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Fat Facts - The Good and the Bad

Updated on August 26, 2020

We all have heard it over and over again; lose weight by losing fat. Besides the increased risk of stroke, heart disease, and diabetes what is the big deal about fat? Why all the focus on this substance in the body? Fat is usually associated with the bad only. However, like many things fat has good and bad characteristics.

Saturated verses Unsaturated

Basically, there are two types of fats saturated(the Bad) and unsaturated(the good); at room temperature saturated fats are solid, while unsaturated fats are liquid. What this means on a molecular level is as follows. Saturated fats are like flat pieces of paper stacked on a table top. The paper will remain in contact or attract each other. Unsaturated fat molecules are curved and repel each other. Therefore, when flowing in blood stream unsaturated fats don't stick together greatly reducing the chance of cholesterol build up.

Unsaturated fats are divided into the following categories:

Monounsaturated Fats - reduce cholesterol and LDL(the bad cholesterol) while increasing HDL(the good cholesterol). Moreover, this type of fat is believed to help with weight loss. You can find this type of fat in seeds, nuts, and whole grains. Monounsaturated fats are also found in canola, olive, and sunflower oils.
Polyunsaturated Fats - also help reduce cholesterol and LDL(the bad cholesterol). This type fat is found in seafood, soy, fish and sunflower oils. Omega 3 fatty acids are classified as polyunsaturated fats

Saturated fats are divided into the following categories:

Saturated Fats - raise total cholesterol levels and LDL's. This fat is found in meat, dairy products, and eggs. Saturated fats are also found in coconut and palm oil. Trans Fats - are are a man made creation; they are created by exposing unsaturated oil to high pressure hydrogen. Therefore, unsaturated oil is turned into saturated fat. This process is called hydrogenation. Although hydrogenated fats are cheaper and have a longer shelf over naturally saturated fats, they are perhaps the most unhealthy to consume. Hydrogenated fats and partially hydrogenated fats are often found in many processed foods such as cookies, peanut butter and crackers. In the food industry(restaurants and fast food places), hydrogenated fats are often used in place of regular oils for frying. Because they can be used for longer periods of time without becoming rancid, restaurants have found another way to save money. Please don't be fooled hydrogenated oils are saturated fats and will behave like it in the human body. Some snack makers of cookies, crackers or cakes made with hydrogenated fats may claim their products to be cholesterol-free; before you believe what is written in bold words, take a look at the small print on the nutrition content label. Often, the product in question will be filled with heart-clogging saturated fat.

Until a few years ago, and in reference to hydrogenated fats, there was a problem with nutrition labels. Hydrogenated fats have a certain kind of fat that is not included in categories of saturated or unsaturated. They are called trans fatty acids, or trans fats for short. A lot of studies have shown that trans fats increase cholesterol levels, but as late as 1999 laws regulating food labels in the United States didn't require food makers to include trans fats related information on nutrition labels. For example, a processed snack food may claim it is low in saturated fats may still have a lot of trans fats, but you wouldn't know it looking at the nutrition label. However, in January 2006 the Food and Drug administration began requiring food makers to list trans fats on their nutrition labels.

Moving along, What are some of the benefits of unsaturated fats? What are the problems associated with unhealthy fats or too much fat intake?

Healthy Fat Benefits

  • Energy - Having nine calories per gram verses carbohydrates and proteins having only four calories per gram fat is one of the most efficient sources of food energy
  • Healthy Cells - Fat makes up part of the membrane that surrounds cells. Without a healthy membrane, the cell couldn't function
  • Healthy Brain Structure - In addition to the cell membrane, fat makes up the insulation that surrounds nerve fibers helping them to carry messages faster
  • Fat Soluble Vitamins - Fat helps in the absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K
  • Fat and Hormones - One of the most important structural components of hormones is fat. These hormones are used in regulation of many body functions.
  • Fat and Healthy Skin - Good Fats are used to build healthy skin and the layer under the skin called the subcutaneous fat; this sub layer helps to regulate the body's temperature.
  • Protection of Organs - Many of the human body's vital organs are cushioned and held in place by fat. This includes the kidneys, heart and intestines.

Saturated Fat Problems

  • High Cholesterol - The human body uses cholesterol to produce various hormones and bile acids to digest fats. It requires a small quantity of cholesterol in blood to make this possible. If there is too much cholesterol in the blood, it will lead to excess deposits in arteries and heart. When this happens it can cause symptoms of heart disease.
  • Weight Gain - A balanced menu of healthy foods helps us to be healthy and strong. If we overeat the excess food is stored as fat in the body. If this continues on a regular basis, you may become obese.

Understanding Food Labels

As simple as it may sound one effective way of controlling intake of saturated fats is to familiarize your self with food labels. Although it is not foolproof understanding labels will at least give you an idea what the nutritional food content is.

Healthy Foods To Eat or Drink

The benefits of raw foods are often overlooked. Often when foods are cooked, many of the healthy nutrients are destroyed. If you like raw snacks, this is the best way to get the most health benefits. A short list of healthy raw foods is as follows:

  • Raw Avocados - An excellent for lowering bad cholesterol and raising good cholesterol
  • Raw Seeds - Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds
  • Raw Nuts - Pecans, Peanuts, Walnuts and Brazil nuts
  • Olives - Olives is where olive oil comes from

Suggestions for eating less fats in your daily food intake:

  • Drink skim milk instead of whole milk
  • Try to eat more vegetables and fish and less animal fats
  • Try to use olive or canola oil in our cooking instead of vegetable shortening
  • Trim the the fat off the animal products and remove the skin

Drinks to reduce fat (fresh squeeze or read label carefully if purchasing from store)

  • Apple cider, Grapefruit juice, and Green Tea

A few Foods good to eat on daily basis:

  • Oatmeal, Beans , Eggs, Apples, Fruits, Fish and vegetables

Dietary Supplements to reduce cholesterol :

  • Garlic - Although some studies show minor improvement taking a garlic supplement can help lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • Olive leaf extract - has shown some promise in reducing triglycerides too
  • Fish Oil - Capsules with omega-3 fatty acids are a proven way to reduce bad cholesterol

Foods to avoid

Most processed foods contain some trans fats. below is a list of food known to have high amounts of trans fats:

  • cookies, crackers,snack cakes, french fries, pot pies, fried burgers, muffins
  • corn chips, potato chips, candy bars,  fast food shakes, fried chicken
  • donuts, some peanut butters, margarine, biscuits


With healthy eating habits, it is possible to control cholesterol with diet and exercise. Eating excessive amounts of good fats can be as bad as eating lots of bad fats. If you the reader are unsure of your cholesterol levels a visit to your personal physician may be needed. All fats good or bad have some saturated fat; the difference between good and bad is the amount of bad fats the different groups have. Try to eat in moderation. The human body makes all the saturated fat it needs; additional consumption is not needed. So ask yourself do you want the smooth blood flow of unsaturated fats or the heart clogging characteristics of saturated fats?


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