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Dietary Fats: The Good and the Bad

Updated: Jul 19, 2022

By Lizzie Lonon, Winthrop University Graduate Student

Why is fat important?

Fat is a macronutrient providing prolonged energy and proper cell function in the body. It plays a role in hormone production and the nutrient absorption of fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E, and K. The fat in our body protects our organs and aids in regulating body temperature.

Types of fat

Although essential in the diet, some fats are better than others. The two main types of fat include saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. They differ in distinct chemical makeup and roles in the body.

Saturated and Trans fat are solid at room temperature. Examples include butter, margarine, fried foods, fatty meat, coconut oil, and cheese. A diet high in saturated and trans fats can increase LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, putting a person at risk for health problems such as clogged arteries, high cholesterol, stroke, or heart attack. Trans fats are known to increase LDL (bad) levels and decrease HDL (good) cholesterol levels.

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats tend to be liquid at room temperature. Examples include canola/peanut/olive oils, fish, avocados, nuts and seeds. A diet higher in unsaturated fats has shown to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and reduce risks of health problems related to fat intake. The two essential fats include Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids. An "essential" nutrient is one that the body does not synthesize on its own, meaning it must come from a dietary source. Omega 3 and 6 aid in hormone regulation and immune and nervous system function.

How to make better choices when it comes to fat

  1. Reduce saturated and trans fat intake

  • Substitute butter for olive / corn / canola / sunflower oil

  • Choose leaner meats

  • Instead of frying, bake or roast

  • Replace whole milk and cheese with the low fat versions

  • Use evaporated skim milk instead of heavy cream

  • Remove skin from meat and cut off visible fat

  • Pour fat from the pan before serving

  • Serve your high fat foods with whole grains and veggies

2. Incorporate foods that contain Omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids

  • Salmon and sardines, oysters

  • Canola/ soybean/ sunflower/pumpkin seed oil

  • Walnuts

  • Flaxseed

  • Eggs


Dietary fats explained: Medlineplus medical encyclopedia. MedlinePlus. Accessed July 9, 2022.

Simple, heart-smart substitutions: Medlineplus Medical Encyclopedia. MedlinePlus. Accessed July 9, 2022.

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