Banner Health Services  



Kristine Haggarty is a dietitian at Banner Heart Hospital in Mesa, Ariz.

Question: What is the difference between the types of fat and which the best one’s to consume?

Answer: It is important to have an adequate amount of dietary fat for digestion and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Fat also provides insulation and protection for your organs, nerves and bones. However, a diet high in fat has been linked to cardiovascular disease and obesity. The American Heart Association recommends, limiting total fat intake to less than 25-35 percent of total calories. But not all types of fat are created equal.

“Good fats,” otherwise known as unsaturated fats, are derived mostly from plant-based sources and are usually liquid at room temperature. Monounsaturated fat is found in:

  • Plant oils such as canola, olive, and peanut oil
  • Avocados
  • Nuts and seeds.

Polyunsaturated fats are found in fatty fish (i.e. salmon, trout, herring, albacore tuna), safflower and soybean oil. The daily recommendation for poly- and mono-unsaturated fats is 10 percent or less of each. Unsaturated fats are “good fats” because, in combination with a low fat diet, they have been shown to help reduce total blood cholesterol.

The “bad fats”, otherwise known as saturated fats are derived mostly from animal based sources and are usually solid at room temperature. Examples include dairy products, butter, lard, meats and eggs. The daily recommendation for saturated fat is less than 7 percent of total calories. Saturated fats have been linked to increasing LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), which can lead to plaque formation in the arteries. Trans fats an artificially induced type of saturated fat, has been linked to increasing LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and decreasing HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol), which can lead to cardiovascular disease.  Trans fats are found in baked goods (cakes, cookies, etc), hard margarine, some fried foods and crackers. Label ingredients which are likely to signal the presence of trans fat include hydrogenate or partially hydrogenated oil. Try to limit the amount of Trans fat in your diet as much as possible.

A healthy diet includes making wise decisions about the type of fat you choose to eat. Choosing lean meats such as a “loin or round cut”, limiting red meat intake to once per week, and aiming to consume fish twice per week are a good place to start. Other suggestions include:

  • Choosing white chicken meat vs dark
  • Limiting egg yolks to no more than four per week
  • Use egg white/egg substitute
  • Choose low-fat dairy products
  • Limit your butter intake.
  • Opting for a soft margarine as these typically have less trans fat and saturated fat. Better yet, choose spreads made with plant sterols or vegetable oil, which have been shown to help improve your HDL/LDL cholesterol. 

Limiting your fat intake and choosing unsaturated fats over saturated or trans fats, can decrease your risk of heart disease and lead you on the path to a healthier diet and lifestyle.

Reviewed August 2010


Page Last Modified: 08/19/2010
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