure even cooking. This is delicious served with buttered rice and steamed broccoli.

    These delicious treats are rich in antioxidants and protein

    Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

    A delicious and indulgent protein-packed treat made without gluten, dairy or refined sugars. These cups taste fantastic and are also fun to make with little ones. You can try both smooth or crunchy peanut butter, either work well. Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants, helping to mop up damaging free radicals and reducing inflammation, as well as providing an energy boost. The peanuts provide a good dose of protein.


    Serves 6-8

    • 80g dark chocolate (choose a gluten and dairy free variety such as Green & Black’s)

    • 80g peanut butter (we like Meridian or Biona)

    • 3 tbsp maple syrup

    • 25g coconut oil

    • 40ml Koko milk (or you can use tinned coconut milk for a richer, luxurious finish)


    Firstly, to make the chocolate and coconut ganache, melt the dark chocolate in a glass bowl over a pan of gently simmering water (or you can use a microwave). Add the coconut oil until melted and combine. Next, add the coconut milk. At this point, the chocolate and coconut oil mix
    will thicken considerably.

    To make the peanut base, melt the peanut butter in a small saucepan and gently stir in the maple syrup. Spoon the mixture into paper cases and top with a generous layer of the chocolate coconut ganache. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes, or until firm.

    Want more? Check out Cooking Them Healthy’s best egg recipes