Not all fats are created equal. There are two primary types of fat: the saturated and the unsaturated. Saturated fats, often called the “bad fats”, come primarily from high fat meats, whole milk dairy products, palm oil, and coconut oil. Common foods that contain these include cheese, butter, ice cream, ground beef, bacon, sausage, fried chicken, and certain salad dressings. In contrast, unsaturated fats, nicknamed the “good fats”, are usually found in foods such as fatty fish, extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, almonds, peanuts, and avocados.
The USDA recommends roughly 50-75 g total fat daily, with less than 15-20 g of saturated fats. Most Americans get more than enough of this amount, due to the high consumption of fast food, processed snacks, and packaged meals, as they contain large amounts of fat which are primarily saturated.
So what is the difference between the two? What makes the saturated fats bad and the unsaturated fats good? To put it simply, saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature, have a high melting point, and raise the “bad” cholesterol, called LDL. On the other hand, the better unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, have a low melting point, provide fewer calories, and raise the “good” cholesterol, HDL, while lowering LDL. Too much cholesterol in the blood can lead to plaque buildup in the vessels. This could drastically increase blood pressure and risk for heart disease or stroke. Plenty of good unsaturated fats in the diet help to flush out the bad cholesterol by sending it to the liver, as opposed to delivering it to the body’s tissues, which is what the LDL does.
Now understand that a small amount of saturated fat in your diet will not make a profound impact on your health. Just be sure to limit yourself and balance it out with plenty of foods rich in fiber and nutrients, like fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. While it’s true that fat should be limited, a moderate amount of fat in the diet is actually quite good for you. Fatty acids help to keep the CNS healthy, maintain strong cell walls, provide insulation for the muscles and bones, allow the blood sugar to stay steady, and serve as a bountiful energy source during fasting or extensive workouts. Just be sure that you are getting enough of the right kinds of fats!