Fats are an important part of healthy diet and a major source of energy that helps your body to absorb some vitamins and minerals. It is essential for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation. Fat is needed to build cell membranes, the vital exterior of each cell, and the sheaths surrounding nerves. Some fats are better than others for long-term health, but you also need to know whether it’s good or bad fat. Certain types of fat or fat-like substances can elevate cholesterol levels which can lead to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity. Knowing the difference between these fats can help you decide which is to avoid and what to eat in moderation. Let’s take a look at the good, bad and in-between fats.
- Good fats
Good fats are classified into two: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These are considered “heart-healthy” fats and come mainly from vegetables, nuts, seeds and fish. Healthy fats are liquid at room temperature, not solid. According to WebMD, both mono- and polyunsaturated fats, when eaten in moderation and used to replace saturated or trans fats, can help lower cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease. Good sources of monounsaturated fats include olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, peanut butter, almond butter and most nuts, as well as high-oleic safflower and sunflower oils.
Similarly, polyunsaturated fats are essential fats that can decrease your risk of heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol levels. Polyunsaturated fats are used to build cell membranes and the covering of nerves. They are needed for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation. These fats are required for normal body functions but our body cannot produce them and so we need to get them from the food we eat. Polyunsaturated fats such as omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids are mainly found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, flaxseeds, walnuts, canola oil, and unhydrogenated soybean oil.
- Bad Fats
Trans fat (industrial-made fats) are the worst type of fat. Trans fat foods increase the amount of harmful low-density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol in the bloodstream and reduce the amount of beneficial high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. They create inflammation, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions, and also contribute to insulin resistance, which increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Trans fats are solid at room temperature and have no known health. There is no safe level of consumption of trans fats. According to a Harvard Health article, “Even small amounts of trans fats can harm health: for every 2% of calories from trans fat consumed daily, the risk of heart disease rises by 23%.” Foods that are sources of bad fats include margarine (stick and tub), fried foods (French fries, doughnuts, deep-fried fast foods), vegetable shortening, baked goods (cookies, cakes, pastries), and processed snack foods (crackers, microwave popcorn).
- In-Between Fats
Saturated fats are one of the common fats found in the American diet. Though it is not as dangerous as trans fats, most nutrition experts recommend limiting saturated fat to under 10% of calories a day. Saturated fat is primarily animal-based and is found in high-fat meats and dairy products such as red meat (fatty cuts of beef, pork, and lamb), dark chicken meat and poultry skin, high fat dairy foods (whole milk, butter, cheese, sour cream, ice cream), tropical oils (coconut oil, palm oil, cocoa butter) and lard.
The bottom line: Not all fats are bad – there are some healthy fats that you need to work into your diet.