Good Fat vs Bad Fat

When we hear the word fat our brains automatically think it is bad or to avoid it, but actually not all fats are created equal. While some fats are not good for our health and can lead to many health issues down the road, there are other fats that are good for us and help to prevent health issues. Fats are extremely essential for our bodies to properly function. We need them as a source of energy, absorbent for vitamins, and protector for our vital organs. I am going to blurt out some science now, but don’t worry I will make it simple enough to understand.

So fats are broken up into two categories, saturated fats and unsaturated fats. The chemical breakdown of saturated fats consists of a fatty acid chain with no double bonds, whereas unsaturated fatty acid chains do contain double bonds in their structure. If there is only one double bond we call it a monounsaturated fatty acid, but if there is more than one, we call it a polyunsaturated fatty acid. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature (think butter) whereas unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature (think oil). Saturated fats mostly come from animal products such as beef, poultry, and dairy. Unsaturated fats come mainly from plant sources such as nuts and seeds.

Trans fat is fat that has been processed by adding hydrogens to oils and making it more solid. This is why when something says it has no saturated fat it may be true, but it may have trans fat instead, which is worse. Trans fat is found in many foods such as pastries, crackers, margarines, cakes, and frozen foods.

The word cholesterol has a negative stigma. While cholesterol can definitely have harmful affects, cholesterol actually serves importance to our body’s functioning. Cholesterol comes from two sources. It is made in the body, but also found in many foods such as animal products, egg yolks, and cheese. Cholesterol is vital for our body to function because it is needed to make hormones, synthesize bile to aid in digestion, as a precursor for Vitamin D, and operate as a structural component to cells. The reason our bodies are so fascinating is because they can make more cholesterol when needed, but this is the reason excess cholesterol from external sources can get messy. If there is too much cholesterol in the blood, it can build up and form fat deposits in the arteries, known as atherosclerosis. This plaque buildup can lead to the narrowing of arteries and reduce blood flow, which can lead to major health complications and risk for heart disease.

When bad fats are consumed, especially in excess, our blood cholesterol and LDL (bad cholesterol) levels can raise, and therefore put us at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease. When unsaturated fats are consumed, the opposite happens. These type of fats can reduce high blood cholesterol levels and even increase HDL (good cholesterol) levels, therefore protecting our hearts and keeping us healthy.

Foods high in monounsaturated fats: Avocados, Nuts, Olive oil, peanut butter.
Foods high in polyunsaturated fats: Fish, nuts, seeds, eggs.

Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids are both polyunsaturated fatty acids. These are essential fatty acids which means our body needs them but we can only get them from food. Omega 6 and Omega 3’s have very good health benefits, but keep in mind they have different effects on the body and need to be balanced. For example, Omega 6 has pro inflammatory effects, while Omega 3 does not. Therefore, it is most ideal to eat an equal amount of each omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids or the body may be at risk for complications.

Omega 3 and Omega 6 can be found in many foods, some that are not always healthy. Keep this is mind when choosing your next snack or meal.

Positive Omegas 3 sources: Salmon, Tuna, Chia seeds, soybeans.
Positive Omega 6 sources: Walnuts, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, pistachios, raw pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

Some foods high in saturated fats can also be healthy such as coconut oil, grass fed beef, full fat milk and yogurt.

Keep in mind though, any type of fat should be consumed in moderation. Overall, fats have a high energy content so even though it is considered a good fat, is still important to eat in small amounts and listen to your body.

I hope this helps you understand fats and the differences between them and how they work within the body. It is all about education and mindfulness that will help make a positive difference.

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About Gina
Gina Consalvo-Hassick, MA, RD, LDN, CDE, NCC is a registered dietitian and is actively involved in various food and nutrition communities. She has counseled and assessed a wide range of patients and has experience in outpatient, inpatient, and consulting. Areas of specialization include weight management, eating disorders, and wellness nutrition.
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Gina Hassick,
MA, RD, LDN, CDE, NCC

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