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The truth about fat, sugar and salt

Diets that are high in fat, sugar and salt are associated with a higher incidence of many of today’s common health conditions such as heart disease, some types of cancer, high blood pressure, stroke, obesity and tooth decay.

Many processed foods, ready meals and savoury snacks can be relatively high in fat and salt, so try to get in the habit of reading pack labels and comparing brands before you buy.

Foods that are high in fat, sugar or salt should be eaten in moderation as part of a balanced diet and in many cases it may be best to consider them as treats.


Try to keep an eye on the overall amount of fat you eat and what type of fat this is. There are three main types of fat:

  • Saturated fat
  • Unsaturated fat
  • Trans fats

Saturated fat is found in foods like cakes, biscuits, sausages, pies, butter, cream, cheese, pastries, chocolate and coconut oil, and is known to raise the ‘bad’ type of cholesterol in the blood, which increases the risk of heart disease.

How much is too much and how much is ok?

  • A food with a high level of saturated fat has more than 5g saturates per 100g.
  • A food with a low level of saturated fat has 1.5g saturates or less per 100g.

Check for saturates on food labels, or use the ‘traffic light’ symbols to see how much fat is in packaged food before you buy.

Unsaturated fat is found in foods like vegetable oils, oily fish (sardines, mackerel, salmon, trout), avocados and nuts and seeds.

Unsaturated fats can be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.
Monounsaturated fats are found in certain plant oils, such as olive oil.
Polyunsaturated fats are found in other plant oils, such as sunflower oil or spreads made from them.

Omega 3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated and may help to protect against heart disease. They are found in some plant oils, but oily fish is the best source.

Having unsaturated fat can help raise the level of ‘good’ cholesterol in the blood and gives us the essential fatty acids that we need.

Trans fats are found mainly in foods containing hydrogenated vegetable fat, and is typically used in baked goods, such as biscuits and cakes.

Like saturated fats, trans fats tend to raise the 'bad' type of cholesterol in the blood that increases the risk of coronary heart disease. Intake of trans fats is not high in this country, and many food manufacturers are reducing the amount of trans fat in their products.

How to reduce the amount of fat in our diets

  • Replace snacks of biscuits and cakes with fruit
  • Buy reduced or lower fat options where possible (for example, with milk, butter, and spreads)
  • Grill, steam or bake food instead of frying it
  • Choose poultry or fish, and leaner cuts of red meat, where you trim off any fat from the meat
  • Compare labels at the supermarket and choose options with less fat


Sugar is found in foods like fizzy drinks, sweets, cakes and biscuits and too much sugar can make you prone to becoming overweight, as sugary foods tend to be relatively high in calories, particularly if they are fatty as well. Having frequent sugary snacks and drinks can lead to tooth decay.

How much is too much and how much is ok?

  • A product with a high amount of sugar has more than 15g sugars per 100g
  • A product with a low amount of sugar has 5g sugars or less per 100g

Some of the sugars on the label could represent sugars in fruit or milk, so a food containing milk or fruit will be a healthier choice than one with same amount of sugars, but no milk or fruit ingredients.

How to reduce the amount of sugar in our diets

  • Use artificial sweeteners or a sugar substitute in hot drinks
  • Cut down on sugary snacks and have a piece of fruit instead
  • Choose reduced sugar products
  • Choose tinned fruit in natural juice instead of syrup


Relatively high levels of salt can be found in:

  • salted nuts and snacks
  • savoury biscuits
  • cheese
  • preserved meats like bacon, ham and salami
  • canned soups
  • ready/pre-cooked meals, sauces, and stock cubes.

Bread and breakfast cereals do not taste salty, but can make a significant contribution to our salt intake because many of us eat a lot of them on a regular basis.

Too much salt is linked to high blood pressure - people with high blood pressure are 3 times more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke than people with normal blood pressure.

Although salt is essential in our diet, it’s only needed in small amounts. Adults should aim for no more than 6g salt each day, but you may be surprised to know that around 75% of the salt we eat is found in the foods we buy, or ‘processed’ foods, with the remaining 25% added during cooking or at the table.

How much salt is too much and how much is ok?
A high salt food has more than 1.5g salt per 100g (or 0.6g sodium)
A low salt food has 0.3g salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium)

How to reduce the amount of salt in our diets
Don’t snack on salty food (for example, salted crisps or peanuts)
Read and compare food labels at the supermarket
Don’t add salt while cooking or to food
Look out for low salt options
Did you know? Every day 26 million adults in the UK eat too much salt.

Further information


Our Information guides are short and easy to digest, giving a comprehensive overview of the relevant topic. Factsheets are longer with more detail, and are aimed at professionals.

You can download other guides in our series from publications

For more information: Call Age UK Advice: 0800 169 2081

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