The Real Difference Between Healthy And Unhealthy Fats

There is a common misconception that fat is the problem when trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Too many diets remove fat altogether, thinking it's the only cause of obesity or heart disease. In reality, this couldn't be further from the truth; humans need fat to survive. While figuring out body fat percentage is not an exact science, an acceptable level for women is between 25-31% and men 18-25%, according to WebMD.

Fat has many benefits for our body, including giving us energy, absorbing vitamins and minerals, protecting our vital organs, and helping with inflammation, per Harvard Medical School. However, this doesn't mean that all fats are created equal. There are healthy and unhealthy options, and when you remove fats altogether, you risk not getting the good, as well as the bad. In general, there are 3 types of dietary fat: trans fat, saturated fat, and unsaturated fats. Knowing the differences between the 3 can help you make more informed food choices.

Trans and saturated fats increase bad cholesterol and clog arteries

There are 2 unhealthy fats that should be avoided as often as possible: trans and saturated fats. Specifically, watch out for artificial trans fats, which are found in many baked goods, cookies, fried foods, and even microwave popcorn, according to WebMD. Consuming trans fats increases your bad cholesterol and risk of heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association states that trans fats should account for less than 1% of a person's daily caloric intake.

Saturated fats are a little better, but not by much. The 2015-20 edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends keeping saturated fats to 10% of your daily caloric intake. Saturated fats are found in fatty meats, such as sausage or ribs, butter, cream cheese, and cakes, among other fatty foods. They can also cause similar health problems as trans fat, including increased cholesterol levels, and even an increased risk of colon and prostate cancer (via WebMD).

Unsaturated fats increase good cholesterol and reduce heart disease risk

Despite the stigma, there is a good category of fat: unsaturated. This includes polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, both of which have been shown to lower bad cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease when consumed moderately, according to WebMD. Both fats can be found in various foods that are commonplace, including peanut butter, various oils (olive, canola, sunflower, etc.), chicken, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds, just to name a few, per theĀ Mayo Clinic.

Thankfully, you don't have to drastically change your diet to get more good fats and less of the bad ones. For example, when cooking, use olive oil instead of butter, choose lean meats, and remove any excess fat. Try to eat fatty fish, such as salmon or herring, which contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids (via the Mayo Clinic). It's all about being smart and choosing options that focus on healthier fats rather than bad ones.