Making Sense of Dietary Good Fats and Bad Fats

Good Fats and Bad Fats

Updated 10/10/2020

When it comes to diet, we have to admit fats get a bad rap.

Some of this is justified because certain types of fat — and fat-like substance cholesterol — can play a significant role in diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

But not all fats are created equal. Some fats are better for you than others and may even help to promote good health.

Knowing the difference can help you to determine what fats you should avoid and which fats to eat in moderation.

Dietary fat

Fat is essential to health, also referred to as fatty acids, and can be found in foods from both plants and animals.

Whilst some fats are linked to negative effects on heart health, others offer significant health benefits.

Understanding good fat and bad fat

So, what are the bad fats?

There are two types of fats — saturated fat and trans fat — both of which have been identified as potentially harmful to your health.

Most of the foods that contain these types of fats are solid at room temperature.

Understanding trans fat?

These are the worst type of fats. Short for “trans fatty acids,” trans fat appears in foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

  • fried foods
  • baked goods
  • processed snack foods like crackers, and popcorn
  • some margarine will contain trans fats if they’re made with hydrogenated ingredients, so choose non-hydrogenated versions

Like saturated fat, trans fat can raise LDL – the bad cholesterol. Trans fat can also suppress HDL – the good cholesterol levels.

Trans fats are linked to an increased risk of inflammation in the body, this inflammation can cause harmful health effects that include heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

What is saturated fat?

Most saturated fats are animal fats, saturated fat sources include:

  • lard
  • fatty cuts of meat like beef, pork, and lamb
  • dark chicken meat and poultry skin
  • high-fat dairy foods – milk, butter, cheese, sour cream, and ice cream
  • tropical oils such as coconut, palm, and cocoa butter

Eating too much saturated fat can increase blood cholesterol levels and LDL – bad cholesterol levels.

15 randomised controlled studies looked at saturated fats and heart disease. The research concluded that replacing saturated fat in your diet with polyunsaturated fats may well reduce your risk of heart disease.

An article published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reported the risks of LDL, bad cholesterol does not have such a negative effect on heart health. The research recommends instead, that you compare your total cholesterol level to your HDL good cholesterol level. This is because Doctors now associate a higher ratio with increased insulin resistance and heart problems.

So the bottom line? A little saturated fat is alright for you, but too much of this fat is hard to digest and can become deposited and stored in the body, narrowing the arteries. To prevent this from happening, minimise your intake of fried and processed food such as biscuits, and crisps – the type of foods that are loaded with saturated fat and that are extremely bad for the health of your heart.

Cook with healthy oils such as coconut oil; its molecular structure won’t get altered with heat, which is a subject you can read more about in the article, “Healthy Edible Oils“.

What good fats should you include in your diet?

If it’s a healthy food you are looking for, then polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats should be included in your diet.

This is the type that helps to lower the risk of disease and heart attacks.

Monounsaturated fat

Research has found, eating foods that contain monounsaturated fat can help to improve your blood cholesterol level and decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease. These foods include:

  • nuts
  • avocado
  • vegetable oils
  • peanut butter and almond butter

Polyunsaturated fat

These are known as “essential fats” because the body cannot make them and needs to get them from food sources. Plant-based foods and oils are the primary sources of this fat and the great thing, polyunsaturated fat can decrease your risk of heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol.

A certain type of polyunsaturated fat is referred to as omega-3 fatty acids. This fat has been shown to be particularly beneficial for your heart, they not only decrease coronary artery disease and lower blood pressure levels, whilst also guarding against irregular heart rates. The following foods are rich in omega-3 fatty acids:

  • trout
  • salmon
  • herring
  • sardines
  • flaxseed
  • chia seeds

In addition to omega-3, you can find polyunsaturated fat in the following foods, which contain omega-6 fatty acids:

  • tofu
  • seeds
  • walnuts
  • roasted soybeans and soy nut butter
  • vegetable oils


While trans fats are harmful to your health, saturated fats are not currently linked with increased heart disease risk as was once thought.

In saying that, they are not as healthy as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are, and as with most things in life, eat them in moderation, because all fats are high in calories.

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