The Scoop on Fats: The Good and The Bad

The Scoop on Fats: The Good and The Bad

fatsEverywhere you look these days, labels and commercials shout the absence of Trans fats in our favorite foods and the presence of “good” fats instead. Our bodies need some fat for optimal functioning. But we need the right kinds of fat, and we need to practice moderation. Some fats are actually good for you, and others should be avoided at all costs. How do you know which is which?

There are two kinds of fats, commonly considered “bad” and “good” fats: saturated and unsaturated fats. While both unsaturated fat and saturated fat are in a variety of foods, studies have found that these fats are not created equally. Unsaturated fats can be beneficial to your heart, whereas saturated fats could be harmful to your cholesterol level and your heart. Saturated fats are found in animal products and processed foods, such as meats, dairy products, chips, and pastries. The chemical structure of a saturated fat is fully loaded with hydrogen atoms and does not contain double bonds between carbon atoms. Saturated fats are not heart healthy, since they are most known for raising your LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol).

On the other hand, unsaturated fats are found in foods such as nuts, avocados, and olives. They are liquid at room temperature and differ from saturated fats in that their chemical structure contains double bonds. Additionally, studies have shown that unsaturated fats are also heart-healthy fats by having the ability to lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol).

Essential fatty acids are poly-unsaturated fatty acids that your body cannot produce and, therefore, have to be provided through diet. It is divided into two groups – omega 3 and omega 6. Omega 6 is found in corn oil, sunflower oil and soybean oil, while omega 3 is present in salmon, trout and tuna. For a healthy diet, concentrate on the combination of unsaturated fats like olive oil and essential fatty acids.

It is recommended that no more than 30 percent of your daily calories should come from fat. Based on the average daily total intake of 2,000 calories, this means we should eat less than 65 grams of fat each day.

Keeping in mind that fat is an important part of a healthy diet and not all fats are bad, the fat content of a given meal should be evaluated just as closely as its calories. When tracking the fat content of your meals, make sure that most of your fat intake is in the form of unsaturated fats, that less than 20 grams are coming from saturated fats, and that hardly any come from Trans-fat.

Think of the foods that frequently make up your daily meals. Have you ever considered their fat content?

Here are some commonly eaten foods:

Average fast-food hamburger: 36 grams

10 French fries: 8 grams

One ounce of potato chips: 10 grams

One hot dog: 14 grams

Three slices of cooked bacon: 10 grams

One cup whole milk: 7 grams

One teaspoon of butter or margarine: 4 grams

It’s important to pay attention to the amounts and serving sizes of each of them. When was the last time you ate only one ounce of potato chips, just 10 fries, or a single slice of pizza? So think about the fat content before indulging.

Perhaps the biggest hidden sources of fats to watch out for are prepackaged snack foods and meals. They often contain dangerous Trans fats, also listed as partially hydrogenated oil or vegetable shortening in the ingredients, because they give these foods a longer shelf life. Trans fats are made by a chemical process called partial hydrogenation where liquid vegetable oil is packed with hydrogen atoms and converted into a solid fat. Trans fats are largely artificial and ideal fats for the food industry to work with because of its high melting point, its creamy, smooth texture and its reusability in deep-fat frying.

The bottom line? Be an educated shopper by knowing what to look for and the potential pitfalls. Try to do the majority of your shopping on the perimeter of the grocery store, limiting your trips down the inside aisles — where most of the Trans fat culprits reside. On the perimeter, you can focus on fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, lean cuts of meat and fish, and whole grains fresh from the bakery.

Photo credit


American Dietetic Association. (2010)

U.S National Institutes of Health. (2010)


Vancouver Health Coach