Fat in Your Diet

What You Need to Know About Fat

Good vs Bad Fat

In the fat-phobic 90’s fat in food was regarded as a danger to our health.  From Snackwells to Olestra the message everyone received was that low fat was the way to go.  Now years later we are figuring out that this was not the healthiest trend to follow, but it can be hard to break eating habits so ingrained in our minds.  It’s time to break free of our phobia of eating fat.  When looking at fat in our diets we have to look at good fat versus bad fat, where to get good fat and what the benefits of consuming fat are.

Good Fat vs. Bad Fat

One of the first things you need to understand about dietary fat is that there are good fats and bad fats.  Good fats can be thought of as ones that impact your body in a positive way.  These include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.  These types of fats can positively affect blood cholesterol which may reduce the risk of heart disease.  An especially popular type of polyunsaturated fat you may be familiar with is omega -3 fatty acid.  This type of fat is thought to be beneficial to your heart health.   Bad fats include saturated fats and trans fats.  Saturated fats are not good for your health because they can raise overall cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.  Trans fats, though also naturally occurring in beef and dairy fat, are created through a process called hydrogenation.  This process helps stabilize oil against spoilage but is particularly bad for you because it raises LDL cholesterol and also lowers high-density lipoprotein (HDL).   Bad fats may also contribute to your risk for heart disease.

Sources of Fat

Fat comes from a variety of dietary sources.  Good monounsaturated fats are found in liquid oils like olive and canola, foods like avocados and nuts like almonds.  Good polyunsaturated fats are found in liquid oils like corn and nuts like walnuts.  Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include chia seeds and fish.  A varied intake of many fat sources will help ensure you get a variety of good fats in your diet.  Sources of bad fats, including saturated and trans fats, including animal fat like lard, solid shortening and butter.   While it may not be necessary to completely eliminate a fat source, it’s likely a good idea to limit your intake of bad fats.

Benefits of Fat

There are benefits to eating good fats including improved absorption of some vitamins, a feeling of satiety when eating and the potential to reduce risks of heart disease.  Vitamins A, D, E and K all require fat to be absorbed and transported through the body.  Including healthy fats in your diet helps to ensure you are absorbing these vitamins.  Satiety or a feeling of satisfaction, when eating is also a benefit of consuming good fats.  Fats can contribute to enhanced mouth feel, texture and moistness which can make food more enjoyable.  Good fats may also reduce the risk of heart disease and positively impact good cholesterol.

The Bottom Line

Fat has an important place in your diet.  Remember to choose good fats to reap the biggest benefits and limit your intake of bad fats to avoid possible health risks.  Vitamin absorption, increased satiety and reduced risk of heart disease may all be benefited by consumption of good fats.  A varied intake of good fat sources will help ensure you get the most benefit from fat.  If you need help deciding how much fat to include in your diet resource like your doctor, a registered dietitian or on-line sources like the USDA’s Choose My Plate website are all excellent resources for planning your dietary intake of fat, as well as other nutrients.


Dietary fats: Know which types to choose.  Feb. 15, 2011Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). Permalink: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fat/NU00262.
Fats and Cholesterol: Out with the Bad, In with the Good.  Harvard School of Public Health.  Permalink: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-full-story/index.html.

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