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The Fat Truth: Understanding the Difference Between Good & Bad Fats

Posted by Ashley Roehrig on

Not all fats are created equal. Hint, hint: they’re healthy fats! Too often people carry the misconception that a high-fat food is “unhealthy” and translates to fat on the body, but that’s simply not the case. It’s important to know the difference between “good” fats and “bad” fats in order to ensure that you are consuming the proper amounts. Believe it or not, fats are an essential part of a balanced diet–in fact, many key vitamins (A, D, E and K) rely on fats for our bodies to absorb them properly.


Yep, there sure are! Both good and bad fats exist and each one impacts your body in significantly different ways. So, which is which? Let me break it down for you.


First, we’ll cover the good fats. Typically these are liquid at room temperature, but there are certainly exceptions to this rule. Here are a few of the most common kinds:


Monounsaturated: These fats can be found in various nuts and nut butters (almonds, peanuts, cashews, Brazil nuts), natural vegetable oils (canola oil, olive oil, sesame oil), and avocados. They can even improve cholesterol levels, leading to a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition, because they take more time to digest, these fats may even keep you fuller longer. Awesome, right?

Polyunsaturated: These fats are most common in plant-based foods and in certain fatty fish like mackerel, salmon, tuna and trout. Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are a few examples of polyunsaturated fats that have been linked to lower levels of LDL (the bad kind of cholesterol) and a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease. That being said, even these healthier fats should be consumed in moderation because while they taste good and are chock full of benefits, they’re also naturally high in calories (9 calories per gram).


Next, let’s get you up to speed on the fats you should avoid. Unlike the good fats, the bad ones are most commonly solid at room temperature, but don’t be fooled–this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re easy to spot. These sneaky guys are often hidden inside those processed sweets you might indulge in from time to time. Let’s meet some of the culprits:

Trans fats: These are often referred to as “man-made” fats and are big no-nos when it comes to a healthy diet. Trans fats are the result of a process called partial hydrogenation that transforms oils into solids to preserve their shelf life. In other words, what was once a healthy oil is now turned into a much unhealthier solid form through the addition of hydrogen molecules. Science, am I right? You can find these bad boys in a lot of your favorite ‘cheat day’ foods–think processed desserts, anything fried, and common baking ingredients like margarine and vegetable shortening. That means it’s time to ditch the Crisco, guys! Not only do trans fats wreak havoc on your cholesterol levels–raising LDLs and lowering HDLs (the good kind of cholesterol)–but they’re also linked to inflammation, which increases one’s risk of Type 2 Diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Saturated fats: These pesky fats are most commonly found in animal-derived foods like red meat, dairy, and poultry (cue the relieved sighs from all our vegan friends), however, they are also present in a lot of processed foods like cookies, cakes, chips, and–yes–even ice cream. These fats have been shown to increase LDL levels and clog arteries, which means a higher risk for cardiovascular disease and/or stroke–neither of which anyone wants on their health bucket list.


That’s easy. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Replace butter with olive oil when preparing foods. You’ll add numerous health benefits without sacrificing taste.
  • Monitor your daily consumption of fats, and remember that even the healthy fats should be eaten in moderation.
  • Avoid consuming trans fats as much as possible. There’s just nothing good about them.
  • Be cautious when choosing foods that are advertised as ‘low fat’; the fat in these products is often replaced with refined sugar–another big no-no.
  • Substitute salmon (look for wild-caught) or herring for your usual red meat. Both fish are excellent sources of protein and won’t raise your LDL cholesterol levels.
  • Steer clear of fried foods, especially at fast food joints.
  • Embrace the good fat! Your body needs the right kinds of fats in order to function properly, and deprivation is never the answer.

And that’s the skinny on fats!