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The Bright Side

Types of Fats: Understanding the Difference

Types of Fats: Understanding the Difference

It seems everywhere we turn, “fat” is a dirty word. It may be an f-word, but it shouldn't be stigmatized as something abhorrent or to be feared.

Remember the low-fat diets popular in the 1990s? People have been wrongly afraid of fat for some time. Visceral fat is to be avoided because it’s dangerous to our health and can increase the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and high cholesterol.

But fat as a macronutrient doesn’t deserve a bad rap. When we avoid fats at all costs, we essentially throw the baby out with the bathwater. You need a combination of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates to survive, thrive, and even reverse certain types of conditions. 

For example, in some patients, heart and brain health has been shown to improve with the right kind of fats. “Good fats” also help account for maintaining a healthy weight and longevity. But not all fat is created equal. Let’s break it down.

While everyone’s metabolism is different, eating fat doesn’t automatically make you overweight. Dietary guidelines for the U.S. make the important distinction between healthy fats and their not-so-kind relatives, saturated and trans fats. Per the guidelines, healthy adults should consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats. Here’s a look at the different kinds of fats so can you make informed decisions at home and when eating out.

  • Trans fats: Avoid these bad fats at all costs. Many processed foods have them, and some fast food companies are working to remove certain menu items because of concerns about public health.
  • Saturated fats: A more middle-of-the-road kind of fat, these are found in meat, dairy, and coconut oil. In moderation, they aren’t a major threat as long as lots of hormones and chemicals aren’t added.
  • Monounsaturated fats: These are "friendly fats” that mostly come from plants. Think olive, canola, and peanut oils as well as avocados. They have been associated with lower rates of cholesterol.
  • Polyunsaturated fats: These are the superheroes of fats. This category is divided into two subcategories: omega-3 and omega-6. Aim for getting a good balance of both kinds from your diet.
  • Omega-3 fats: Omega-3s pack a mean punch nutritionally. These are found in seafood, eggs, and walnuts. The reason omega-3 fats get an A+? They can help tame inflammation and make the body more flexible.
  • Omega-6 fats: While these are “good fats” technically, many of us get too much because they are frequently found in processed foods. Many oils like corn and sunflower fall into this group. Eat them sparingly. 

The bottom line: Fat in and of itself is not public enemy number one. What matters is that you pay attention to the kinds of fats you’re eating and maintain an overall balanced diet.

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