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What types of fats are good and bad?

Low fat? No fat? Try more fat! Dietary fats are essential for maintaining good overall health, especially as you age. Your body needs a regular intake of fat," says Vasanti Malik, a research scientist with the Department of Nutrition at Harvard.

Fat helps give your body energy, protects your organs, supports cell growth, keeps cholesterol and blood pressure under control, and helps your body absorb vital nutrients. When you focus too much on cutting out all fat, you can actually deprive your body of what it needs most.

Your body prefers to burn fat at rest. Consume a diet of 20-30% dietary fat intake, preferably from polyunsaturated and unsaturated fats.

The types of fats: Saturated. This is the so-called "bad" fat. It's primarily found in animal products like beef, pork, and high-fat dairy foods, like butter, margarine, cream, and cheese. High amounts of saturated fat also are found in many fast, processed, and baked foods like pizza, desserts, hamburgers, and cookies and pastries. These fats tend to more "solid" (think butter or lard) than healthier fats. Unsaturated. This is the healthy kind, and there are two types: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Monounsaturated fats are found in avocados and peanut butter; nuts like almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, and pecans; and seeds, such as pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds. It is also in plant oils, such as olive, peanut, safflower, sesame, and canola oils. Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Polyunsaturated fats are found in plant-based oils like soybean, corn, and safflower oils, and they're abundant in walnuts, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, and fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, and trout.


The main health issue with dietary fats is how they influence cholesterol levels. Consuming high amounts of saturated fat produces more LDL (bad) cholesterol, which can form plaque in the arteries and increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. In contrast, the unsaturated fats help to raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels. HDL picks up excess LDL in the blood and moves it to the liver, where it is broken down and discarded. You want to have a high HDL-to-LDL ratio, and unsaturated fats can help with this.

Another benefit of eating more "good" fat and less "bad" fat is that this can keep the brain healthy. Studies have found a strong association between people who follow the MIND diet and a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease.