Dietary fats are both good and bad, depending on the type and food source. We go into details below.
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In this article:
Everything You Need to Know About Good Fats and Bad Fats
1. Unsaturated Fats
Unsaturated fats are considered healthy fats. These types of fats can help improve blood cholesterol levels, stabilize heart rate, ease inflammation, and play many other beneficial roles in the body.
Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and are predominantly found in plant food sources like seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils.
There are two types of good unsaturated fats:
This kind of unsaturated fat can help reduce bad cholesterol levels in the blood which then decrease the risk of stroke and heart disease. Monounsaturated fats also provide the body nutrients needed in maintaining our cells.
These foods have high levels of monounsaturated fats:
- Olive oil
- Canola oil
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sesame seeds
Polyunsaturated fats can also help in managing bad cholesterol. You can get these fats from the following:
- Corn oil
- Soybean oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Sunflower oil
- Flax seeds
- Poppyseed oil
- Safflower oil
Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids
These are two important polyunsaturated fats needed for brain function and cell growth. Our bodies cannot make these fatty acids and we can only get them from food.
Omega-3 fatty acids are great for the heart. They help:
- Decrease triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood
- Decrease risk of developing arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
- Manage blood pressure
- Slow plaque buildup in arteries
Omega-6 fatty acids, on the other hand, can help:
- Control blood sugar
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduce diabetes risk
Studies on Unsaturated Fats
Did you know that the American Heart Association suggests 8-10% of a person’s daily calories should come from polyunsaturated fat? There is also evidence showing eating up to 15% of daily calories in place of saturated fats can reduce the risk of heart disease.
In an analysis of 60 trials which examined what carbohydrates and various fats in blood lipid levels, researchers found these good fats reduced bad cholesterol and increased good cholesterol levels.
In a more recent randomized trial called the Optimal Macronutrient Intake Trial for Heart Health (OmniHeart), researchers found choosing a diet rich in unsaturated fat over a carbohydrate-rich one lowers blood pressure, decreases the risk of heart disease, and improves lipid levels.
2. Saturated Fats
These fats do not have double bonds between their individual carbon atoms, unlike unsaturated fats which have at least one double bond in their chemical composition. Saturated fats also tend to come from animal sources and are solid at room temperature—unsaturated fats usually come from plants and are liquid.
Animal foods like dairy products and high-fat meats have saturated fats.
Saturated fat sources include:
- Dark chicken meat
- Poultry skin
- Fatty cuts of beef, pork, and lamb
- High-fat dairy foods (whole milk, butter, cheese, sour cream, ice cream)
- Tropical oils (coconut oil, palm oil, cocoa butter)
- Grain-based desserts
- Dairy desserts
Studies on Saturated Fats
Having a high saturated fat diet can raise low-density lipoprotein and blood cholesterol levels. Doctors have been linking high saturated fat intake with increased risk of heart disease but recently this idea has begun to change.
What is low-density lipoprotein? Also called LDL, this is commonly called “bad cholesterol.”
Several studies are now suggesting eating diets high in saturated fats do not increase heart disease risk. In fact, one report analyzed the findings of 21 studies which followed 350, 000 subjects up to 23 years and concluded there is not enough evidence to conclude that eating these fats can increase the risks of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and coronary heart disease.
But Harvard University suggests while saturated fat isn’t as bad as it once considered, it still isn’t the best choice for one’s diet.
In 2015, researchers reviewed 15 randomized controlled trials looking for saturated fats and heart disease links. They concluded eating polyunsaturated fats instead of saturated fats reduces heart disease risk.
Adding unsaturated fats instead of saturated fats in your diet may also help prevent insulin resistance, a condition which may lead to diabetes, according to a study.
3. Trans Fat
Trans fatty acids or trans fats are found in foods with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. You can get them from:
- Baked goods (cookies, cakes, pastries)
- Fried foods (French fries, doughnuts, deep-fried fast foods)
- Vegetable shortening
- Margarine (stick and tub)
- Processed snack foods (crackers, microwave popcorn)
- Non-dairy coffee creamers
- Meat pies and sausage rolls
- Canned frosting
- Potato and corn chips
Manufacturers use partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to make foods more stable and last longer. Oil is solidified in this process making it function as shortening or margarine.
These solidified oils can withstand repeated heating without breaking down. This is what makes them perfect for frying fast foods.
Aside from partially hydrogenated oils, beef fat, and dairy fat also contain small amounts of trans fat.
Dangers of Trans Fats
Trans fats are the worst fat for your health. They can:
- Increase bad cholesterol and decrease good cholesterol
- Cause inflammation which is linked with diabetes, stroke, heart diseases, and other ailments
- Contribute to insulin resistance
- Negatively affect the body even in small amounts (Adding 2% of calories from trans fat to your daily diet can increase coronary heart disease risk by 23%.)
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What we eat heavily contribute to our overall health. Knowing which kind of fats and what foods to include in your daily diet will allow you to take preventive actions for potential health conditions.
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Do you have any questions about the different types of fats? Let us know in the comments section below!