Healthy Fats vs. Unhealthy Fats

Fat usually gets a bad reputation when it comes to diet. However, there are both healthy fats and unhealthy fats. Not all fats are bad for you.

Fat is necessary in the diet. Fat helps produce energy for bodily functions. Some vitamins (fat-soluble vitamins) even rely on fat to nourish the body.

There are various types of fat: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated, and trans. Foods that are high in fat will be healthy or unhealthy based on which type of fat it is made up of. Too much of any type of fat is bad and will lead to weight gain, but the same could be said about eating excess of any type of food.

What Are Fats?

Fats, also called fatty acids or lipids, are made up of 3 molecules (called triglycerides). Our bodies produce many of the fats that we need to survive. Essential fats are the fats that we need but our bodies do not produce. Essential fats can be omega-3 or omega-6.

We need to eat fats for many reasons. Here are some of the many benefits:

  • Improving absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K

  • Improving heart health

  • Improving skin health

  • Reducing LDL cholesterol levels

  • Feeling satisfied longer after a meal

Healthy Fats

There are 2 main types of healthy fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.

Monounsaturated fats are known as heart healthy fats and they also help regulate cholesterol levels.

Sources of monounsaturated fats are:

  • Nuts

  • Vegetable oils

  • Peanut butter

  • Almond butter

  • Avocados

Polyunsaturated fats are known as essential fats. These are usually found in fish and plant-based foods. These are further categorized by omega-3 and omega-6.

Sources of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats are:

  • Salmon

  • Herring

  • Sardines

  • Trout

  • Walnuts

  • Flaxseed

  • Chia seeds

  • Canola oil

Sources of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats are:

  • Tofu

  • Soybeans

  • Soy nut butter

  • Walnuts (yes -- these are high in both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids)

  • Pumpkin seeds

  • Sesame seeds

  • Sunflower seeds

  • Vegetable oils

Unhealthy Fats

The 2 main types of unhealthy fats are saturated and trans fats.

Saturated fats are typically found in meats and dairy. These are meant to be consumed sparingly.

Sources of saturated fats include:

  • Fatty cuts of beef, lamb, or pork

  • Dark chicken meat

  • Poultry skin

  • Whole milk

  • Butter

  • Cheese

  • Sour cream

  • Ice cream

  • Tropical oils (coconut oil, palm oil, cocoa butter)

  • Lard

Trans fats should be avoided as much as possible. These are the worst fats.

Sources of trans fats include:

  • Fried foods (french fries, doughnuts, fried fast foods, etc.)

  • Margarine

  • Vegetable shortening

  • Baked goods (cookies, cakes, pastries)

  • Processed food snacks (popcorn, crackers)

Eating a well-balanced diet includes eating fats. That being said, you should eat the right types of fats to promote wellness. Focus on the healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) when deciding what to cook/eat.

*Disclaimer: Food lists were found on Healthline and Mayo Clinic websites.

Corey Hall, PT, DPT

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