Good Fats vs. Bad Fats

Jun 03, 2011

Submitted by Linda Schloemp, General Manager at O2 Falls/540


Good Fats and Bad Fats

One of the reasons we love fat so much is that it carries flavor. But if you are trying to lose weight, it is important to remember that a gram of fat contains more than twice as many calories as a gram of protein or carbohydrate. Also, as explained in The Thermic Effect of Food, dietary fat and body fat are so similar that dietary fat is more easily stored as body fat than protein or carbohydrate.

Foods like cheese stand out as among the most fat-laden, with a great number of calories coming from fat. But as important as it is to select the healthiest foods, it is also important to consider how they are prepared.

Fried foods, especially deep-fried, contain a great amount of fat. While chicken and fish are usually leaner than beef or pork, they can contain more fat when they are fried. Look at how the number of grams of fat in a chicken breast changes depending on how it is cooked:

Chicken Breast Cooking Method


Meat Only, Roasted


Meat Only, Fried


Meat and Skin, Batter Fried


Be careful with salad dressings, mayonnaise, and other condiments that are high in fat content. They greatly increase the calorie count and can negate the healthy aspects of a meal. Replace mayonnaise-based condiments with fat-free alternatives like fat-free yogurt, mustard, ketchup and barbecue sauce.

Study after study has shown that people living in countries that eat mostly low fat, plant-based diets have lower rates of obesity, heart problems, cancer and many other maladies. But when these people are introduced to the fat-laden Western diet -- either because it is brought into their country or because they move to a country influenced by it -- their rates of these maladies sharply increase.

But don't try to eliminate fat altogether, as dietary fat is necessary to maintain a healthy body. It is a vital component for building body tissue and cells, and it aids in the absorption of some vitamins and other nutrients. Many people eat too much of the bad fats, but also eat too little of the good fats required for optimal health.

Types of Fat

The following paragraphs introduce some of the different types of fat we eat. A high-fat diet typically increases the risk of heart disease and cancer. But a low-fat diet could be even worse if it contained the wrong kind of fats.

  • Saturated Fats:

In saturated fats, the carbon atoms contain all the hydrogen atoms they can hold, thus the term "saturated." Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature. Saturated fats are found mostly in animal products such as milk, butter, ice cream, cheese, lard and the fat found on meat. In plants, saturated fats are found in tropical oils such as coconut and palm.Saturated fats play the single greatest role in raising blood cholesterol and putting us at greater risk for heart disease.

  • Unsaturated Fats:

Monosaturated Fats: Monounsaturated fats come from vegetables. They remain liquid at room temperature, but become less fluid when refrigerated. Monosaturated fats are found in canola, olive and peanut oils, avocados, olives and many nuts and seeds.

Polysaturated Fats: Polyunsaturated fats also come from vegetables, but they remain liquid both at room temperature and when refrigerated. Polyunsaturated fats are found in corn, sunflower, safflower and soybean oils, fish, mayonnaise and many nuts and seeds.

Unsaturated fats are better for you than saturated fats.

  • Hydrogenated or Trans Fats:

Hydrogenated fats are created from unsaturated vegetable fats through a process that adds hydrogen. The process creates trans fats, which are more like saturated fats. They last longer and remain solid at room temperature, making them more marketable.

Trans fats are found in margarine, many commercially baked goods including cookies, crackers, doughnuts and pastries, and many deep-fried foods and chips. All the bad stuff we love to eat.

Trans fats raise blood cholesterol, though not as much as saturated fats. They do, however, raise LDL or "bad" cholesterol while lowering HDL or "good" cholesterol. Watch for trans fats on package labels, and where they are not listed watch for ingredients containing partially hydrogenated and hydrogenated oils.

If you use margarine, note that softer margarines have been hydrogenated less and therefore contain fewer trans fats. Tub margarine is usually better for you than stick margarine because it is less hydrogenated. There are also butter and margarine substitutes available that contain neither cholesterol nor trans fats.

A food containing no animal products and labeled "cholesterol free" would look like a healthy food to anyone. But look closely. If it contains hydrogenated oils (trans fats), it could be unhealthy for everyone.

  • Essential Fatty Acids:

Our bodies require these fats for good health, but can't produce them, so they must be eaten. The primary essential fatty acids are linoleic acid, an omega-6 fat, and alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fat.

Most people eat more omega-6 fats than needed and fewer omega-3 fats than are required for optimal health. Omega-6 fats are found in polyunsaturated fats like corn and safflower oils. Omega-3 fats are found in flaxseed, walnuts, green soybeans, tofu and certain fish including albacore tuna, salmon, lake trout, sardines, herring and mackerel.

The actual content of a particular fat is not as clearly defined as these descriptions would lead you to believe. For example, beef fat is listed as saturated, but its actual content is just over half saturated. Olive oil is listed as monounsaturated, but its actual content is just over three-quarters monounsaturated.

Olive oil is so often referred to as being a healthier fat that you might think of it as being healthy. But it is still pure fat, and 14% of it is saturated.

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