Good Fat vs. Bad Fat: What You Need to Know

Unsaturated fats or so-called good fats provide a variety of health benefits, including lowering
LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. They are a great

source of vitamins, minerals and fiber, and can help us maintain a healthy weight. The most common unsaturated fats found in our foods are Omega-3s and Omega-6s. These are essential fatty acids, which our bodies cannot make them so we need to ingest them through our diet. Critical to normal growth, they may play an important role in the prevention and treatment of heart disease, hypertension, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune disorders.

Unsaturated fats are of two varieties-polyunsaturated and monounsaturated-and are in shutterstock_377181964products derived from plant sources. Because polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are less stable than saturated fats, they can become rancid quite easily when exposed to heat and light. When this happens, the chemical structure of unsaturated oils looks more like a saturated fat, thus turning a good fat into a bad fat. For this reason, the types of unsaturated oils you use, as well as how you use them can be very important.

The best oils to cook with are virgin coconut oil, olive, peanut, and sesame, as they have the highest percentages of oleic fatty acid. Extra virgin olive oil contains an antioxidant that protects against cancer and heart disease. Coconut oil is particularly beneficial, as it is the least fattening of all the oils and stimulates the metabolism, thus preventing weight gain. Try to avoid polyunsaturated vegetable oils such as safflower, corn, soybean, and canola, as these are more susceptible to developing into trans fatty acids during processing.

Recommended Unsaturated Fat Foods

Polyunsaturated fats found in high concentrations in:

    • Chia seeds
    • Flax seeds
    • Fish oil
    • Borage seed oil

Monounsaturated fats found in:

    • Olives
    • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
    • Avocados
    • Raw nuts and seeds

Make sure these unsaturated fat foods are organic, and try to eat them raw (uncooked). If you must cook them, cook at low to medium temperatures.

Trans Fats

shutterstock_164975594Trans Fats increase the shelf life of food. Although some trans fatty acids exist in nature in low amounts, such as in cabbage or peas, the real culprits are those produced through a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation makes oils more solid, providing longer shelf life in baking products and fry life in cooking oils. Trans fats are, quite literally, silent killers. Unfortunately for us, they are found everywhere in the American diet, from French Fries to margarine to a wide variety of processed foods. They cause a significant lowering of HDL (good cholesterol) and a significant increase in LDL (bad cholesterol). They can lead to major clogging of the arteries, cause immune system depression, diabetes, obesity, sterility, and weakened muscles and bones.

Trans fatty acids are abnormal because they cannot link together, or to other fatty acids in the proper manner, thus weakening the cell wall and destroying normal cellular function. Entire tissues and organs are critically affected and disease results. It is estimated that 30,000 premature coronary deaths a year could be prevented by the replacement of partially hydrogenated fats in the diet with natural non-hydrogenated vegetable oils. Trans fats have been deliberately cultivated in our country; they are pervasive and difficult to avoid. Although recent FDA regulations now require manufacturers to list trans-fat on nutrition facts labels by 2006, Americans must take the matter into their own hands in vigilantly eliminating trans fats from their diets.

Recommended Bad Fat Foods to Avoid

  • Spreads, such as margarine
  • Packaged foods, such as cake mixes
  • Dried or canned soups
  • Fast food, anything that is deep fried, but also be wary of pancakes or grilled sandwiches which are often fried in margarine
  • Frozen foods, such as pot pies, pizzas, and fish sticks
  • Baked goods; trans fats are found in commercially baked goods more than anywhere elseshutterstock_138061871
  • Chips and crackers, because they are often made with shortening to give them a crispy texture
  • Breakfast foods, such as cereals and energy bars
  • Cookies and candy
  • Toppings and dips, everything from nondairy creamers to gravy mixes, salad dressings, and whipped toppings

As with all things in life moderation is the key. So if you indulge in some “bad” fats now and then just remember that it’s your overall diet and health that really matter.