How To Differentiate Between Good And Bad Fats

Fats in diets are often associated with negative properties. This is partially justified because many types of fat and fatty substances have been linked to diseases and harmful health conditions. However, not all fats offer tragic consequences when consumed.

As there are bad fats, there are also beneficial ones that contribute to various bodily functions. Experts have suggested that we tailor our diets towards eliminating unhealthy fats and eating more of good fats. This article aims to help you understand the difference between good and bad fats and how to identify them.

Types of Fat

There are three categories of dietary fat, with each category having various effects on the body. The three options include:

  • Saturated fat
  • Trans fat
  • Unsaturated fat

Saturated Fat (Eat Sparingly)

Saturated fats are primarily found in animals and dairy products. They are usually solid at room temperature. Their common sources include:

  • Fatty cuts in beef and lamb
  • Poultry skin
  • Dairy foods (whole milk, butter, cheese, and ice cream)
  • Tropical oils ( coconut oil and palm oil)

Health experts recommend eating saturated fats sparingly as they can increase blood cholesterol levels and the amount of LDL (bad) cholesterol. While previous studies linked consumption of saturated fat with higher risks of heart disease, researchers now believe that they may not be as bad as once feared. 

A 2015 review examined the relationship between saturated fats and heart disease. The results showed that replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats can reduce your risk of heart disease. Although the risk reduction is very low, the slight difference could improve your health.

Trans Fat (Avoid)

You should avoid trans fats when possible, as they are the worst type of fat for you. They are byproducts of hydrogenation, which converts healthy oils into solids. Trans fats do not have any health benefits and are harmful when consumed in even small quantities.

You may find trans fat in the following foods:

  • Margarine
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Baked goods
  • Processed snacks
  • Fried foods

Similarly to saturated fat, trans fat may raise the amount of bad cholesterol in your body. They also suppress the levels of good cholesterol. Eating trans fat also causes inflammation, putting you at risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other harmful conditions.

What’s more, this bad fat contributes to insulin resistance, increasing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Unsaturated (Good) Fat

These healthy fats are usually liquid at room temperature. They exist in two broad categories: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Monounsaturated Fat

You can get this healthy fat from various foods and oils. Research shows that eating monounsaturated fat can increase your blood cholesterol level and reduce your risk of heart disease. Examples of foods with this healthy fat include:

  • Nuts (cashew, peanut, and almond)
  • Vegetable oil
  • Peanut butter
  • Avocado

Experts first concluded that monounsaturated fat could be beneficial following a study of seven countries in the 1960s. The study showed that people in the Mediterranean region had a low rate of heart disease despite eating foods packed with fat. However, the fat in their diet was not saturated. It was olive oil, which is monounsaturated.

Polyunsaturated Fat

Polyunsaturated fats are commonly known as essential fats, as the body cannot manufacture them but needs them. You can get this healthy fat from plant-based foods and oils. The American Heart Association claims that polyunsaturated fat can also decrease your risk of heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol levels.

Furthermore, a certain type of polyunsaturated fat, omega-3 fatty acids, has been shown to have immense benefits for your heart. Omega-3 fats can help you avoid coronary artery disease and lower blood pressure.

Some of the foods that contain polyunsaturated fat include:

  • Salmon
  • Tofu
  • Trout
  • Walnuts
  • Canola Oil
  • Seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, and sesame seeds)

How to Avoid Unhealthy Fat

The best way to keep away from bad fats is by reading the labels. The Nutrition Facts panel contains all the information you need about a food product’s content, including fat. Look out for foods that are low in saturated and trans fat. 

Note that some products may be labeled “trans fat free,” yet still contain up to 0.5 grams of trans fat. Labeling laws allow food companies to round down to zero when indicating nutrient content.

The following tips can help you consume more healthy fats while cutting out the bad ones:

  • Eat more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Select only low-fat dairy products.
  • Replace fatty sauces with vinegar, mustard, and lemon juice.
  • Use unsaturated liquid oils like canola and olive oil for cooking, rather than butter or hydrogenated margarine.
  • Limit your consumption of processed and fried foods.

Bottom Line

You don’t have to eliminate fats from your diet as they aren’t all bad. Instead, focus on limiting your saturated fat intake and avoiding trans fat foods completely. This simple strategy can improve your cardiovascular health and help you avoid diseases.