For years consumers have been told to avoid fats at all costs, but that’s not actually the whole story.
In fact, a new study done at Harvard revealed that consuming good fats could actually cut the risk of death by 27 percent.
However, not all fats are created equal. Lara Felton, registered dietitian, nutritionist and head of the dietary team at mobile nutrition app ShopWell, gives the skinny on the good, the bad and the ugly types of fats in our diets.
What it is: A type of fat, also known by the acronym PUFA, with two or more double bonds between carbon molecules, which makes the fatty acid more fluid-like and flexible in the cells where it does its work.
What it’s in: Walnuts, flaxseed, tofu
What it does: “[It] may help lower bad [LDL] cholesterol and reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke,” says Felton. According to the Harvard research, you also can lower your risk of death by 27 percent by replacing just 5 percent of your calorie intake from saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats.
What they are: A specific type of polyunsaturated fat that has a large number of double bonds, making it even more fluid-like and flexible in the cells.
What they’re in: Sunflower oil and fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel
What they do: Omega fats promote brain function and cell growth, and they also reduce triglycerides (a less desirable type of fat in your blood), slow the buildup of plaque in your arteries, control blood sugar, lower blood pressure, and reduce your risk of diabetes. The Harvard study also found that they protected against cancer and coronary artery disease.
What it is: Similar to polyunsaturated fat, higher intake of monounsaturated fat raises good (HDL) cholesterol. How much HDL cholesterol is in your blood stream is an indicator for heart-disease risk.
What it’s in: Olive oil, canola oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, avocados, almonds, pistachios, cashews, peanuts, nut butters, olives
What it does: “[It] can help reduce inflammation, regulate your insulin and blood-sugar levels, and promote a healthy heart rhythm,” says Felton. Monounsaturated fats can also lower bad-cholesterol levels and add vitamin E, according to the Harvard study.
What it is: Saturated fat makes bad (LDL) cholesterol, which collects in the walls of your blood vessels, causing blockages.
What it’s in: Beef, butter and lard, as well as fried foods and baked goods.
What it does: “Saturated fats may increase your total cholesterol and bad [LDL] cholesterol levels,” says Felton. But a 2004 study done by the University of Wales College of Medicine found whole-milk dairy products could be linked to a reduction in heart disease and stroke risk.
What it is: Trans fats were created to help liquid oils be more solid at room temperature. Their carbon chains are in a linear formation, which creates a more rigid bond than saturated fats and leads to buildup as plaque in the arteries.
What it’s in: Anything that contains partially hydrogenated oils.
What it does: Trans fats have been shown to raise the bad (LDL) cholesterol and lower the good (HDL) cholesterol (a double whammy!), and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. In fact, the Harvard study revealed your risk of heart disease increases by 23 percent for every 2 percent of calories acquired from trans fats.