Despite its bad rap, fat is an essential nutrient necessary for your body to function properly—meaning you shouldn’t trim all of it from your diet. Research even shows it’s not the amount of fat consumed that leads to weight gain or disease; rather, it’s the type that matters. Use this chart to help you decipher the good from the bad.
Type: Monounsaturated fat
A “healthy” fat that can reduce bad (LDL) cholesterol and help lower risk of heart disease
Where it is: Olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds
Tip: Get 10 to 25 percent of calories from monounsaturated fats.
Type: Saturated fat
Animal-derived saturated fats can raise cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of heart disease. However, coconut oil, which may lower bad cholesterol, and palm oil, which can increase good cholesterol, are healthy in small amounts.
Where it is: Animal products (such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy products, lard, and butter) and coconut, palm, and other tropical oils
Tip: Limit saturated fat intake to less than 7 percent of total daily calories. Aim to consume the healthier oils rather than animal fat.
Type: Dietary cholesterol
Though not technically a fat, cholesterol acts in the same way as saturated and trans fats, increasing bad cholesterol. Unlike trans fat it doesn’t pack the double whammy of decreasing good cholesterol.
Where it is: Found naturally in the human body and in animal products (such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy products, lard, and butter)
Tip: Eat in moderation—a couple of egg yolks generally aren’t bad for someone in good health. For most people, dietary fats affect blood cholesterol far more than dietary cholesterol.
Type: Trans fat
Fat produced when liquid oil is solidified through a process called hydrogenation, which exposes it to hydrogen gas so it’s less likely to spoil. Not only raises bad cholesterol, but also lowers good cholesterol. Some naturally occurring trans fats, most commonly conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) found in meat, are healthy and can aid in weight loss and help protect against cancer.
Where it is: Animal products such as beef, pork, lamb, and the butterfat in butter and milk; fried foods; packaged foods
Tip: Even small amounts of trans fat in the diet can have harmful health effects. Unlike packaged foods, fast food isn’t required to say if it contains trans fat. Limit intake to less than 1 percent of total daily calories.