Good Fats vs. Bad Fats: Everything You Need to Know

Good fats, bad fats and everything in between—we're breaking down everything you need to know about those mysterious fats!

If you can’t seem to keep up with which fats to eat and how much of them you should have, you’re not the only one who’s confused! The “skinny” on fat seems to change almost daily.

Fat has certainly gotten a bad name over the past few years. But the fact of the matter is, we all need some fat in our diet. Fat provides our bodies with energy and is one of three main food components (the others are protein and carbohydrates). It’s also essential to help our bodies absorb vitamins and minerals.

We know there are different types of fat and that some are better for you than others—so where do we start? When you hear the term, “good fats,” it’s usually referring to monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. “Bad fats” include trans fats; saturated fats were once considered bad but now fall in the OK category.

What Are Good Fats?

One trick to identifying good fats is that they’re usually liquid at room temperature (think olive oil or flaxseed oil). This list of the top healthy fats is a great place to start.

Monounsaturated fats include avocados, olive oil and sunflower oil. These plant-based fats are a main component of the Mediterranean diet (here’s a tasty week-long meal plan) and have been linked with better heart health.

Polyunsaturated fats include corn oil and safflower oil and are “essential fats.” That means that our bodies need them to function but cannot make them; so we need to consume polyunsaturated fats from our diets. These types of fats help with nerve health and muscle movement. To make sure you’re getting enough, add fatty fish, walnuts and canola oil to your diet.

Here are our top favorite salmon recipes to get you started!

What Are Bad Fats?

The fats to avoid at all costs are called trans fats. These fats are processed using hydrogenation; they turn healthy fats into solid form to make them last longer. Among the worst foods for your cholesterol levels, trans fats can be found in processed foods like margarine and are known to increase LDL (bad) cholesterol and decrease good (HDL) cholesterol. They cause inflammation in the body, which can lead to a host of chronic diseases over time. According to the Harvard Medical School, for every 2 percent of calories you eat from trans fats each day, your risk of heart disease goes up by 23 percent. To avoid these, read food labels carefully and look for terms like “trans fats” and “partially hydrogenated oils.”

Saturated Fats

Lastly, saturated fats: these are not as bad as trans fats but still need to be limited in our diets. Saturated fats have been linked to high cholesterol levels and are found mostly in red meat, dairy products and egg yolks. It’s best to eat those foods sparingly.

As with any other food, moderation is the key when it comes to consuming fats. Try to eat a variety of foods so you’ll get a good overall nutritional balance in your diet. And if you’re really craving that cookie, go ahead and indulge; just be sure to avoid the entire batch.

Next up: Follow these tricks to eating in moderation.

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Carrie Madormo, RN
Now a freelance health and food writer, Carrie worked as a nurse for over a decade. When she isn't hunched over her laptop with a baby in hand, you will find her cooking her grandmother’s recipes, lacing up her running shoes or sipping coffee in the bathroom to hide from her three young children.