Low fat, non-fat, full fat – Fat is a three-letter word when it comes to health. That’s right, three letters, not four. Fat isn’t all bad, at least some dietary fats aren’t all bad. Our body actually needs some fats for basic functions, but all dietary fats aren’t created equal. Some fats are, as Laurie Ledford RD shares below, just plain dangerous for your health. Get the skinny on dietary fats and what you should be looking for when you eat.

Unsaturated vs. Saturated

All of the fats and oils we eat are made up of a combination of unsaturated and saturated fatty acids, but we usually talk about them in terms of the major type of fatty acid they contain. For example, olive oil is referred to as an unsaturated fat, because more than 80% of its fat is made up of unsaturated fatty acids. Butter is called a saturated fat, because more than 60% of its fat is saturated.

Unsaturated fats are the “healthy” ones. People who eat unsaturated fats instead of saturated fats tend to have a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. Saturated fat is generally considered “unhealthy,” because studies show that it raises your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, which contributes to hardening of the arteries and blood clots. These conditions increase your risk of heart disease, peripheral artery disease and stroke.

But wait, there’s an even more evil fat out there – trans fat. Eating trans fat causes two unhealthy effects: it raises your LDL cholesterol and lowers your HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Certainly not good news for your heart and arteries.

Where do you find each of these fats?

Using common sense when deciding what to eat will usually steer you toward the healthier fats. Check the lists below to see some examples of each type. Also remember this: the healthy oils usually come from plants. One exception to this is fish oil, which is healthy. Another exception is tropical oils, such as coconut oil and palm oil. Even though they come from plants, they are very high in saturated fat, and despite what you may read on the internet, there are no good studies to prove they are healthy.

Tropical oils, such as coconut and palm are very high in saturated fat. There are no good studies to prove… Click To Tweet

Examples of unsaturated (healthy) fats:

  • olive, canola, safflower and sesame oil
  • most other nut and vegetable oils
  • olives and avocados
  • nuts and seeds
  • fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and trout

Examples of saturated (unhealthy) fats:

  • fatty beef, lamb, pork
  • poultry skin
  • lard
  • butter, cheese, ice cream
  • coconut oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil and cocoa butter
  • cream and higher fat milks (you can’t see the fat, because it’s blended into the liquid)

Examples of trans (very unhealthy) fats:

any product containing “partially hydrogenated oil,” such as

  • shortening
  •  some microwave popcorns
  •  some peanut butters
  • some fried foods
  • some cookies and crackers

Laurie Ledford RD

Are you struggling to make healthy choices? Or not seeing the desired impact? Make an appointment today to connect with our register dietitians and they will analyze and make a scientifically based plan specifically for you and your special needs.