While the word “fat” maybe trigging to some, not all fats are bad. There are some good fats, some bad fats, and some fats that you should only eat in small quantities or not at all. To learn all about the different types of fats, read on.
Fats themselves get a bad rap. All over the media, you will hear testimonies that tell you to avoid fats, be encouraged to eat low-fat foods, or in the most extreme cases, be advised to avoid fat at all costs. However, not all fats are bad. Fats are a type of nutrient that is incredibly important to your body's functioning.
While it is true that eating an unnecessary amount of fats can have negative impacts on your health, your body gets plenty of energy from the good fats that you can ingest. Additionally, fats help keep your skin and hair healthy, allows you to absorb better vitamins A, D, E, and K, and will even line your cells to insulate them.
Your body cannot make fats on its own. Instead, you get fats from the food you eat and the essential fatty acids from a healthy diet. These essential fatty acids, called linoleic and linolenic acids, are critical to your body's brain development, inflammation control, and blood clotting.
The reason that so many people or apprehensive about fats is because they do contain more calories than other types of food. While carbohydrates and protein each have about four calories per gram, one gram of fat has about 9 calories. So yes, this is twice the number of calories as other types of foods, but fats do serve an essential purpose.
Additionally, all fats are made up of saturated or unsaturated fatty acids. Further, the categorization of fat will depend on the fat and fatty acid they contain. In the sections below, we will explore the difference between saturated, unsaturated, and trans fats.
What Are the Three Types of Fats?
All fats are not created equal. While each of these will be a source of energy, the type of fat you ingest will have a different health benefit or health risk. That said, it's important to understand the three types of fats before you make a food choice. When you read a nutrition label, you will typically see three types of fats. These fats include:
- Unsaturated fats
- Saturated fats
- Trans fats
What Are Good Fats and Bad Fats?
In the nutritional world, there are good fats, and there are bad fats. Typically, unsaturated fats are categorized as good fats and healthy fats to eat. Still, saturated and trans fats can be considered bad fats because they do not have nutritional value. And in some cases, these fats can have detrimental impacts on your health.
This is because while unsaturated fats will support your health, too many saturated or trans fats may raise your cholesterol and increase your risk of certain diseases. However, this doesn't mean that you need to avoid these bad fats altogether; it simply means that you should limit your intake and try to eat as many healthy fats as possible.
Good fats: Unsaturated Fat
Before we get into the bad and the ugly, we'll start with the good fats. Unsaturated fats are generally liquid at room temperature and are mostly made from plant oils. These are good fats because they will lower your body's LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and bad cholesterol levels. Meanwhile, they will also raise the levels of your healthy HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol.
There are a couple of different types of unsaturated fats that make up our healthy fats list. These types of fats will be explored in the sections below.
Monounsaturated fats are healthy fats found in avocados, nuts, and vegetable oils, such as canola oil, olive oil, and peanut oils. This type of fat will help lower your bad cholesterol and increase your good cholesterol levels. This is generally the type of fat you should replace your saturated fats with if you want to experience the health benefits.
Polyunsaturated fats are mainly found in vegetable oils, such as sunflower oil, sesame oil, soybean oil, and corn oils. Additionally, you can find polyunsaturated fats in seafood. When you eat polyunsaturated fats instead of saturated fats, you may lower your levels of LDL cholesterol.
In addition to polyunsaturated fats, you can further differentiate between omega-3 fatty acids and Omega 6 fatty acids.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Typically, people will associate omega-3 fatty acids with fish oils. These fatty acids can have significant health benefits such as:
- Lower blood pressure.
- Reduced levels of triglycerides.
- Slow plaque development in arteries.
- Reduced likelihood of heart attack and stroke.
- Reduced chance of sudden cardiac death in those with heart disease.
A healthy diet should include eight ounces (or about 250 mg) of omega-3 fatty acids each week. You can find omega-3 fatty acids in fish and shellfish, as well as soybean oil, canola oil, walnuts, and flaxseed.
Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Omega six fatty acids are typically found in liquid vegetable oils such as soybean oil, corn oil, and safflower oil. Like other forms of unsaturated fat, they are a healthier alternative to saturated fats and trans fats that will be explored below.
Bad Fats: Saturated Fats
Saturated fats can be identified because they are typically solid at room temperature, commonly regarded as solid fats. This is because the basic carbon structure that makes up saturated fatty acids is, in fact, “saturated” with hydrogen atoms.
Because of how saturated fatty acids are structured, it can impact your body's LDL cholesterol levels, which can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. That said, the American Heart Association recommends that you eat no more than 13 grams of saturated fat each day.
Some common sources of saturated fats include:
- Meat and animal products.
- Dairy products.
- Processed foods such as snack foods and French fries.
- Some vegetable oils, such as coconut oil, palm oil, and cocoa butter.
Ugly Fats: Trans Fats
Unlike saturated and unsaturated fats, trans fats are manufactured. For this reason, they are not essential fats that your body needs and can have damaging effects on your health if you eat them in excess.
Trans fats can increase your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. This is because not only do trans fats raise the levels of LDL cholesterol in your body, but they lower your levels of HDL (the good cholesterol) in your body. Because of this, the World Health Organization estimates that trans fats are linked to nearly 500,000 cardiovascular deaths every single year.
So, does this make trans fats ugly? Absolutely.
The World Health Organization and many governments have called to eliminate trans fats from the global food supply. While many companies have taken it upon themselves to switch to healthier unsaturated and saturated fats, trans fats still exist in some foods. For example, if you see any ingredient in food packaging that says it contains “partially hydrogenated oils,” it means that that food product does contain trans fats.
Even though consuming any amount of trans fats will increase the likelihood of health risks, the amount of trans fats you eat should never exceed 5 to 6 percent of your total caloric intake. That said, you should try your best to avoid eating trans fats. Instead, focus on increasing the amount of unsaturated fats in your diet.