Fats: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly


February is American Heart Month, and it’s time to talk about one of the biggest culprits when it comes to cardiovascular disease: fat. Not just the fat that you find in your steaks, either. The fat that’s hiding in all of the processed foods you eat. All fats are nine calories per gram, but they interact with the body differently. Some are better for you than others, and some are bad for you. Read on and find out why.

Types of Fat

Polyunsaturated Fats

Oils that contain polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, and begin to turn solid when in colder temperatures. A good example of this is olive oil, which contains a lot of polyunsaturated fats. These fats can reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol in the blood and also provide nutrients like vitamin E, omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.

Monounsaturated Fats

These types of oils are liquid at room temperature and turn solid when they get cold, just like polyunsaturated fats. They also help reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and have vitamin E. Olive and canola oil are just a few places to find this type of “good” fat.

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats increase the levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol in the blood. These fats are solid at room temperature and are often associated with high-calorie foods. Saturated fats occur naturally in animal sources like red meat and dairy.

Trans Fats

A slight amount of trans fats are naturally occurring, but most are man-made with chemicals. These man-made fats are also called trans fatty acids. Trans fats come from partially hydrogenated oils, which will be listed as an ingredient on the packaging of processed foods that include it. Trans fats are simple, cheap and last a very long time, which is why companies use them in their food. They are used in fast food restaurants to deep fat fry food because the fat can be used over and over again. These fats not only raise “bad” LDL cholesterol, but they lower “good” HDL cholesterol. The only way to know if there is trans fat in your processed foods is to look at the nutrition label and the ingredients list.

Foods with Good Fat

  • Polyunsaturated Fats
  • Soybean oil

  • Corn oil

  • Olive oil

  • Sunflower oil

  • Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, and trout

  • Tofu

Monounsaturated Fats

  • Olive oil

  • Canola oil

  • Peanut oil

  • Safflower oil

  • Sesame oil

  • Avocados

  • Peanut butter

Foods with Bad Fats

  • Saturated Fats

  • Fatty beef

  • Lamb

  • Pork

  • Poultry with skin

  • Cream

  • Butter

  • Cheese

  • Baked goods

  • Fried foods

  • Palm oil

  • Palm kernel oil

  • Coconut oil

Trans Fats

  • Deep fat fried foods

  • Doughnuts

  • Cookies

  • Crackers

  • Muffins

  • Pie

  • Cake

Check the Nutrition Facts

The American Heart Association recommends that no more than 5 to 6% of your calories come from saturated fats. The best way to make this judgment is by reading and comparing nutrition labels.

Steps to Reading a Nutrition Label

How to Read A Nutrition Label | UnityPoint Health - Fort Dodge1. Look at the serving size. The information on the label is based on one serving of the food.

2. After you have decided how many servings to eat, make sure you multiply all of the numbers by the number of servings for an actual look at how much you are eating.

3. Next, look at the Total Fat category. The ideal foods would have either monounsaturated fat or polyunsaturated fat, so it’s important to compare different types of foods using nutrition labels.

4. If your food contains saturated or trans fat, like most processed foods, you will want to next look at the % Daily Value column. This number is based out of 100 and indicates how much of the “recommended” amount of fat you will have consumed in one serving. In the image, the saturated fat is 0% of your Daily Value, but as you can see there are 4 grams of this fat. The government regulations have a certain amount of fat the companies must meet to be included in the % Daily Value. Be wary of the percentages. Trans fats are not listed with percentages as they are not recommended. 

5. Next to Total Fat, there is a 2% Daily Value, meaning that a person on a 2,000 calorie diet (the average number of calories) has eaten 2% of the fat they are allowed in one day. As you can see, the % Daily Value for Total Fat doesn’t depend on the types of fat. It’s up to you to choose foods with no trans fat and low or no saturated fats.

Risks of High-Fat Diets

There are several fad diets making the rounds that support a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet. This diet is not healthy and can increase your risk of several diseases and conditions. A regular diet that is high in fat can also increase several risk factors for severe conditions. These diets or other unhealthy choices, increase the amount of “bad” LDL cholesterol in the blood. This cholesterol can build up in your arteries and create blood clots that can cause heart attacks and strokes. A diet high in fat is also high in calories, which increases your chances of obesity. Being obese increases your chances of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and several cancers.

If you are concerned that you or a loved one haven’t been taking proper care of their heart, trust the doctors at UnityPoint Health - Fort Dodge Heart and Vascular Care to get you back to healthy!

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