Dietary Fats

hand taking cell phone picture of healthy fats in salad

Fat gets a bad rap even though it is a nutrient we need in our diets. The big concern is making sure we don’t have too much fat. Learn all about dietary fats and how getting too much or too little affects our health.

Does my body need fats?

Yes, it does. Dietary fats are essential to give your body energy and to support cell function. They also help protect your organs and help keep your body warm. Fats help your body absorb some nutrients and produce important hormones, too.

How many different kinds of fats are there?

There are four major dietary fats in food:

  1. Saturated fats
  2. Trans fats
  3. Monounsaturated fats
  4. Polyunsaturated fats

The four types have different chemical structures and physical properties. The “bad fats,” saturated  and trans fats, tend to be more solid at room temperature (like butter). Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats tend to be more liquid (like canola oil).

Fats can also have different effects on the cholesterol levels in your body. A diet high saturated fats and trans fats raise bad cholesterol (LDL) levels in your blood. Eating an overall healthy dietary pattern that is higher in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can lower bad cholesterol levels.

Do all fats have the same number of calories?

There are nine calories in every gram of fat, regardless of what type of fat it is. Fats are more energy-dense than carbohydrates and proteins, which provide four calories per gram.

Consuming high levels of calories – regardless of the source – can lead to weight gain or being overweight. Consuming high levels of saturated or trans fats can also lead to heart disease and stroke. Health experts generally recommend replacing saturated fats and trans fats with monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats – while still maintaining a nutritionally-adequate diet.

Are all foods labeled "trans fat-free" healthy foods?

Not necessarily. Foods labeled “0 trans fat” or cooked with “trans fat-free” oils may contain a lot of saturated fats, which raise your bad cholesterol levels. “Trans fat-free” foods may also be unhealthy in terms of their general nutrient content. For example, even if they lack trans fats, baked goods may be high in added sugars and low in nutrients. Read the Nutrition Facts , if available, or the ingredient list to understand the big picture.

Can fats be part of a healthy diet?

Eating foods with fat is definitely part of a healthy diet . To choose healthier fats, use liquid non-tropical plant oils; low-fat or nonfat instead of full-fat dairy; and, if you eat meat, lean meat or poultry. And remember to balance the amount of calories you eat from all foods with the amount of calories you use through physical activity.

Does eating healthier mean giving up my favorite foods?

A healthy diet can include the foods you love. Balance your portions and choices to emphasize a healthy overall way of eating.


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