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The Skinny on Fats

The Skinny on Fats

You might have heard of the terms “good fats” and “bad fats” thrown around here and there, but unfortunately, food labels don’t list them like that. Instead, you’re finding yourself reading cryptic words such as “saturated fat”, “polyunsaturated fat”, “monounsaturated fat”, and “trans fat”. In this battle between good and bad, who’s who?! Grab your detective hats because we’re about to decode the mystery behind the “Total Fat” on food labels!

  1. Saturated Fat – A type of unhealthy fat that is found primarily in animal sources – red meat, cheese, milk, butter, and creams, as well as a few plant based sources. Unfortunately, some of your favorite foods and desserts like pizza, ice cream, dairy products, as well as coconut oil and palm oil can have large amounts of saturated fat. Saturated fat raises total blood cholesterol levels and LDL (bad cholesterol) levels more than cholesterol in food, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and increases your risk of type 2 diabetes.1,2 Limit your intake of these for optimal health! Although you may be hearing in the news lately saturated fat isn’t that bad, research shows that it is still over consumed in the American diet, and that overconsumption can lead to adverse health outcomes.3
  2. Monounsaturated Fat – A type of healthy fat found in avocados, nuts, olive oil, and some other plant-based oils. Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) can reduce your cholesterol levels and are heart-healthy. MUFAs also have a fat-soluble vitamin called vitamin E, which is an antioxidant that protects your cells from damage.4
  3. Polyunsaturated Fat – There are two kinds of polyunsaturated fats (PUFA), and chances are, you’ve probably heard of at least one of them: omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6s fatty acids. Omega-3’s are found in fatty fish, walnuts, flax seeds, and canola oil. These fats are very beneficial because they fight against inflammation, decrease risk of heart disease, and lower blood pressure, amongst other health benefits. Omega 6’s can be found in products that include sunflower, safflower, and soybean oil as well as many nuts and seeds. These PUFAs are important for brain function and for normal growth and development. In general, American’s get significantly more omega-6s than omega-3s—a 6:1 ratio to be exact—because omega-6s are found in many packaged, processed foods that we snack on or buy frozen for meals. Due to this overabundance, it’s important to choose foods rich in omega-3s over processed foods whenever possible.5
  4. Trans Fat – This is a type of fat that occurs naturally in some foods in small amounts; however, most trans fats are made from oils through a food processing method called partial hydrogenation. Although a double win for the food industry—it’s cheap and provides a stable shelf life—it is a lose-lose for our health. Trans fats raise LDL levels (bad cholesterol) AND lower HDL levels (good cholesterol), which contribute to heart disease, stroke, and a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. A recent meta-analysis of observation studies found that trans fat are associated with a 34% increase in all cause mortality (your risk of dying from any cause) and a 28% increase in risk of dying from coronary heart disease. In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that they were going to implement the removal of artificial trans fat from the food supply.6 Trans fat is usually found in processed foods like pastries, frosting, and cookies. Follow the FDA’s guidance and steer clear of processed foods which have “partially hydrogenated” oils or “shortening” listed in the ingredients. Know that even if a nutrition label says 0 g trans fat, there can still be up to 0.5g per serving hiding in the food. Read the ingredients list and opt for products made without any hydrogenated oils or shortening.

Having knowledge and being able to analyze it is great, but what really counts is how we put it into practice and apply it to our lives. Check back soon for my article “See Easy Rules to Follow When Choosing Foods with Fat”.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Know Your Fats. American Heart Association. Published May 21, 2014.
  2. Marshall JA, Bessesen DH. Dietary fat and the development of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2002;25(3):620-2.
  3. Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Department of Health and Human Services. Published January 28, 2015.
  4. Monounsaturated Fats. American Heart Association. Published August 5, 2014.
  5. Healing Foods Pyramid. The University of Michigan Integrative Medicine.
  6. The FDA takes step to remove artificial trans fats in processed foods. The Food and Drug Administration. Published June 16, 2015.
  7. De souza RJ, Mente A, Maroleanu A, et al. Intake of saturated and trans unsaturated fatty acids and risk of all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes: systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. BMJ. 2015;351:h3978.


  • Misty
    4 years ago

    Would you help clear up confusion about palm, palm oil and also coconut oils? So many people now look to coconut oil for a ‘healthful’ fat for cooking and just about everything else. Margarine now boasts palm fruit oil as an ingredient.
    I was always told to avoid coconut and palm oils, as they were very high in saturated fat. Could you comment? And are these oils also high in trans fats?
    Thank you!

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