Good and Harmful Fats

Not all fat is created equal. There are both good and harmful fats. Some fats your body needs and are actually good for you. Others should be avoided. Here is everything you need to know about fat and how to tell the difference between the good and harmful fats!

What are Good and Harmful Fats?

“Despite what you may have been told, fat isn’t always the bad guy in the waistline wars. Bad fats, such as trans fats and saturated fats, are guilty of the unhealthy things all fats have been blamed for—weight gain, clogged arteries, and so forth. But good fats such as the monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and omega-3s have the opposite effect. In fact, healthy fats play a huge role in helping you manage your moods, stay on top of your mental game, fight fatigue, and even control your weight.

The answer isn’t cutting out the fat—it’s learning to make healthy choices and to replace bad fats with good ones that promote health and well-being.

Types of dietary fat: Good fats vs. bad fats

To understand good and bad fats, you need to know the names of the players and some information about them. There are four major types of fats:

monounsaturated fats (good fats)

polyunsaturated fats (good fats)

trans fats (bad fats)

saturated fats (bad fats)

Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are known as the “good fats” because they are good for your heart, your cholesterol, and your overall health.

GOOD FATS
Monounsaturated fat Polyunsaturated fat
  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Avocados
  • Olives
  • Nuts (almonds, peanuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews)
  • Peanut butter
  • Soybean oil
  • Corn oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Walnuts
  • Sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds
  • Flaxseed
  • Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines)
  • Soymilk
  • Tofu

Saturated fats and trans fats are known as the “bad fats” because they increase your risk of disease and elevate cholesterol.

Appearance-wise, saturated fats and trans fats tend to be solid at room temperature (think of butter or traditional stick margarine), while monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats tend to be liquid (think of olive or corn oil).

BAD FATS
Saturated fat Trans fat
  • High-fat cuts of meat (beef, lamb, pork)
  • Chicken with the skin
  • Whole-fat dairy products (milk and cream)
  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Ice cream
  • Palm and coconut oil
  • Lard
  • Commercially-baked pastries, cookies, doughnuts, muffins, cakes, pizza dough
  • Packaged snack foods (crackers, microwave popcorn, chips)
  • Stick margarine
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Fried foods (French fries, fried chicken, chicken nuggets, breaded fish)
  • Candy bars

Good and Harmful Fats: The controversy surrounding saturated fat

For decades, doctors, nutritionists and health authorities have told us that a diet high in saturated fats raises blood cholesterol levels and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. However, recent studies have made headlines by casting doubt on those claims, concluding that people who eat lots of saturated fat do not experience more cardiovascular disease than those who eat less.

So does that mean it’s OK to eat saturated fat now?

No. What these studies highlighted is that when cutting down on saturated fats in your diet, it’s important to replace them with the right foods. For example, swapping animal fats for vegetable oils—such as replacing butter with olive oil—can help to lower cholesterol and reduce your risk for disease. However, swapping animal fats for refined carbohydrates, such as replacing your breakfast bacon with a bagel or pastry, won’t have the same benefits. That’s because eating refined carbohydrates or sugary foods can also have a negative effect on cholesterol levels and your risk for heart disease.

In short, nothing has changed. Reducing your intake of saturated fats can still improve your cardiovascular health—as long as you take care to replace it with good fat rather than refined carbs. In other words, don’t go no fat, go good fat.

Good and Harmful Fats: General guidelines for choosing healthy fats

If you are concerned about your weight or heart health, rather than avoiding fat in your diet, try replacing trans fats and saturated fats with good fats. This might mean replacing fried chicken with fresh fish, swapping some of the meat you eat with beans and legumes, or using olive oil rather than butter.

Try to eliminate trans fats from your diet. Check food labels for trans fats. Avoiding commercially-baked goods goes a long way. Also limit fast food.

Limit your intake of saturated fats by cutting back on red meat and full-fat dairy foods. Try replacing red meat with beans, nuts, poultry, and fish whenever possible, and switching from whole milk and other full-fat dairy foods to lower fat versions.

Eat omega-3 fats every day. Good sources include fish, walnuts, ground flax seeds, flaxseed oil, canola oil, and soybean oil.

Good and Harmful Fats: How much fat is too much?

How much fat is too much depends on your lifestyle, your weight, your age, and most importantly the state of your health. The USDA recommends that the average individual:

Keep total fat intake to 20-35% of calories

Limit saturated fats to less than 10% of your calories (200 calories for a 2000 calorie diet)

Limit trans fats to 1% of calories (2 grams per day for a 2000 calorie diet)

 

For more information regarding fats click here. There you have it, not all fats are bad for you. The important thing is to know the difference and have informed decisions when if comes to eating. Questions? Thoughts? We would love to hear your feedback!