Which fats are good fats?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

Not all dietary fats are bad, but it can be confusing to keep them all straight. Saturated fats and trans fats are the fats that raise your cholesterol. Animal products, such as fatty beef and whole fat dairy, tend to be high in saturated fat. Margarine and baked goods may also be high in saturated fat; they used to also contain trans fat (sometimes called partially hydrogenated oils), but manufacturers have removed them in many cases (always check nutrition labels). These fats are usually solid at room temperature. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are healthy fats that contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These are found in walnuts, almonds, olive oil and canola oil. These "good" fats can help reduce levels of LDL or "bad" cholesterol in your blood.

Manuel Villacorta
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Certain fats are more beneficial than others; not all fats were created equal. It is very important to focus on monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, including omega-3s and omega-6s. These fats are anti-inflammatory and prevent chronic diseases, and they have been proven to be beneficial for your body.

Eating Free: The Carb-Friendly Way to Lose Inches, Embrace Your Hunger, and Keep Weight Off for Good

More About this Book

Eating Free: The Carb-Friendly Way to Lose Inches, Embrace Your Hunger, and Keep Weight Off for Good

Eating Free reveals why the prevailing wisdom on weight loss--low-calorie, no carbs, high-intensity exercise--sharply clashes with the facts of human biology and human nature, setting dieters up for...
Ximena Jimenez
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

We forget that fat is a nutrient just like carbohydrates and protein. Even though fat has a bad reputation, it has important functions such as: protecting out body organs, producing hormones and a body reservoir for energy. As a registered dietitian, my recommendation is consuming 30 percent of your diet with healthy fats including olive, canola and peanut oil, avocado and nuts.

Saturated fats, so-called because they are “saturated” with hydrogen atoms, raise cholesterol levels and are found in animal products like meat, butter and cheese. Yet there are some exceptions: Coconut oil, for instance, although technically more saturated than butter, not only doesn’t raise LDL (bad cholesterol) levels, but may also actually help to increase HDL (good cholesterol).

Many medical experts believe that trans fats have even stronger adverse effects than saturated fats. Typically found in processed, fried and fast food, trans fats are primarily produced through hydrogenation—a process that turns liquid vegetable oils into solids, such as the shortening and margarine often used in baked goods and snack foods. Trans fats are thought to increase insulin resistance and thus raise the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. They also raise levels of LDL and lower HDL levels. In fact, their effects are so pernicious that replacing just 2 percent of calories from trans fats with calories from unsaturated fats (for instance, using canola or olive oil instead of hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil) is associated with an astonishing 53 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease, according to a report from Harvard’s ongoing Nurses’ Health Study.

What’s remained somewhat murky, until now, is an understanding of the precise mechanism by which trans fats send blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides soaring. Scientists at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute discovered that trans fat consumption triggers a biochemical switch in the liver, which “turns on” the genes that push cholesterol production into overdrive. (Unsaturated fats do not activate gene activity to the same degree, which is why they don’t raise cholesterol as saturated and trans fats do.)

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend the majority of dietary fat come from two sources: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, which are mostly derived from oils in plants. Common examples of monounsaturated fats are canola, olive and peanut oils. Sources of polyunsaturated fats include corn and soybean oils as well as many seeds, nuts and their oils.

Doreen Rodo
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

The healthiest oils are olive, sunflower, safflower, peanut and canola.

Janis Jibrin, MS, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated (both called unsaturated fatty acids) are fats you should be including in your diet because they are linked to disease prevention. Monounsaturated fats are healthiest, so aim to get the most of these, while polyunsaturated fats are next in line.

Monounsaturated fatty acids are considered healthy because they don't raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL—the "bad" cholesterol that contributes to clogged arteries and heart disease) and they do raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL—the "good" form that actually removes cholesterol from your body). Plus, they've been linked to greater insulin sensitivity. Nearly all the monounsaturated fat in our diet comes from oleic acid.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids, which fall into the healthy fat category because they do not raise LDL, include two types: Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fats, found in fish oil and in some plant foods, like walnuts and flaxseed, have been linked to prevention of type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Mark Hyman, MD
Family Practitioner

An example of a good fat is extra virgin olive oil, which has been shown to reduce heart attacks, reduce diabetes and help with weight loss. Other type of good fat is monounsaturated fats. Sources of this good fat are:

  • Avocados
  • Nuts like almonds, walnuts, pecans (not peanuts) and macadamia nuts
  • Seeds like pumpkin, sesame, chia and hemp

All of these items are full of great fats that should be a regular part of your diet. In fact, you should probably have five or six servings of these good fats every day.

There is another type of fat that is also possibly good, but there is a lot of controversy surrounding it. It is saturated fats. We've been taught this type is bad, but I believe it is actually a great part of a healthy diet.

Jodie Shield
Healthcare Specialist

Polyunsaturated fatty acids lower the production of total blood cholesterol as well as HDL (good) and LDL (bad) cholesterols. Main food sources are corn, safflower, soybean, sesame and sunflower oils.

Monounsaturated fatty acids lower the production of total blood cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol. However, they raise the production of HDL (good) cholesterol. Main food sources are canola, nut and olive oils.

Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) may help reduce blood clot- ting and prevent hardening of the arteries. Main food sources are various types of seafood -- especially fatty fish, such as albacore tuna, mackerel and salmon. Walnuts as well as soy, canola and flaxseed oil provide alpha-linoleic acid, which the body converts to omega-3s.

Healthy Eating, Healthy Weight for Kids and Teens

More About this Book

Healthy Eating, Healthy Weight for Kids and Teens

In a world of fast food, supersized sodas, and televised temptations, this guide shows how to buck the obesity trend currently in the national spotlight—and have fun doing it. Using a family...

These are the major types of fat found in food: saturated, trans, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated. Monounsaturated fats should make up most of the fat you consume since this type of fat may help lower your "bad" LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Good sources of monounsaturated fats include olive and canola oils, olives, avocados, nuts and nut products.

Polyunsaturated fat is also preferred over saturated fat, but with some considerations. It lowers LDLs but may also lower HDLs, your "good" cholesterol. Omega-3 fatty acids are a healthy type of polyunsaturated fat that have been linked to additional health benefits. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in some fatty fish, including salmon, tuna, herring, bluefish and mackerel.

Saturated fat is the type of fat to avoid the most since it can raise LDL blood cholesterol levels, which can increase the risk of heart disease. It is found in meats and milk products, which is why Weight Watchers recommends eating reasonable portions of lean meats and low-fat milk products.

Trans fatty acids (also called trans fat) are also a concern because they raise LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol. Trans fatty acids are formed during a manufacturing process called hydrogenation. This turns liquid oils into a more solid fat. The bulk of trans fat in the American diet comes from processed foods, such as crackers, baked goods, and margarine.

Weight Watchers can help you lose weight and keep it off.

Weight Watchers offers a comprehensive approach to weight loss that can help you reach your goals.

Laura Motosko, MSEd, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Good fats are mono and poly unsaturated fatty acids. These fats are liquid at room temperature and make up healthy cells. Mono and poly unsaturated fats decrease unhealthy LDL cholesterol when substituted for saturated fats found in high fat animal products and packaged snack foods and increase healthy HDL cholesterol. Some healthy fats are soybean oil, flaxseed oil, olive oil, canola oil, nuts, seeds, avocados, walnuts and fish oil.

Dr. Andrea Pennington, MD
Integrative Medicine Specialist

You've probably heard about good fats, those that are needed by the body to maintain healthy cells and brain function. Essential omega-3 and omega-9 fatty acids are crucial for the prevention of heart disease, arthritis, joint problems and immune system weakness. Good sources include salmon and other ocean fish, almonds, walnuts, avocados, ground flaxseeds, olive oil and fish oil supplements (with EPA/DHA). Heart-healthy, plant-derived fats do not have to be cut from your meal plan entirely, including monounsaturated oils such as olive or canola oils. Fat is not your ultimate enemy despite what we've been brainwashed to believe over the years. So don't eliminate fat entirely, because it helps to keep you satisfied and makes food taste better. Just use it sparingly and wisely and you won't feel as deprived because the food you eat tastes good!

Good fats include:

  • Monounsaturated fats. They come in two forms—omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids, in the form of fish (3s) and nut oils (3s and 6s). The omega-3's have been shown to improve arterial and brain function. They're found in olive oil, canola oil, fish oils, flaxseeds, avocados and nuts (especially walnuts). They've also been shown to reduce blood pressure and lipid levels when used in place of carbohydrates. Bottom line: make about 30 to 40 percent of your fats the monounsaturated variety.
  • Polyunsaturated fats. These are like monounsaturated except they contain more than one unsaturated bond. They are usually present in vegetable oils and sesame oils. The may improve arterial and brain function, and will help keep up your satiety levels. Bottom line: make 20 to 40 percent of your fats polyunsaturated.
YOU: On A Diet Revised Edition: The Owner's Manual for Waist Management

More About this Book

YOU: On A Diet Revised Edition: The Owner's Manual for Waist Management

For the first time in our history, scientists are uncovering astounding medical evidence about dieting -- and why so many of us struggle with our weight and the size of our waists. Now researchers are unraveling biological secrets about such things as why you crave chocolate or gorge at buffets or store so much fat.Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz, America's most trusted doctor team and authors of the bestselling YOU series, are now translating this cutting-edge information to help you shave inches off your waist. They're going to do it by giving you the best weapon against fat: knowledge. By understanding how your body's fat-storing and fat-burning systems work, you're going to learn how to crack the code on true and lifelong waist management.Roizen and Oz will invigorate you with equal parts information, motivation, and change-your-life action to show you how your brain, stomach, hormones, muscles, heart, genetics, and stress levels all interact biologically to determine if your body is the size of a baseball bat or of a baseball stadium. In YOU: On a Diet, Roizen and Oz will redefine what a healthy figure is, then take you through an under-theskin tour of the organs that influence your body's size and its health. You'll even be convinced that the key number to fixate on is not your weight, but your waist size, which best indicates the medical risks of storing too much fat.Because the world has almost as many diet plans as it has e-mail spammers, you'd think that just about all of us would know everything there is to know about dieting, about fat, and about the reasons why our bellies have grown so large. YOU: On a Diet is much more than a diet plan or a series of instructions and guidelines or a faddish berries-only eating plan. It's a complete manual for waist management. It will show you how to achieve and maintain an ideal and healthy body size by providing a lexicon according to which any weight-loss system can be explained. YOU: On a Diet will serve as the operating system that facilitates future evolution in our dieting software. After you learn about the biology of your body and the biology and psychology of fat, you'll be given the YOU Diet and YOU Workout. Both are easy to learn, follow, and maintain. Following a two-week rebooting program will help you lose up to two inches from your waist right from the start.With Roizen and Oz's signature accessibility, wit, and humor, YOU: On a Diet -- The Owner's Manual for Waist Management will revolutionize the way you think about yourself and the food you consume, so that you'll diet smart, not hard. Welcome to your body on a diet.

Fats are not the dieter's enemy! Say yes to these good fats:

Monounsaturated fat is good fat. It comes from oils that are liquid at room temperature, or better still, plant foods (avocados, nuts, peanut oil, canola oil, tahini, olives, fish). Research suggests that these fats may actually reduce your LDL (bad) cholesterol level without lowering the HDL (good) cholesterol, helping to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Omega-3 fats are found in fatty fish (anchovy, mackerel, salmon, sardines, shad and tuna), flaxseed and nuts. Studies show that omega-3 fats reduce the risk of blood clots and abnormal heart rhythms and improve blood cholesterol and triglycerides. Another type of omega-3 fatty acid is alpha-linolenic acid, which is found in flaxseeds, canola oil, soybean oil, walnuts and dark green leafy vegetables.

Polyunsaturated fat comes from oils that are liquid or soft at room temperature, including corn, safflower, sesame, soybean and sunflower oils. While polyunsaturated fat lowers LDL or "bad" cholesterol, it also lowers your HDL or "good" cholesterol, which you want to move up. (Caution note: there are some findings indicating that a diet high in polyunsaturated vegetable oils encourages the synthesis of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins, the group of hormones that intensify the inflammatory response. That’s why choosing more omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, sardines, walnuts, flax seeds or oil and soy foods), which increase the production of inhibitory prostaglandins, is important in your daily diet.)

Diet for a Pain-Free Life: A Revolutionary Plan to Lose Weight, Stop Pain, Sleep Better and Feel Great in 21 Days, ADA...sound nutritional, delicious..a godsend to pain sufferers.

More About this Book

Diet for a Pain-Free Life: A Revolutionary Plan to Lose Weight, Stop Pain, Sleep Better and Feel Great in 21 Days, ADA...sound nutritional, delicious..a godsend to pain sufferers.

Do you wake up each morning aching with joint or muscle pain? Have you been trying to lose stubborn belly fat for years? Do you wish you could be active without pain medications? Look no further: Diet for a Pain-Free Life is the simple-to-follow, doctor-designed solution to improve your health. Leading rheumatologist, Dr. Harris McIlwain shares his revolutionary prescriptions in this first proven lifestyle plan that will help you drop pounds and decrease pain at the same time. Losing just 10 pounds can reduce chronic pain by as much as 90 percent. Learn the secrets of how to: Eat Well and Lose Weight with the Pain-Free Diet—even if you've never been able to succeed on a diet before Exercise Your Pain Away—even if you dislike traditional exercise, or if your pain makes movement difficult Stop the Stress-Pain Connection—even if you're overworked and easily stressed Improve the Quality of Your Sleep—even if you suffer from insomnia or other sleep conditions Those who have followed Dr. McIlwain's program have been able to resume the activities they love and transform their lives in as few as 21 days—now you can too.

Continue Learning about Good Fats

What are good sources of dietary oils?
Multiple Sclerosis FoundationMultiple Sclerosis Foundation
Oils are not a food group, but they do provide essential nutrients and are therefore included in U.S...
More Answers
What kind of fats are healthy to eat?
Dr. Michael Roizen, MDDr. Michael Roizen, MD
A certain amount of fat is essential to your health. Get 25% of your calories from healthy fat -- ma...
More Answers
To Improve Insulin Sensitivity, Reach for Lean Protein
To Improve Insulin Sensitivity, Reach for Lean Protein
How Does the Body Get Energy from the Foods We Eat?
How Does the Body Get Energy from the Foods We Eat?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.