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Dietary Fat: The Good vs. the Bad

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Dietary fat has definitely received a bad rap. But we actually need fat in our diets so that our bodies function correctly and have enough energy throughout the day. Fat is essential for digesting, transporting, and absorbing vitamins and chemicals throughout the body. However, some fats are better than others.

Unsaturated Fats

Unsaturated fats are an essential part of a healthy diet. Two unsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6, are vital to include in our diets because our bodies can’t make these fats. Omega-3 fatty acids can help decrease

Variety of Vegetables

Vegetables Are A Good Source Of Unsaturated Fat

inflammation—very beneficial for people with rheumatoid arthritis or who are recovering from injuries. Adequate amounts of this fatty acid also promote brain and nervous system health. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in plant-based oils, such as flaxseed, canola, and soybean oils; vegetables such as winter squash; and marine sources, including salmon and seaweed.

Omega-6 fatty acids are also important. They support normal growth and reproduction health and can protect against high cholesterol and heart disease. Sources of omega-6 fatty acids include seeds, nuts, soy products, and plant-based oils. Most people already consume an adequate amount of omega-6 fatty acids but may need to work on eating more foods with omega-3 fatty acids.

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are both types of unsaturated fats, and both provide health benefits. Monounsaturated fats are found in plant and animal sources and are generally liquid at room temperature. Some good sources include olive oil, canola oil, and peanut oil. Monounsaturated fats can improve cholesterol levels.

Polyunsaturated fats are found mainly in plant foods, such as safflower, soybean, corn, and sunflower oils. If you’re unsure whether an oil has polyunsaturated fats in it, check the nutrition label—the first ingredient should be a liquid vegetable oil or water. Polyunsaturated fats may decrease low-density lipoproteins levels (i.e., “bad” cholesterol), but consuming too much of this type of fat may also reduce high-density lipoproteins levels (i.e., “good” cholesterol).

Saturated Fats

In contrast to essential unsaturated fats, saturated fats should be avoided whenever possible. Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature, such as butterfat (found in dairy products) and animal fat, but are also found in coconut oil and peanut oil. Research shows that high saturated fat intake is correlated with high cholesterol and increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Trans-fatty Acids

Trans-fatty acids are another type of fat that has negative health effects. Research indicates that consuming trans-fatty acids is associated with a higher risk of coronary heart disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases; therefore, avoid foods with this type of fat. Major sources of trans-fatty acids are hydrogenated margarine, shortening, commercial frying fats, high-fat baked goods, and some butter and animal fats. Steer clear of foods with trans-fatty acids.

Final Considerations

All types of fat have 9 calories per gram, so you won’t necessarily be saving calories by eating unsaturated fats rather than saturated fats or trans-fatty acids—but you will be saving your health. Even with the healthy fats, it’s important to keep your consumption moderate; fat should compose only 25%–35% of your total calorie intake.

Dietary Fats Chart

Source: POS PILOT PLANT CORPORATION

References

Harvard School of Public Health. “Ask the Experts: Omega-3 Fatty Acids.” Accessed February 26, 2013, http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/omega-3.
Livestrong. “Natural Sources of Omega 6 Fatty Acids.” Accessed February 26, 2013, http://www.livestrong.com/article/85893-natural-sources-omega-fatty-acids.
Mahan, L. Kathleen, and Sylvia Escott-Stump. Krause’s Food and Nutrition Therapy. 12th ed. (St. Louis, MO: Elsevier, 2008).
University of Maryland Medical Center. “Omega-3 Fatty Acids.” Accessed February 26, 2013, http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/omega-6-000317.htm.
US News and World Report. “8 Easy Ways to Load Up on Healthy Omega-3 Fatty Acids.” Accessed February 26, 2013, http://health.usnews.com/health-news/diet-fitness/diet/articles/2011/04/14/8-easy-ways-to-load-up-on-healthy-omega-3-fats.

Author:
Jessica Shepherd
Dietetic Intern

I am a student at UVU and am studying to become a registered dietician. I enjoy cooking and trying new recipes. I also enjoy outdoor activities, such as hiking. I love working at Blendtec because of the opportunity to test so many recipes.

2 thoughts on “Dietary Fat: The Good vs. the Bad

  1. Emily

    Hasn’t the thought about coconut oil changed recently, at least in terms of virgin oil (as opposed to the partially hydrogenated stuff, which is bad)?

    Reply
    1. Kelli Farley

      Hi Emily,
      Our Registered Dietitian said that virgin coconut oil is better than regular coconut oil because it does not have the partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats added to the oil. Virgin coconut oil is solid at room temperature and has high amounts of saturated fat. Saturated fats increase risk for cardiovascular disease including artery stiffness and blood pressure.

      Reply

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