Good Fat vs. Bad Fat

Feb 22, 2021 | Optimal Health

Four Types of Fat

Not all fat is created equal. Some fats fuel chronic disease while other fats prevent disease — and sometimes help reverse it!

There are four main types of dietary fat: saturated, trans, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. Saturated and trans fats are solid at room temperature (think butter, lard, and coconut oil). Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature (think olive oil).

  • Saturated fat should be limited to 10% of daily calories (about 22 g for a 2,000 calorie eating pattern). This is because saturated fat raises “bad” LDL cholesterol and high intake is associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in America (2019 data). Saturated fat is found in a variety of popular American foods. Get the list here.
  • Trans fats should be avoided as they raise LDL cholesterol and lower the “good” HDL — a double whammy for cardiovascular health. Learn where trans fats are hiding.
  • Unsaturated fats (i.e. monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) should be prioritized by regularly consuming foods rich in oils like seafood, nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives — and their oils.

Essential Fatty Acids

Polyunsaturated fats are essential. The human body cannot make them so we have to get them from our diet. There are two main types: omega-6 and omega-3.

  • Omega-6 tends to increase inflammation in the body.
  • Omega-3 tends to decrease inflammation in the body. 

We need both. The ideal ratio is highly debated. However, it is generally agreed that Americans consume too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3.

Food Sources of Omega-3

The best food source of omega-3 is cold water, fatty fish like salmon, herring, mackerel, and trout. These fish naturally contain large amounts of EPA and DHA, which the human body can easily use. Check out this healthy fish guide for more information about gaining health benefits from fish while limiting exposure to contaminants (like mercury and PCBs) in fish.

Omega-3s can be obtained from plants, such as walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, and purselane. However, the type of omega-3 found in plants, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), needs to be converted into EPA and DHA for optimal anti-inflammatory benefits. Unfortunately, only a small percentage is converted — about 8% in men and about 21% in women — and the conversation is most efficient in healthy individuals.

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