The truth about Fat: good fats vs bad fats…do you know the difference?

For those who aren’t clear about the difference between good fats vs. bad fats. . . Most people know butter is terrible and that olive oil is a better cooking alternative. But why? Here’s the skinny on what separates the two. The concern with some types of dietary fat (and their cousin cholesterol) is that they are thought to play a role in cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and even some types of cancer. However, some fat is essential for your bodily functions. It is one of the three macronutrients along with carbohydrates and proteins. Macronutrients are considered the building blocks of the body. They are responsible for producing energy and driving lots of chemical processes. But let’s get back to fats…The general rule is that the HEALTHY fats are LIQUID at room temperature while the BAD fats are SOLID. There are some exceptions since some solid foods also posses good fats. These includes fish, avocados, olives, nuts, and seeds. So what makes them healthy? Here’s the explanation from Mayo Clinic:

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Harmful dietary fat

The two main types of potentially harmful dietary fat:

  • Saturated fat. This is a type of fat that comes mainly from animal sources of food. Saturated fat raises total blood cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, which can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Saturated fat may also increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Trans fat. This is a type of fat that occurs naturally in some foods, especially foods from animals. But most trans fats are made during food processing through partial hydrogenation of unsaturated fats. This process creates fats that are easier to cook with and less likely to spoil than are naturally occurring oils. These trans fats are called industrial or synthetic trans fats. Research studies show that synthetic trans fat can increase unhealthy LDL cholesterol and lower healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. This can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Most fats that have a high percentage of saturated fat or trans fat are SOLID at room temperature. Because of this, they’re typically referred to as solid fats. They include beef fat, pork fat, shortening, stick margarine and butter.

Healthier dietary fat

The two main types of potentially helpful dietary fat:

  • Monounsaturated fat. This is a type of fat found in a variety of foods and oils. Studies show that eating foods rich in monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) improves blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease your risk of heart disease. Research also shows that MUFAs may benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control, which can be especially helpful if you have type 2 diabetes.
  • Polyunsaturated fat. This is a type of fat found mostly in plant-based foods and oils. Evidence shows that eating foods rich in polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) improves blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease your risk of heart disease. PUFAs may also help decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes. One type of polyunsaturated fat, omega-3 fatty acids, may be especially beneficial to your heart. Omega-3s, found in some types of fatty fish, appear to decrease the risk of coronary artery disease. They may also protect against irregular heartbeats and help lower blood pressure levels.

Foods made up mostly of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are LIQUID at room temperature, such as olive oil, coconut oil, safflower oil, peanut oil and corn oil

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Although the MUFAS and PUFAS are good fats, remember to eat them with moderation. Remember they are at the top of the food pyramid which means they should be the smallest part of your diet. For vegetarians and vegans this pyramid sometimes gets distorted but…plan ahead. If you are a vegan and are going to have a “cashew based cheese” for lunch or dinner don’t snack on nuts during the day. Instead opt for a fruit. Plan your meals. Balance your food intake. Portion control. And remember there is overwhelming data out there that suggests that it is better to have 5 or 6 small meals during the day than 3 large meals. In other words…snack in between. And there is no excuse…I am third year medical student and my schedule is pretty crazy right now, having to go the hospitals, get into surgeries, be on call, study, cook, spend time with my husband, feed my dog, clean..and the list goes on…but when I know I am going to have a very busy day I pack at least 2 snacks and a healthy lunch – which is usually a leftover from the night before or a simple wrap or sandwich. That way there is no excuse for not eating healthy. ‘Cause have you seen the type of food they sell at hospitals? You would think there should be healthy options, but that’s not always the case. And if you have a “special” diet…like being a vegetarian…sometimes the options are very limited. So again…my best advice…plan ahead.

For those who aren’t interested in reading the whole post…just look at this picture below to remember which fats are GOOD:

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3 thoughts on “The truth about Fat: good fats vs bad fats…do you know the difference?

    • Well that’s why it’s important to have a diet rich in antioxidants. You shouldn’t worry about that if you eat enough antioxidants which combat the oxidation process and free radical formation. That’s why it’s also important to rotate foods. If you’re having a salmon filet for dinner tonight, go completely vegetarian the next day. And so on…

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