All Fats Are Not Equal

Discover the difference between healthy versus unhealthy fats.

For years, fat had a serious image problem. Now we know better. And the news is good! Today’s thinking says the type of fat you eat is far more important than the amount. But that doesn’t exactly mean it’s OK to bring on the burgers and fries. There are different kinds of fat and some of them are better for you than others.

Here’s what you need to know to make  smart choices about the fats you eat:

Trans Fat: Skip it

If saturated fat spells trouble, trans fat is even worse. This unhealthful fat boosts damaging LDL cholesterol while simultaneously lowering beneficial HDL cholesterol. Consuming more trans fat  may be linked to your chances of developing type 2 diabetes. 

Where you’ll find it: Some brands of stick margarine, coffee creamer, cake, cookies, frosting, microwave popcorn, and crackers. It also hides out in fast food, especially fried chicken, French fries, and donuts.

Even if you’re trying to limit trans fat, it can be tricky to spot. How so? A labeling loophole that allows food manufacturers to say a food contains zero grams of trans fat even if it harbors up to half a gram per serving. That’s where the ingredient list comes in handy. Scour it for trans fat’s scientific names: hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils.

How much is too much? Trans fat is so troublesome that, as of June 2018, food manufacturers won’t even be allowed to use it anymore. In the meantime, try to avoid it as much as possible.

Saturated Fat: Proceed with caution

Saturated fat is hard at room temperature. So it’s no surprise it can plug up your arteries if you eat too much. What’s more, too much saturated fat ramps up production of LDL cholesterol — the harmful kind that has been linked to heart disease and stroke.  While you don’t have to steer clear of saturated fat entirely, it is a good idea to limit it.

Where you’ll find it: Beef, pork, cheese, full-fat and 2% milk, butter, cream, and coconut and palm oils.

How much is too much? More than 10 percent of your day’s calories (6 percent if you have heart disease), which would be about 13 g for someone on a 1,200-calorie diet.

Unsaturated Fat: Go for it!

Unsaturated fats are your friends. Swapping saturated fats for these advantageous fats (especially polyunsaturated fats) protects against heart disease and may even help you live longer.

Where you’ll find it: There are two types unsaturated fats, mono and polyunsaturated fats. While many foods contain a combination of the two, monos are mainly found in avocados, peanut butter, and canola, olive, and peanut oils. Polys are a bit more complicated.  On the most basic level you’ll find them in tofu, sunflower seeds, and soybean, corn, and sunflower oils. However, the healthiest polyunsaturates are the omega-3s, super fats that keep your heart and brain in top shape. Get them from fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, trout, and herring as well as canola oil, walnuts, and flaxseed.

How much is too much? Provided you keep within your SmartPoints budget, don’t worry about eating too many polys (specifically omega-3 fats eicosapentaenoic acid, EPA, and docosapentaenoic acid, DHA, found in fatty fish). However, here is something to keep in mind: There are several types of omega-3 fats. Although omega-3s in general are healthy and “good,” there are some of these specific fatty acids that have been well studied and they are the real links with health benefits.

For example, EPA and DHA are the beneficial fats, while ALA (found in flax, walnuts, etc.) are less beneficial.

All polys are still “better” than saturated fats.

Cholesterol: Don’t sweat it

Cholesterol isn’t all bad. In fact, we need it for important jobs like manufacturing vitamin D and hormones and keeping cells and tissues healthy. Your liver makes the bulk of it, so for most people the amount you eat has little bearing on your heart health.

Where you’ll find it: Cholesterol only occurs in animal foods, especially steak, burgers, sausages, chicken, eggs, cheese, and whole milk.

How much is too much? While it seems that most healthy people’s bodies will adjust the amount of cholesterol they make when they eat too much, this is highly individualized so talk to your doctor. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, there’s no need to worry about it.