Healthy Fats Vs. Unhealthy Fats: Choose the Best Fats
Scientific research on dietary fats is complex, and arguably findings don’t necessarily translate well into clear-cut categorical models for standardizing nutritional advice. Hence, the dizzying array of conflicting advice on managing intake of healthy fats.
Essential dietary fats promote heart health. But, there is confusion about which fats are healthy to eat and which are not. There are broad, oversimplified assumptions about what the various fat types do and do not do in the human body. Many popular general information resources assess food-sourced fats’ effects as if all dietary fat types were identical.
However, there is a more extensive spectrum of fats types common in the diet than it may appear from reading the average published set of dietary recommendations about fats and their ranges of positive and negative interactions with other fats, other nutrients, and with the human body are more complex than typically represented in nutritional information published for popular guidance. Here, we will unpack the collective research to understand the nature of unhealthy and healthy fats and their effects on the body.
Categories of Dietary Fats
Dietary fat types are most accurately understood as “fatty acids.” There are many types of fatty acids. There are several primary categories of fats, and all fats types belong to one of those, based on its atomic composition. It is useful to know the chemical structures of fats and how their composition determines their effects on human health. A fat consists of a chain of carbon atoms that are bonded with hydrogen atoms. Its chain length is the fat’s number of carbon atoms. What distinguishes each fat type from all others is the unique shape and length of its carbon chain, the amount of carbon double-bonding along the chain, and the number of hydrogen atoms bonded to its carbon atoms:
- The chain lengths in fats can be:
- Short (with under six carbons)
- Medium length (with 6 to 10 carbons)
- Long (with 12 to 22 carbons)
- Very long (with 22 or more carbons)
- The shape of a fat chain includes type-defining bends at specific points along the chain.
- The number of hydrogen atoms bonded to a fat’s carbons determines its degree of saturation (up to the maximum of 12), which differentiates saturated from unsaturated healthy fats.
- The number of carbon double bonds distinguishes primary fat types’ different capacities for hydrogen bonding, and it further differentiates unsaturated fat’s subtypes from one another.
Saturated, unsaturated, and trans fats are primary categories of fat types. The specific subtypes within each category have distinct nutritional roles and physiological effects, determined by the even smaller differences between a subtype and the other members of its category, which we will discuss. These small differences in the features of a fat’s atomic structure cause stark differences in its healthy or unhealthy effects on the body.
This article will examine the primary categories of dietary fats and their subtypes and how they engage with each other, other nutrients, and the human body. We will further explore the functional and health effects of correctly and incorrectly managing the intake of the various types and combinations of the kinds of dietary fats.
How Fat Became So Misunderstood
All foods and dietary oils contain some mixture of fat types. There was a common acceptance of dietary fats’ role as an essential energy source in earlier times. Eating high-fat foods was recognized as an imminently practical way to get sufficient nutrients for energy production because unhealthy and healthy fats contain more calories per gram than any other nutrient type.
But, confusion about the health benefits or detriments of dietary fat, in general, began in the 1950s, when some early research on the subject indicated differences between saturated and unsaturated fats’ general health effects.
Researchers were already aware that not all types of dietary fats are harmful to human health and that unsaturated healthy fats can help reduce the risk of adverse impacts on heart health. However, a lack of clarity in media reporting of research results led to widespread public misunderstanding of scientific findings and the broad misinterpretation that all saturated fat is unhealthy and that all people should adhere to a low-fat dietary plan.
Scientists have long understood that although fats and cholesterol can contribute to poor heart and vascular health and brain blood flow, further research through the decades has clarified the error in evaluating all fats as having the same physical effects on people. It is now clear enough that even all saturated fats are not all equal in this respect.
Here we will reference today’s more well-informed research findings to clarify the inconsistencies in the literature on dietary fats by deconstructing the matter of fat as an extensive nutrient class versus as a singular nutrient type with a narrow spectrum of effects on human health.
In the sections below, we have categorized foods as sources of particular fat types, based on the kind of fat predominantly contained in each food or based on the comparatively significant amounts of the fat the food source has.
Unsaturated healthy fats are necessary for the proper functioning of the body. The atomic bonding structure of unsaturated fats is the property that defines them. Unlike saturated fats, the hydrocarbon chains of unsaturated healthy fats have fewer hydrogen atoms bonded to them. In other words, they are not saturated with hydrogen atoms in the way that saturated fats are. The term “unsaturated” is used to describe them, per this lack of the chain’s hydrogen saturation.
Unsaturated healthy fats further have double carbon bonds that determine how the body stores and utilizes them to generate energy. Saturated fats do not have this double-bond chemical property. Unsaturated fats are considered heart-healthy, although some deliver more significant health-promoting benefits than others. There are many types of unsaturated fats. Their individual length, number, and position of their double bonds of carbon to carbon help determine their physical effects on the human body.
Per the current general wisdom, saturated (unhealthy) fats remain solid at room temperature, whereas unsaturated (healthy) fats become liquid. However, there is ongoing research and debate on this question. There are uncertainties about whether or not saturated fats are always unhealthy or can be beneficial to health when consumed in certain combinations with some different fats and some other nutrients. In any case, unsaturated healthy fats are currently undisputed as beneficial to heart health.
The two primary subgroups of healthy fat are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated healthy fats. Monounsaturated fats have only one double bond, whereas polyunsaturated fats have at least two and as many as six double bonds, naturally producing different kinds and degrees of physical effects on the body.
There are multiple forms of fats within these two major subcategories of unsaturated fat. The number, length, and position of double bonds in an unsaturated fat subtype’s chemical composition predominately influence its effects on the body’s present functioning and future health.
Common sources of unsaturated fats:
- Fish (species that eat microscopic plants)
Monounsaturated Healthy Fats
Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) are a type of fat that has only one carbon double bond. This single carbon-to-carbon composition means that the monounsaturated fat has two fewer hydrogen atoms than a saturated fat has. It has a bend at its double bond, which makes monounsaturated fats stay in liquid form at room temperature.
A large study of 840,000 adults from 4 to 30 years indicated that subjects who consumed the most significant amounts of MUFA had an average of 12% lower risk of mortality due to a heart condition resulting from plaque buildup in the heart or on arterial walls, compared with those who ate the least amount of this fat type. Results were most pronounced for study participants who consumed more olive oil and oleic acid than subjects who ate more of other types of monounsaturated fats.
In the 1960s, the famed Seven Countries Study found that people in the Mediterranean region had relatively low heart health rates related to plaque buildup, even though their diets were high in fat. The primary fat in their diet was not the saturated animal fat common in countries with higher rates of poor heart health linked to plaque buildup in the heart or arteries. The finding was attributed to the type of fat the subjects mainly consumed, olive oil, which is rich in monounsaturated fat. The conclusion led to widespread interest in olive oil and Mediterranean dietary habits, which are still viewed in 2020 as healthful options for heart health and weight control.
There is currently no recommended daily dietary amount of monounsaturated fats. However, current research indicates potential health benefits from replacing saturated fats and trans fat with MUFA and polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) as frequently as possible.
Foods high in monounsaturated fat:
- Olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, corn oil, other vegetable oils
- High-oleic sunflower oils and safflower oils
- Almonds, pecans, cashews, peanuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, most other nuts
- Almond butter, peanut butter
Polyunsaturated Healthy Fats
The carbon chain of a polyunsaturated fat consists of two or more double bonds. The two primary types of polyunsaturated fats are omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. The numbers 3 and 6 refer to each type of fatty acid’s distance from the beginning of its carbon chain to its first double carbon-to-carbon bond.
Polyunsaturated healthy fats are essential for health and everyday physical functioning. Like other forms of fat, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are used by the body to develop cell membranes and nerve coverings. They enable muscle movement, blood clotting, and protective inflammation to occur.
Polyunsaturated fats are believed to be even healthier for humans than monounsaturated fats. One study found that replacing foods high in saturated fat with sources of PUFA significantly lowered subjects’ risk of developing conditions adverse to heart health due to plaque buildup.
LDL, the bad cholesterol, is associated with an increased risk to cardiovascular health. Evidence has indicated that various polyunsaturated healthy fats and monounsaturated fats can help reduce LDL and triglycerides in the blood when used in the diet instead of saturated fats or refined carbohydrates. These improvements can help reduce the risks of poor heart health and conditions that negatively impact healthy blood sugar levels.
Fatty acids in the polyunsaturated fats family, like oleic and lauric acids, have higher oxidation rates than long-chain saturated fats. That means they have a greater probability of being converted by the body for use as energy and that they are therefore not as likely to be stored away as body fat in adipose tissue. These promote more significant energy expenditure by the body.
As the two primary forms of PUFA, both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids contribute to the health benefits discussed above, among several others.
Sources of polyunsaturated healthy fats:
- Corn oil, olive oil, canola oil, seed oils, peanut oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil
- Seeds, tree nuts
- Other plant-based foods and oils
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
One of the two predominant types of polyunsaturated healthy fats is omega-3 fatty acids. The omega-3 fatty acids include three main types: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
The omega-3 fatty acids are credited with helping reduce blood pressure, increasing HDL (good cholesterol) levels, lowering triglycerides in the blood, promoting blood vessels’ flexibility, reducing excessive blood clotting, and lessening inflammatory joint conditions. Omega-3 PUFA may have properties that are, in effect, protective against excessive weight gain.
Omega-3 fatty acids from fish and fish oil have been linked to a reduced risk of sudden cardiovascular events. Omega-3 is believed to provide exceptional benefits for heart health, possibly even for preventing and treating heart and arterial conditions resulting from plaque buildup in the heart or arteries.
There have been studies ultimately attributing additional vast numbers of health improvements to the use of omega-3. However, the U.S. DHHS Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reviews have determined some evidence offered in the research reports to be significantly flawed.
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Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids:
- Fish high in fat, like sardines, herring, salmon, trout, cod, catfish, albacore tuna, mackerel
- Walnuts, flaxseed
- Soybean oil, cod liver oil, flaxseed oil, mustard oil, walnut oil, canola oil (less active form)
- Green leafy vegetables
- Chia seeds, other seeds, ground flaxseed
- Other plant sources
NOTE: There are concerns about frequently eating fish, as it can contain mercury, which can be toxic to humans when ingested in large quantities. Both the US FDA and EPA have determined that fish should be limited to a maximum of two to three servings weekly, depending on the species. Be aware of fish species containing high amounts of mercury.
Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Common types of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) have been associated with reduced risk of adverse heart health effects. However, at least one member of the PUFA subtype of polyunsaturated healthy fats, linoleic acid, has been associated with increased risk of excessive weight gain in a 2017 study by JJ DiNicolantonio and JH O’Keefe.
Some research indicates that people who replace foods high in saturated fats with food sources high in omega-6 fatty acids can realize a significant reduction of risk for developing conditions adverse to heart health.
Foods containing omega-6 fatty acids:
- Corn oil, soybean oil, sesame oil, corn oil, avocado oil, sunflower oil, and safflower oil
- Liquid or soft margarine (choose trans fat-free)
- Sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds
- Soy nut butter, soy nuts (roasted), tofu
- Peanut butter
- Almonds, walnuts, cashews
The category of unhealthy dietary fats features two main types. The first is saturated fat, notwithstanding its notable potential healthful exceptions, to be discussed below. The second primary type in the unhealthy fats category is trans fats, which are industrial-made fats. (The naturally occurring form of trans fat is not harmful to health.)
In addition to both saturated fats’ and trans fats’ unhealthy effects of increasing LDL cholesterol, and trans fats added effect of also reducing HDL when consumed in large amounts, both fat types may also cause blood vessel linings (the endothelium) to become less flexible, among other health detriments.
There is complex controversy about the overall merits of saturated fats as a class. For example, it is argued that a single type of saturated fat can affect the body in multiple ways, depending upon how it is connected with other kinds of fats or other nutrients in the diet. This and a notable range of different points are discussed below to analyze the bad, good, negligible, or nil health effects of saturated fats.
Saturated fats are defined by the number of hydrogen atoms surrounding each carbon atom that constitutes the fat in question. When the chain of carbon atoms in a sample of fat is holding as many hydrogen atoms as it is possible for it to hold, then it is said to be saturated with hydrogen atoms, hence the term “saturated.”
The primary sources of saturated fats are animal products. Saturated fats can increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) “good” cholesterol levels. They also raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL) “bad” cholesterol levels, which may increase the risk of developing adverse cardiovascular health conditions.
However, there is an ongoing debate regarding the potential health impacts of eating saturated fats. Some research suggests that the adverse effects of consuming saturated fats have been overstated. The following are the two central premises of the collective argument that saturated fats are not always or all unhealthy:
- Certain combinations of fats, saturated fats are not necessarily harmful and can even be healthful.
- Several other factors in a person’s diet change the effects of saturated fat.
Arguments Supporting the Case that Saturated Fats are Not All Unhealthy
On the side of the argument that saturated fats are unhealthy, research has consistently shown that a diet with significant amounts of saturated fats can raise total cholesterol levels, which can mean LDL cholesterol is increased. High LDL has been linked to plaque buildup formation, causing blockages in the heart, arteries, and other areas of the body. This has led most healthcare and nutrition experts to recommend an under 10% daily limit on calories from saturated fat.
On the other side of the debate, it is argued that there are many forms of saturated fat and that it, therefore, oversimplifies the issue to call them all unhealthy. Some research has even suggested that some saturated fats can even be healthy for the heart. Here are some of the research-based arguments that saturated fats can provide health benefits:
- Chain length determines how the body is engaged with saturated fats.
Human cells treat fats very differently, depending on their chain length. The length of its chain can determine the kind of effect a fat can have on health. For example, in a 16,000 European adults study, data showed that consuming very-long-chain fatty acids (VLCFAs) decreased subjects’ risk of blood sugar. Other research evidence indicates that short-chain fatty acids play an essential role in the digestive system’s health.
- Odd or even carbon number can determine a saturated fat’s health effects.
Having an odd or even number of carbons in its chain is an essential factor in the effects of a saturated fat type. The study mentioned above of 16,000 adults in Europe also found that saturated fatty acids, like stearate, which have an even number of carbons, were associated with conditions affecting blood sugar. Odd-length fats, such as heptadecanoate, have been associated with a lower risk of developing conditions that affect healthy blood sugar levels. The ways the body metabolizes saturated fats of even vs. odd carbon numbers vary. As a result, the fats’ effects on health vary, so it is not accurate to class these fats as either all good or all bad.
- Fats from junk food sources should not be calculated with healthy food sources of fat.
When calculating the health effects of saturated fat in the U.S. American diet, it should be recognized that 13.6% of total calories are from high-carbohydrate dessert foods, like cakes, pastries, cookies, and candies, in which saturated fats are sourced from high-carbohydrate. A similar percentage is from junk foods, like pizza, hamburgers, French fries, chips, etc. An additional percentage is from dairy desserts. Factoring these into calculations of saturated fat consumption, classing them with all other saturated fats without distinguishing them by source, generates a false picture of the effects of saturated fats vs. the effects of junk foods on the population.
- Consuming milk products does not cause the same effects as other high-fat foods.
Other research on the effects of saturated fat and meta-analyses of prior studies indicates that effects of milk on heart health are nil. Consuming milk and milk products, including cheese and yogurt, did not cause increased rates of adverse effects on heart health from a buildup of plaque in the heart or arteries and slightly reduced certain serious brain health risks with saturated fats in the blood.
- Unhealthy Diet
Excessive weight gain and other diet-related health problems may be inaccurately attributed to the consumption of saturated fat. Some studies have determined that adverse effects on heart health have been more closely linked to excessive calorie intake than saturated fat intake. The argument is that many foods with high saturated fat content are safe for health if eaten in moderation as part of an overall healthy diet.
- Eating habits must be taken as a whole
There’s an argument that people do not just consume one individual nutrient scrutinized for its health effects. Nutrition studies typically examine the impact of an individual nutrient based on its properties. However, that type of fat may contribute to different effects when sourced from other food types. One example is the adverse health effects found in animals from consuming saturated fat palmitate from lard. However, the same fat palmitate sourced from tallow did not result in the same effects.
- Specific foods can be more relevant than the fat they contain.
It’s been suggested that reordering the connections between fats in lard to closely resemble those in tallow can reverse the palmitate’s adverse effects. The differences are arguably nuanced, but the point is made that in evaluating the impact of saturated fats, the fat’s specific food source is more significant than the fat type it contains. For example, it is pointed out that avocado contains as much saturated fat as three bacon slices. Though bacon increases LDL cholesterol, eating avocados can help reduce LDL, per a report by ML Dreher and AJ Davenport, including their survey of a range of clinical studies. It is suggested that not all sources of saturated fats contribute to the same health effects.
- Some significant research does not link saturated fats to serious health effects.
The Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study both indicate that they did not find a link between the percentage of calories from fat intake overall and any significant health effects, including genetic cellular changes, adverse impacts to heart health due to plaque buildup in the heart or arteries, or a link to serious increases in body weight.
Based on the above talking points, researchers continue to make the case that although some saturated fats do appear to contribute to heart health issues due to plaque buildup in the heart or arteries, based on the collective best available evidence, they suggest that it is an overstatement that all saturated fats are unhealthy and that saturated fats sourced from vegetable, dairy, and some meats are healthy for humans.
The current recommendation is to maintain dietary habits that involve various healthy foods instead of minimizing or eliminating all saturated fats under all circumstances or even all fats from the diet. However, the foods listed below are understood as comparatively unhealthy and should be avoided or consumed in limited quantities.
Foods high in saturated fats:
- Fat from beef, pork, lamb, poultry (especially skin and dark chicken meat parts)
- Butter, cheese, cream, whole milk, 2% low-fat milk, cream cheese, ice cream, sour cream, ice cream, other whole fat dairy products
- Lard, vegetable shortening, stick margarine
- Coconut oil, cocoa butter, palm oil, palm kernel oil, other plant-based sources of saturated fats
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Small amounts of trans fat are naturally present in some food sources. Such natural trans fats found in meats and dairy products have not been associated with heart health problems and may benefit human health. However, artificial trans fats, engineered to mimic the appearance, solidity, density, texture, and flavor of saturated fats, possess no acknowledged health benefits. The Institute of Medicine has determined trans fats are unsafe for human consumption, even in small quantities. But, most trans fats that people eat are these industrial-made trans fats.
Partially hydrogenated oils can increase LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood, and they can reduce HDL cholesterol. Altogether, this combination of negative effects on total blood cholesterol levels can increase the risk of adverse effects on cardiovascular health. Medical science researchers’ consensus is that trans fat is the unhealthiest of all types of dietary fat.
Artificial trans fat is the product of an industrial hydrogenation process that converts healthy dietary oils into saturated fat to render a solid fat substance for use in processed food recipes and preserve them for increased shelf life. So, like saturated fat, trans fat is solid at room temperature.
Manufactured trans fats are made by integrating hydrogen into vegetable oil by heating the oil while catalyzing it to react with the hydrogen. The completed transformation renders a solid or semi-solid manufactured version of saturated fat. So, foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils are high in trans fat.
The artificial trans fat is not assimilated into the body effectively and is believed to trigger various ill effects. Consuming foods high in trans fats increases LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood and reduces HDL (good) cholesterol. Trans fat has been associated with inflammation, linked to serious impacts on heart health, blood sugar levels, and various chronic health conditions. It is believed that trans fat consumption, even in small amounts, can escalate health risks.
Over time, many epidemiological studies have collectively shown that hundreds of people with serious adverse heart health conditions have elevated levels of trans fat in the blood, compared to hundreds of others across the studies without such heart issues who did not have high levels of trans fat in their fat cells.
Foods High in Industrial-Made Trans Fatty Acids (trans fats):
- Vegetable shortening (solidified vegetable fat, like canned Crisco)
- Stick margarine, some soft margarine
- Baked items, like cookies, pies, and cakes
- Frosting, creamy pastry fillings
- Frozen pizza
- Microwave popcorn
- Bread rolls, biscuits containing shortening or margarine
- Fried chicken
- Nondairy coffee creamer
- French fries
- Fried foods
- Many fast food products
- Baked goods
- Commercially processed snack foods
What Does Cholesterol Have Do with Fats?
Cholesterol is not a fat. It is a wax-like substance found in animal food sources. Cholesterol is produced by the liver in humans and other animals. Human cells need cholesterol for the development of hormones and cell membranes. The cells produce sufficient amounts of cholesterol to meet these needs, so the human body does not need to obtain cholesterol from outside sources. The body regulates its cholesterol content, reducing the amount the liver produces based on amounts incoming from the diet.
Research has determined that diets too high in cholesterol led to the narrowing of arteries due to plaque buildup on arterial walls. This condition is the most common cause of serious adverse effects on heart health and blood flow in the brain.
However, for most people, cholesterol in foods appears to have only a small effect on cholesterol levels in the blood. Even early ground-breaking research by the renowned Dr. Ancel Keys indicated 50 years ago that focusing only on dietary cholesterol does not lead to a full understanding of the broader set of dietary factors involved in heart health. Additional research also did not find that dietary cholesterol was linked with adverse impacts on heart health or blood flow in the brain.
Nevertheless, high cholesterol levels in the bloodstream have been long associated with cardiovascular health issues due to the buildup of arterial plaque from excess cholesterol. Further, combined data from several large studies indicate that as high as 25% of people have an above-average sensitivity to dietary cholesterol, which causes both their LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol levels to increase.
Research has concluded that eating foods high in MUFA in place of saturated fats can reduce blood cholesterol, which reduces the risk of negative effects on heart health and conditions that affect blood sugar levels.
All research-based factors considered, the current wisdom is that the higher priority for most people should be on the types of fat they’re eating, more than on the amount of cholesterol they’re consuming.
Foods high in cholesterol:
- Red meats, poultry
- Liver, kidneys, brain, other organ meats
- Animal fats and oils, such as butter
- Fish, fish oil, shellfish, other seafood
- Egg yolks or whole eggs
- Shrimp, squid (calamari), other seafood
- Baked goods containing animal fat
- Sweet breads
- Dairy products
Dietary Fat Needs Based on Body Type
Another significant variable in a comprehensive analysis of dietary fats is human body types. That can seem like a counter-intuitive way to think about the values of dietary fats and the interactivity and effects we have herein assigned to the various types.
Even our more thorough dissection of the categories remains oversimplified, without a more nuanced approach to appreciating the physiological requirements of the various types of human body types. The categories of food oxidizing efficiency into which each human body can be grouped are described below.
These body type identifiers are indispensable for understanding their particular needs for the intake of greater or lesser types, quantities, frequencies, and ratios of macronutrients, including fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.
The three primary classes of efficiency as food oxidizers, into one or another of which every human belongs, are:
- Ectomorph — High metabolic rate, fast oxidizers. Some ectomorphs may have difficulty gaining weight or maintaining a high enough body fat percentage to be within the normal range. Their bodies may require a high protein diet plan with abundant fats to gain enough weight to reach the normal range.
- Mesomorph — Normal metabolic rate, normal oxidizers. Mesomorph bodies oxidize foods at average rates, assimilating and utilizing nutrients taken in at rates commensurate with their physical activity levels and adequate for maintaining an average percentage of body fat for their sex, age, and bone structure.
- Endomorph — Low metabolic rate, slow oxidizers. Some endomorphs may have difficulty losing weight or maintaining a low enough body fat percentage to be within the normal range. They may need a dietary plan high in complex carbohydrates and low in fat to lose weight and minimize the risk of obesity.
NOTE: Determining one’s metabolic type is not as intuitive as it may appear by simply assessing a body as underweight or overweight. There are additional factors. Evaluation of body type should be performed by a physician or other qualified healthcare professional.
Recommendations for Managing Dietary Fats
As emphasized above, fat is a necessary part of a healthy diet. So, instead of adopting a low-fat dietary plan, focus on the kinds of fats you eat. Choose unsaturated fats, and limit the amounts of saturated fats you consume, and manage sources of those fats in your diet to align with professional nutritional recommendations. Do not eat foods containing trans fats, as those do not deliver health benefits and are found to increased the risk of severe negative health effects, even when consumed in small quantities.
NOTE: When food manufacturers produce “reduced-fat” items, they often substitute fats with carbohydrates from sugar, refined grain products, or other starch sources. The body absorbs and converts such “simple carbohydrates” (vs. “complex carbs”) and starches very rapidly, which escalates blood sugar, potentially leading to excessive weight gain and other serious adverse health effects. Such outcomes may be inaccurately attributed to incorrect labeling of fat percentages.
Ratios of Healthy Fats to Total Calorie Consumption
According to the National Institute of Health, the following ranges of percentages of macronutrients are recommended for optimum nutritional balance between the intake of healthy fats, proteins, and carbohydrates for the supply of energy used by the body in a given period:
- Carbohydrate — 45%-65% of energy
- Protein — 10%-35% of energy
- Fat — 20%-35% of energy (Limit saturated fats.)
Additional Recommendations Intake of Healthy Fats
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans includes an abundance of helpful general information about managing fat consumption and balancing nutritional habits. Some of the key recommendations contained in the guidelines include:
- Avoid trans fat — Trans fat has been determined to have significant negative effects.
- Limit saturated fat — Keep saturated fat intake under 10% of daily calorie consumption.
- Choose unsaturated fat — Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated healthy fats are healthy options.
- Use liquid oils — Avoid using solid fats for cooking.
- Eat fatty fish — Have at least two servings weekly for sufficient amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Select lean meats — Trim fat from edges of meat cuts and poultry.
- Skin poultry before cooking — Remove skin, which has a high saturated fat content.
- Choose healthy snacks — Choose natural foods low in fat, like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
- Avoid processed foods — Processed snack foods are often high in bad fats and nutrient deficient.
- Check food nutrition labels — On foods labeled 0 grams of trans fat, check the ingredients list for partially hydrogenated oils.
- Control calorie intake — All fats are high in calories, but the body needs fats. So, choose healthy fats.
Dietary fats enable the energy generation required for good health. The body needs fats for cell and nerve membrane development. Fat-soluble vitamins and minerals need dietary fat to assimilate and be utilized by the body. Fats enable normal blood clotting, muscle movement, protective inflammation, and many other basic body processes.
Generally speaking, unsaturated dietary fats promote heart health and are essential for overall long-term well-being. Saturated fats can be harmful, in some cases, or good for health, depending on combinations of factors, as discussed. Some saturated fats are believed to increase the risk of poor cardiovascular health due to plaque buildup in the heart or arteries.
The current U.S. federal recommendations have advanced from 1990 to 2005, discarding the old guidance to maintain a low-fat diet. Current USDA/DHHS dietary guidelines suggest instead maintaining balanced eating habits, including the kinds of unsaturated fats determined to be from healthy food sources, limit saturated fats, and avoid unhealthy sources of saturated fat, such as in processed foods.
Industrial-made trans fats are detrimental to health, whereas the small amount of natural trans fat present in dairy products is not harmful. Always avoid partially hydrogenated oils, which are high in artificial trans fat.
Consuming more total calories than the total number burned by the body for energy in a given period results in stored body fat and measurable weight gain. Because fats are high in calories, overconsumption of fats can lead to excessive body weight, linked to a range of adverse health effects.
Scientific understanding of the health effects of the various types of dietary fats is still evolving. To make the healthiest choices of dietary fats, familiarize yourself with the kinds of fats and the critical role of each in the body’s functioning and health. Education like this is where programs like [promoted_product_llink] stand out.
Overall, the best approach is to understand your body’s personal nutritional needs and maintain a balanced diet that includes an appropriate combination of healthy fats and other essential nutrients. Try following a new and exciting weight-loss plan with Noom‘s free trial offer right now!
Summer Banks has researched over 5000 weight-loss programs, pills, shakes and diet plans. Previously, she managed 15 supplement brands, worked with professionals in the weight loss industry and completed coursework in nutrition at Stanford University.