High-fat, low-fat, good fat, bad fat, this fat, that fat. What fat?
I swear no one but Dr. Seuss himself would have the patience to wade through the endless parade of reports on what kinds of fats you should (and shouldn’t) be getting in your diet.
And if your head is spinning—and you’re more confused NOW than ever before—join the crowd. Most folks are.
Know the 4 types of fats to clear up good fat bad fat confusion
So we’ve pulled together the ultimate good fat bad fat cheat sheet. This quick and easy guide breaks down the four major fat categories. And finally clears away the confusion with easy to understand explanations you can REALLY use.
There are four main types of fats:
- trans fats
- saturated fats
- monounsaturated fats
- polyunsaturated fats
In the past fats were lumped together and we were told they were bad for our health. But now we know nothing could be further for the truth. In fact, fats are necessary for us to survive and thrive.
1. Trans fats:
Some trans fats occur naturally in our foods supply. These trans fatty acids are found in dairy fats and meats. And they’re actually very good for us. In fact, certain ones, such as CLA are even higher in healthier, grass-fed animals.
But there is a bad guy version of trans fats that are incredibly harmful for our health. Of the four fats, it’s only this Frankenstein Fat version of trans fat that you should try to completely eliminate from your diet.
Food manufacturers create these industrial fats by pumping hydrogen into vegetable oil transforming it into a solid fat.
Processed foods including many fried foods, margarines, crackers and baked goods can be made with these cheap and dangerous fats. And eating a lot of them could send your risk for heart disease skyrocketing.
To spot trans fats in foods look for the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” on ingredients labels. Added trans fats have already been banned in the United States, Europe and Canada.
2. Saturated fats:
Saturated fats are the victims of good fat bad fat confusion. And as a result they’ve gotten a bad reputation they simply don’t deserve. It was once assumed since saturated fat can raise cholesterol, and elevated cholesterol is associated with heart disease, that saturated fats must cause heart disease. But the evidence doesn’t bear that out.
There’s no need to fear a reasonable amount of saturated fats in your diet from whole food sources such as full fat fairy and grass fed meats. In fact, there’s plenty of research questioning the commonly accepted advice to avoid all saturated fats because of a connection to heart problems.
For example a…
- 2010 Oakland Research Institute meta-analysis which didn’t find a link between saturated fats and heart disease, or stroke
- 2015 meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal which found saturated fat intake wasn’t associated with heart disease, death from heart disease, stroke or type 2 diabetes
- 2017 review pooling the results of 29 observational which found no link between eating dairy and heart attack and stroke.
The truth is while saturated fat can raise LDL cholesterol it can also raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol. And there’s even evidence that saturated fats may actually help transform small, dense and dangerous LDL particles into the large, fluffy benign type of LDL.
The real trouble is when those saturated fats are replaced with highly processed carbs. Then heart disease risk starts climbing.
Your healthy, whole-food diet can, and should, include reasonable amounts of organic and grass fed meats, full-fat dairy products and even coconut oil. But keep in mind moderation is key. As is the fact with most things in life if you overdo there are consequences.
3. Monounsaturated fats:
Monounsaturated fats are essential fats which help provide our cells with the energy and nutrients they need to thrive. You’ll find them in plant foods including olives, olive oil, avocadoes, nuts and nut oils.
Monounsaturated fat benefits include…
- Keeping LDL cholesterol levels from rising
- Lowering LDL cholesterol
- Helping manage blood sugar by replacing unhealthy carbs
Monounsaturated fats also help us absorb fat soluble nutrients. And since your body can’t manufacture its own, you must get them through your diet.
4. Polyunsaturated fats:
Polyunsaturated fats include the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Our bodies cannot make polyunsaturated fats so we must get them from our diet. You’ll find them in animal foods and some plant foods, such as fatty fish and nuts and seeds including flaxseed and chia seeds.
Polyunsaturated fats are essential for cell growth and brain function. And they provide a number of benefits including…
- Lowering triglyceride levels
- Fighting plaque buildup in the arteries
- Lowering blood pressure
- Reducing the risk of an irregular heartbeat
When your omega-3s and omega-6s are in the right balance, they work together to keep you healthy. But the typical Western diet tends to be far too high in omega-6s which can trigger inflammation and chronic disease.
Reducing the inflammatory vegetable oils in your diet and replacing them with olive oil and coconut oil can improve your omega-3 and omega-6 balance.
Don’t get confused by the good fat bad fat discussion. Simply aim for a healthy diet full of fresh, whole, organic foods. And slash the highly refined carbs and sugar at the same time.
You’ll end up eating a moderate, healthy amount of all the fats that way, just as nature intended. And you’ll have a happy healthy heart, as a result.