What are Good Fats and Bad Fats?

The human body needs some fat to store energy, protect our organs, insulate us, and help the body absorb vitamins.  However, not all fat is “good” fat and the American Heart Association recommends that the majority of Fats we eat be Unsaturated Fats (Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated).  You should also limit the amount of Saturated Fat in your diet and avoid Trans Fats whenever possible. 

Dietary Fat is also known as Fatty Acids and can be found in foods from both plants and animals.  Foods and oils contain a mixture of fatty acids, but the predominate fat is what will determine whether it is a “Good Fat” or a “Bad Fat”.

The lists below will help you to identify sources of certain fats so you know what to look for when shopping, eating out, or cooking your next meal.  

Tip:  Most food labels only list Saturated and Trans Fats, or the “Bad Fats”.  Subtract those numbers from the Total Fat number to determine amount of “Good Fats”, if any.

The Good Fats

Monounsaturated Fat

Monounsaturated fats can be beneficial to your heart by reducing the bad cholesterol (LDL) in your blood.  Oils rich in monounsaturated fat contribute vitamin E, which is a vital antioxidant.  Monounsaturated Fats are liquid at room temperature, but start to harden when chilled.

Foods that contain Monounsaturated Fat:

  • Olive Oil
  • Canola Oil (Omega-3)
  • Safflower Oil
  • Sesame Oil
  • Soybean Oil
  • Avocados
  • Peanut Butter and Almond Butter
  • Nuts (Almonds, Cashews, Pecans)

Polyunsaturated Fat

Polyunsaturated fats contain all the same benefits of Monounsaturated fats plus they contain Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids.  You can only get these essential fatty acids in food.  Omega-3’s have also been shown to lower blood pressure and guard against irregular heart rates.

Foods that contain Polyunsaturated Fats:

  • Fatty Fish (Salmon, Trout, Herring, Sardines)
  • Flaxseed Oil (High Omega-3)
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Tofu (Omega-6)
  • Soybeans (Omega-6)
  • Walnuts (Omega-6)
  • Flaxseed and Chia Seeds
  • Sunflower Seeds

The Bad Fats

Saturated Fat

Most saturated fat comes from animals, such as meat and dairy products.  It is also a solid at room temperature.  Eating too much Saturated Fat increases the bad cholesterol (LDL) which puts you at risk for heart disease.

Foods that contain Saturated Fat:

  • Fatty cuts of Beef, Pork, or Lamb
  • Dark Meat and Skin of Poultry
  • Butter or Buttery Spreads
  • Ghee
  • Whole Milk 
  • Whole Yogurt
  • Sour Cream
  • Cheese
  • Ice Cream
  • Tropical Oils (Coconut Oil, Palm Oil, Cocoa Butter)
  • Lard

Trans Fat

Trans Fats are the worst fats you can eat and are hidden in many food products.  If the food label lists “partially hydrogenated oil/fat” or “shortening” you know it contains Trans Fat and you should avoid if at all possible.  Food labeling laws allow for small amounts per serving which may not show on the food label.  Be sure to always read the ingredients to determine if the food product contains Trans Fat.

Foods that contain Trans Fats:

  • Fried Foods (deep fried Fast-Food, Doughnuts)
  • Packaged Baked Goods (Cookies, Cakes, Muffins, Pies)
  • Packaged Snacks (Crackers, Microwave Popcorn)
  • Refrigerated Dough (Biscuits, Rolls)
  • Frozen Pizza
  • Non Dairy Coffee Creamer
  • Stick Margarine

Heart Healthy Cooking Oils

Learn more about cooking oils with our Heart Healthy recommendations

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