FAT: How To Determine The Good From The Bad
Fact-Checked by: Dr. Tara Scott, OB-GYN
Low-fat, no-fat, reduced-fat—if those are the only types of foods you’re looking for at the grocery store, you may want to rethink your diet.
Our early diets were likely influenced by geographical location, but our modern diets are constantly expanding, making it easy for us to consume anything and everything from across the world. Somewhere around the late-nineteenth century, dieting culture entered the picture. It encouraged people (primarily women) to cut out certain types of food to reach their weight goals.
Since fat was seen as something that led to—well, fat—it didn’t take long for it to become the chief offender. Slim was in, and fat by process of easy elimination was out.
Cutting back on all fats, however, has done our diets more bad than good. There’s more than one type of fat, and not all types are the wrong kind. It may sound complicated, so here’s a quick rundown on what the different types of fat are, which ones you should be avoiding, and which ones you should allow back into your diet.
Even if you’re cutting out unhealthy fats, if you’re not eating enough of the good fats, you’re doing your diet a disservice. The good fats are unsaturated fats, which are liquid at room temperature. Not only is there no need to eliminate these from your diet, but they could also actually have a range of benefits, like improving cholesterol and lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease. Unsaturated fats comprise two types that you should know about:
Monounsaturated Fat: The first of the unsaturated fats are monounsaturated fats. These are usually in oils, so you’re probably consuming them on a pretty regular basis. Think olive oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, and sesame oil, among others. They’re also in fruits like avocados, nuts like almonds and hazelnuts, and seeds such as pumpkin and sesame.
Polyunsaturated Fat: Another of the different types of fat is polyunsaturated fat. These fats are also good for you, and in fact, necessary to keep your body healthy. There are two types of this good fat: omega-3 and omega-6. If this sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve probably heard of them in reference to healthy foods.
Omega-3 fatty acids are in things like sardines, salmon, tuna, flaxseed oil, soybeans, walnuts, and chia seeds. You likely need more of these than omega-6 fatty acids, which are present in most types of oil (sunflower, safflower, walnut, corn…).
The first thing to remember when you’re talking about fats is that while omega-6 fatty acids are good for you in moderate amounts, too much can be a bad thing. An excess amount of this fat can cause inflammation issues, diabetes, and even depression. However, there’s one type of fat that you can classify quite clearly as the ‘bad fat' and that's trans fat.
Trans Fat: There are some naturally occurring trans fats (like those in meat and dairy), but when we talk about bad fats, we’re talking about artificial trans fats, which are almost always terrible for your health. They’re usually formed during hydrogenation—a process where hydrogen is added to liquid vegetable oils—which helps keep food from spoiling for longer. They can lead to numerous health issues, including high cholesterol, heart disease, strokes, and diabetes.
Watch out for foods that have suspiciously long shelf lives. Think prepared baked goods, frozen pizzas, fried foods, microwave popcorn, and all of those other tempting snack foods!
While you don’t have to avoid all fats, it’s always a good idea to read food labels and be aware of what you’re putting in your body. Stick to wholesome, healthy food like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. And remember not to forget to add those good fats into your diet too!