Good Fats, Bad Fats, You Know I've Had My Share

Bad Fat Good Fat MeterFat doesn't make you fat. Excessive carbs make you fat. Sugar makes you fat. Inactivity makes you fat.

But not all fat is created equal. In this post, I will break down the bad fats from the good fats and give you examples of common types of foods that in which these fats are found. Before I get into that, I just want to mention that foods that contain fat contain both good and bad fats. You need fat in your diet, so it is really pointless to avoid bad fats completely, with the exception of trans fats. Instead, you want to focus on foods that are lower in bad fats than good.

Bad Fats

Bad fats include trans fats and saturated fats. At the top of the naughty list are trans fats.

Trans fats

Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. Eating trans fats increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. It's also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. With the rising concern of avoiding trans fats in your diet, many of the foods that commonly contained trans fats now offer options of these foods with reduced or zero trans fats. Nutrition labels are your friend. Read them. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to avoid trans fats completely. 

Common foods that contain trans fats are:

  • French fries
  • Anything fried or battered
  • Pie and piecrust
  • Margarine sticks
  • Shortening
  • Cake mixes and frostings
  • Pancakes and waffles
  • Fried chicken
  • Ice cream
  • Nondairy creamers
  • Microwave popcorn
  • Ground beef
  • Cookies and Cakes
  • Biscuits and sweet rolls
  • Breakfast sandwiches
  • Frozen or creamy beverages
  • Meat sticks (i.e. Slim Jims)
  • Crackers (especially those with partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil in the ingredients)
  • Frozen dinners
  • Asian crunchy noodles
  • Canned chili
  • Packaged pudding

Saturated fats

Unlike trans fats, which are definitely in the no-eat zone, there is not as much of a consensus about just how bad saturated fats are for you. Some sources, such as The American Heart Association say that "Eating foods that contain saturated fats raises the level of cholesterol in your blood." However, recent studies have found that saturated fats have no effect on heart disease. These same studies found that monounsaturated fats, which have been long thought to be beneficial for the heart, also have no effect. Whichever the case, there are always going to be saturated fats in foods that contain better fats, so you cannot avoid these completely. Instead, it is likely safer to avoid or minimize your intake of foods that are high in saturated fats.

Common foods that are high in saturated fats are:

  • Desserts and baked goods, such as cakes, cookies, donuts, pastries, and croissants
  • Many cheeses and foods containing cheese, such as pizza
  • Sausages
  • Hot dogs
  • Bacon
  • Ribs
  • Ice cream and other dairy desserts
  • Fried potatoes (French fries) – if fried in a saturated fat or hydrogenated oil
  • Ground beef and cuts of meat with visible fat
  • Not only ground beef, but red meat in general
  • Fried chicken and other chicken dishes with the skin
  • Other types of poultry skin
  • Whole milk and full-fat dairy foods
  • Sour cream
  • Cream-based dressings and dips
  • Lard
  • Certain oils, such as palm oil
  • Butter
  • Mayonnaise

Good Fats

Fats that are good for you are monounsaturated fats, also referred to as unsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, and Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats.

Unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fats help reduce heart disease, lower cholesterol levels and have other health benefits when they replace saturated fats in the diet.

Common foods that contain unsaturated fats are:

  • Almonds
  • Avocado
  • Vegetable oil-based products
  • Sardines
  • Seeds
  • Salmon
  • Vegetable oils
  • Flax seeds
  • Olives
  • Nuts (almonds, peanuts, walnuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews)
  • Natural peanut butter (containing just peanuts and salt)

Polyunsaturated fats

Polyunsaturated fats can help lower your bad cholesterol. Reducing bad cholesterol reduces your risk for heart disease.

Common foods that contain polyunsaturated fats are:

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Herring
  • Trout
  • Sardines
  • Tuna
  • Butternuts
  • Walnuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Sesame Seeds
  • Chia Seeds
  • Unsalted Peanuts
  • Peanut Butter
  • Seaweed
  • Soybeans
  • Soybean oil
  • Corn oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Canola oil
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Olive oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Whole Grain Wheat

I have saved the best for last: omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fats. These are types of polyunsaturated fats. These are essential fatty acids that the body needs for brain function and cell growth. Our bodies do not make essential fatty acids, so you can only get them from food. They are essential to your life functions and can actually help you to rid yourself of fat. Also, omega-3s are good for your brain and mood. Omega-3s and omega-6s can compete with each other. Most of us get plenty of omega-6s in our diet, so you want to take care to get a sufficient about of omega-3s in your diet. One simple approach for this is to include a fatty fish in your diet twice a week. But be warned, don't overdo it on fish, because all seafood includes trace amounts of mercury in it, which is toxic. 

Omega-3 Polyunsaturated fats

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, also referred to as Omega-3 fatty acids, are good for your heart in several ways. They help reduce triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood. They help reduce the risk of an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). Omega-3s slow the build-up of plaque in your arteries. Also, they slightly lower your blood pressure.

Common foods that contain omega-3 polyunsaturated fats are:

  • Flax
  • Hemp
  • Herring, sardines
  • Mackerel: Spanish/Atlantic/Pacific
  • Salmon (wild has more omega-3s than farmed)
  • Halibut
  • Tuna
  • Swordfish
  • Greenshell/lipped mussels
  • Tilefish
  • Tuna (canned, light)
  • Pollock
  • Cod
  • Catfish
  • Flounder
  • Grouper
  • Mahi-mahi
  • Orange roughy
  • Red snapper
  • Anchovies
  • Shark
  • King mackerel
  • Hoki (blue grenadier)
  • Gemfish
  • Blue eye cod
  • Sydney rock oysters
  • Eggs
  • Lean red meat
  • Turkey
  • Parsley
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprout, kale, spinach)

Omega-6 Polyunsaturated fats

Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, also referred to as Omega-6 fatty acids may help control your blood sugar, reduce your risk of diabetes, and lower your blood pressure

Common foods that contain omega-6 polyunsaturated fats are:

  • Poultry (skinless)
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Cereals
  • Durum wheat
  • Whole-grain breads
  • Most vegetable oils
  • Evening primrose oil
  • Borage oil
  • Blackcurrant seed oil
  • Flax/linseed oil
  • Rapeseed or canola oil
  • Hemp oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Cottonseed oil
  • Sunflower seed oil
  • Corn oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Acai berry
  • Cashews
  • Pecans
  • Pine nuts
  • Walnuts
  • Spirulina

In summary

In order to live a healthier life, it is essential that you include fats in your diet. Knowing the bad fats from the good fats will help you to make the right choices for your health. The two areas where you should focus most of your attention are to 1) Avoid trans fats completely and 2) Be sure to include omega-3 fatty acids in your diet.