The minute we hear about fats, we immediately form an opinion that fats are bad for our health and for our diet. While some of this bad reputation of fats accumulated over the years is justified, there are also certain types of fats that are actually helpful and have many health benefits. These healthy fats have a major role to play in diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and even cancer. This is why you cannot consider all fats to be the same. Some fats are bad for your health, but there are other types of fats which promote good health. It is important that you know the differences between the two types of fats and understand which type of fats are beneficial for your health. Let's take a look at healthy fats versus unhealthy fats and some facts you need to know about both types of fats.

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Some Facts about Fats

A lot of studies have been going on about dietary fats. However, still, some facts about fats remain unclear. Dietary fat, often also referred to as fatty acids, are found in both animal and plant foods. Some types of fats are known to have a negative effect on your health, particularly heart health, while others are known to have significant health benefits.

Similar to carbohydrates and protein, fats also play an important role in your daily diet. They fuel your body with the energy needed to function throughout the day. In fact, it may surprise you to know that there are certain bodily functions that are dependent on the presence of fat. For instance, there are some specific vitamins that require fat to dissolve into the bloodstream and carry out their function and provide nutrients to the body. However, the fact also remains that consuming too much fat of any type can cause weight gain as it contains extra calories.

While all foods contain a portion of fatty acids, what makes them good or bad is determined by the predominant type of fat they contain.

Facts About Bad Fats

Saturated fats and trans fats are typically identified as bad fats. This is because these types of fats are believed to be harmful to the heart. One way to identify these potential harmful fats is that they are in a solid state when kept at a room temperature. Examples of these fats include:

  • Beef
  • Pork fat
  • Butter
  • Shortening
  • Margarine

It is recommended that trans fats and saturated fats are eaten sparingly or avoided altogether.

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Facts About Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are known to be derived from animals. It is also found in dairy products and high-fat meats. Some examples of saturated fat include:

  • Poultry with skin
  • Fatty Cuts of lamb, beef, and pork
  • Tropical oils such as cocoa butter, palm oil, palm kernel oil, or coconut oil
  • Dairy that is high in fat such as sour cream, ice cream, whole milk, butter, cheese
  • Lard and cream
  • Beef fat or tallow
  • Baked goods
  • Fried foods

Consuming excessive amounts of saturated fats can increase your blood cholesterol levels, particularly the levels of LDL or bad cholesterol. An increase of LDL cholesterol also increases your risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The risk is further heightened when a diet rich in saturated fat is combined with a diet including refined carbohydrates.

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Facts About Trans Fat

Trans fat is a short term used for trans fatty acids. This type of fat is found in foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are known as the worst kind of fat you can possibly consume. Some foods that are known to contain trans fat include:

  • Pies, cakes, cookies (particularly with frosting)
  • Biscuits, particularly frozen biscuits
  • Fried foods such as doughnuts and french fries
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Processed snacks such as microwave popcorn and crackers
  • Margarine - in a tub or in stick form
  • Cream-filled candies
  • Frozen pizza
  • Creamer

Similar to how saturated fats increase the levels of LDL cholesterol in the body, trans fat also do the same. However, apart from increasing the levels of LDL cholesterol, they also suppress levels of the body's good cholesterol or HDL cholesterol. This is why trans fats increase your risk of heart disease by nearly three times as compared to saturated fats.

Facts About Good Fats

Polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats are considered to be the healthier fats to have for boosting heart health. You should, nevertheless, include these fats also in moderation in your diet. Foods containing these healthy fats are found in a liquid state at room temperature, an example being vegetable oil.

Facts About Monounsaturated Fat

Monounsaturated fats are present in many types of foods and oil. Studies have shown that consuming foods containing this type of fat improves the levels of your blood cholesterol and also lowers your risk of getting heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Foods that contain monounsaturated fats include:

  • Nuts such as pecans, cashew nuts, almonds, and peanuts
  • Avocado
  • Canola oil
  • Olive oil
  • Safflower oil (high oleic)
  • Sunflower oil
  • Peanut oil and butter
  • Sesame oil
  • Peanut butter
  • Almond butter

Monounsaturated fats help reduce the levels of LDL cholesterol and also helps patients having type 2 diabetes manage the levels of their blood sugar. Monounsaturated fats also play a role in the development and maintenance of your cells. This type of fat is high in vitamin E, which is required by your body for building a healthy immune system and in keeping a healthy vision.

However, you should not be getting more than 25-30% of daily calories from fat, and that too the maximum amount of this percentage should be composed of monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats.

Facts About Polyunsaturated Fat

Polyunsaturated fats are typically found in plant-based foods as well as oils. Similar to monounsaturated fats, this type of fat also lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease as it reduces your blood cholesterol levels.

Amongst polyunsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids are known to be particularly helpful to your heart. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of stroke and coronary artery disease. They also lower your blood pressure levels and are known to help with irregular heartbeats. Fatty fish, especially, is known to contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. These include:

  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Salmon
  • Trout
  • Mackerel

Apart from fatty fish, some other foods that contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Walnuts
  • Canola oil
  • Chia seeds
  • Flaxseeds

This is not to say that you can only find polyunsaturated fats in foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids. Foods which contain polyunsaturated fats and also contain omega-6 fatty acids include:

  • Tofu
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Soybeans (roasted)
  • Soybean oil
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Soy nut butter
  • Soft margarine, in both tub and liquid forms

However, a note of caution, before buying margarine, always checking the ingredients as many types of margarine contain trans fats. It is recommended that you opt for the non-hydrogenated versions of margarine, which do not contain trans fats.

Conclusion

Healthier fats do not cause any harm to your body, but it should still be consumed in moderation because of the fact that all fats are high in calories. To get your daily requirement of fats, you should always opt for having foods that contain polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. This will not only help your heart but also improve your overall health and quality of life.

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: November 3, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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