Yes, there are good fats and bad fats. So, what are the best foods to eat for healthy fats and what should you avoid? Most people can follow the guidelines below, while a very small portion of the population might have genetics that minimize even the healthy fats they should consume. So, let’s start with the basics.
First of all, fats fall under two categories: saturated and unsaturated.
Saturated fats are made up of single carbon bonds, which means each molecule of fat has as many carbons as possible. You can think of this as being stuffed full of carbons, thus it is saturated.
Saturated fats are generally labeled the unhealthy fats you hear everyone talking about and avoiding. However, studies have concluded that consuming saturated fats does not correlate to heart disease and some saturated fats may even lower risk factors. (1)(2)(3)(19)
Saturated fats include most of your sweet stuff—cakes, sugars, donuts, etc. These are obviously bad fats as they contribute to inflammation, at a minimum. But, saturated fats also include animal fat from red meat, full fat dairy, lard, butter, coconut oil, palm oil, and the fats found in human breast milk. As it was just mentioned, not all of these are bad for you.
Unsaturated fats have carbons attached to them with one or more double bonds (enough of the chemistry lesson!) which means they have fewer carbons, so…they are not full of carbons, and can be thought of as unsaturated.
Unsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature and are found in many plants and fish. These are typically considered the healthy fats and come in 2 forms of their own.
- Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) –healthy oils like olive and avocado oils, avocados, peanut butter and many nuts and seeds, along with their oils. Research has shown MUFAs are protective against both metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. (4)
- Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) – ground flaxseed, fatty fish, and walnuts, for examples. Omega-3s also fall under this category and include fatty fish like sardines, salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, and tuna. Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids are flaxseed, walnuts, and chia seeds, all derived from plants. Research indicates that PUFAs, “…provide protection from several diseases like osteoarthritis, cancer, and autoimmune disorders.” (5)
Confusing? Let’s Get More Specific About Healthy Fats Vs Unhealthy Fats!
Let’s make it really simple. Avoid “bad” fats such as hydrogenated oils (Crisco, for example), trans fats, and vegetable oils that easily go rancid (canola, for example). See list below. These are known to contribute to cancer, chronic fatigue, neurological issues, chronic inflammation, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and stroke.
Unhealthy Fats to Avoid:
- Artificial trans fats – fully or partially hydrogenated oils, may be the unhealthiest fats of all (8)(9)(10)
- Corn oil (20)
- Soybean oil (20)
- Peanut Oil (20)
- Cottonseed oil (20)
- Sunflower oil (20)
- Sesame oil (20)
- Rice bran oil (20)
Instead, consume the “good” fats listed below that support hormone production, cancer prevention, brain development, possible weight loss, and are anti-inflammatory or anti-microbial in nature.
Healthy Fats to Consume:
- Avocado Oil; Avocados (4)(11)
- Coconut Oil (6)(7)
- Olive Oil-Extra Virgin (6); Olives (11)
- Butter (12)
- Ghee (13)
- Fish Oil (14)
- Hemp Oil (15)
- Flax Oil (16)
- MCT Oil (17)
- Nuts/Seeds (18)