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Get excited about nutrition, and learn as you go with these information-packed resources on a wide variety of nutrition-centric topics! Our bistroMD experts review the importance of the macronutrients protein, fat, and carbohydrates, as well as how to make them work most efficiently for you.

Replacing Unhealthy Fats with Healthy Fats in Your Diet

Fat is not the villain of health, but rather a vital dietary component to maintain cell structure, assist in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and serve other valuable processes. Rather that avoiding fat, learn to identify bad fats and good fats to incorporate healthier types.


Fat is one of the three macronutrients, with carbohydrate and protein being the other two. And unlike popular belief, fat is not the villain of health, but a vital dietary component to maintain cell structure, offer insulation, assist in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and serve other valuable physiological processes.

Especially since the fearing the fat has become a thing of the past, it is important to not necessarily adopt a "low-fat diet," but rather identify bad fats and good fats and incorporate more of the healthier types.

What Are "Bad" Fats?

Trans Fats

Also known as trans fatty acids and partially hydrogenated oils, trans fats are naturally found in meats and dairy products and manufactured and used in food production to uphold shelf life and flavor. However, the ban of trans fats sparked not related to its natural availability, but the manmade version primarily found in margarines, pastries, desserts, and convenience and fried foods.

Regrettably, trans fats are a well-known risk factor for heart disease, specifically by raising LDL or "bad" cholesterol and lowering HDL or "good" cholesterol. Furthermore, individuals who consume a diet high in trans fats are 21 percent more likely to develop heart disease and have a 34 percent risk of overall mortality compared to those with a lower trans fat intake!

With such proven worry tied to trans fat, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken great strides to remove it from the food supply. And until its complete elimination, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends lowering intake to less than 1 percent of total daily calories, equivalent to 20 calories and 2 grams based on a 2,000 calorie diet, or better yet, avoiding it altogether.

Saturated Fats

Whereas saturated fats do not bare a significant warning like trans fats, too much can increase LDL cholesterol and compromise heart health.

Saturated fats are naturally found in red meat, whole-fat dairy products (milk, butter, cream), and tropical oils such as palm and coconut oils. Convenient, pre-packaged snacks often contain saturated fat, including chips, crackers, cookies, and other pastries.

The American Heart Association (AHA) encourages consuming less than 7 percent of total daily calories from saturated fat, translating to no more than 120 calories (or 13 grams) from such sources, to lessen the risk of heart disease.

What Are "Good" Fats?

Unsaturated Fats

Unlike unhealthy fats (trans fat in particular) shown to contribute to heart disease, the heart-healthy, unsaturated fatty acids work to reverse it. There are two types of unsaturated fats, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats:

Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) are good fats for high cholesterol, as they have shown to lower total and LDL cholesterol levels, along with showing to improve insulin levels and control blood sugar levels. MUFAs are naturally found in olive and canola oils, peanuts, olives, and avocados.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are mostly found in plant-based products and have shown to improve cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. PUFAs are further broken down into omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids:

• Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have shown to reduce and manage various diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis. Omega-3s are primarily found in fatty fish (anchovies, mackerel, salmon, sardines, and tuna), flaxseed and canola oils, various nuts and seeds, and grassfed beef.

• Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Also known as omega-6s, the polyunsaturated fat is primarily found in vegetable oils (corn, sunflower, safflower, and soybean) and some meat products. While omega-6s can fit into a well-balanced diet, their consumption should be moderated and not surpass the intake of omega-3s.

Tips for Adding More Heart-Healthy Fats

1. Check the Ingredient Label

Check food labels for trans fats, which may also be identified as partially hydrogenated oil, and other added fats and oils. No ingredient label? Limiting commercially-baked goods and fast food naturally lowers the risk of unhealthy fat intake.

2. Make a List

Rather than heading to the store on a whim, make a grocery list identifying healthy fats and try to stick to it. Having this list is especially handy if you find yourself heading to the store hungry, as feeling ravenous during trips heightens the risk of chips, cookies, and other convenience foods ending up in the cart and eventually, your home.

3. Cook with Oil

Rather than cooking with margarine or butter, cook with heart-healthy oils, including canola and olive oils. Use olive oil for non or low-heat cooking methods, including uncooked sauces and dips or roasted and sautéed veggies, and cook with canola oil at slightly higher temperatures.

4. Sneak Healthy Fats into Meals

Along with cooking with oils, add heart-healthy fats seamlessly into meals. For instance, add chia seeds into smoothies or breakfast muffins and when coating chicken, swap out standard breadcrumbs for ground flax seeds.

5. Add Healthy Fats to Salads

Salads are a blank canvas that can harness a plethora of healthy fats, including nuts, seeds, avocadoes, tuna, and soybeans. And while commercial salad dressings often containing unhealthy fat and/or added sugars, dress your greens with olive, flaxseed, or sesame oils.

6. Snack on Healthy Fats

Resorting to chips, cookies, and other convenience snacks amidst a hunger pang might satisfy you in the moment, but they often only leave you feeling dissatisfied quickly after. Trail mixes, olives, fuller fat yogurts, and nut butters help to induce satiety while lending heart-healthy fats. And to beat that sweet tooth, enjoy a piece of dark chocolate!

7. Repeat

With consistency and repetition, including healthier fats into the diet will start to become a natural routine.

Written By Sarah Asay, RDN. Published on November 07, 2012. Updated on May 13, 2019.


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