Not All Fats Are Created Equal

Often, fats are referred to as “good” fats or “bad” fats.  But what makes a fat “good” or “bad”, and which foods contain these different types of fats?  Fats are often defined as good or bad based on how they affect heart health.  Some fats can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke by increasing blood cholesterol levels, while other fats actually have heart health benefits.

What are the different types of fats?

  • Monounsaturated Fats:
    • These fats are heart healthy.  They are considered to be the best fats because they help to lower the bad (LDL) Cholesterol without decreasing the good (HDL) cholesterol.
    • Sources: Avocado, Nuts, Olives, Peanut Butter and Canola/Olive/Peanut oils 
  • Polyunsaturated Fats:
    • These fats are found to help improve blood cholesterol levels when they replace saturated or trans fats in the diet.  They help to lower the bad cholesterol, but they also lower the good cholesterol.
    • Sources: Corn/Soybean/Safflower/ Sunflower oils
  • Saturated and Trans Fats:
    • These are considered to be the “bad” fats because they raise the bad cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. 
    • Sources of saturated fat: the fat in animal products like red meat, pork, poultry and full-fat dairy products (i.e. whole milk, cheese and ice cream) are saturated fats.  Coconut, palm and palm kernel oils are also high in saturated fats.
    • Sources of Trans Fats: Trans fats come from hydrogenated oils.  This fat is found in vegetable shortening and many margarines, commercial crackers, cakes, cookies, pastries and snack foods.

Do you need fat in the diet?

It is important to include fat in the diet to allow the gallbladder to function properly and to aid in the absorption of fat soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E and K.  In order to prevent deficiencies of fat soluble nutrients, you should eat at least 20 grams of fat per day.  Focus on trying to include the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats as they have health benefits, and try to limit the saturated and trans fats as much as possible.

In fact, it is recommended that no more than 7% of your calories come from saturated/trans fats.  This would be equivalent to 15 grams of fat per day based on a 2,000 calorie diet.  As of the beginning of 2006, all nutrition fact labels are required to list the amount of saturated and trans fats.  So, reading labels is the best way to determine how much fat is in a product.

While it is important to include fat in the diet, portion control is the key.  High-fat foods have a lot of calories in a very small volume of food.  So, be sure to keep serving sizes in check to help maintain an appropriate calorie balance for your weight goals.