Good Fat vs. Bad Fat

In June 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made its final declaration that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods, are not “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) for use in food. The FDA has set a three-year compliance period to allow food manufacturers to either reformulate products without PHOs or petition the FDA to permit specific uses of PHOs. Until then, it is important to continue to checking a food’s ingredient list to determine whether or not it contains PHOs.

While the FDA expects this action to reduce the incidence of coronary heart disease and fatal heart attacks, trans fat isn’t the only fat that impacts health. There are four different types of fat that can appear on a nutrition label: trans, saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Some of these fats are ‘good’ because they can have positive health benefits, and some are ‘bad’ because they may negatively impact your health.

The “Bad Fats” are considered to be trans and saturated fats. Bad fats:

  • are shown to raise ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL)
  • may lower ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL)
  • can increase the risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke

Trans and saturated fats can be found in many foods – including doughnuts, French fries, and baked goods including pastries, pie crusts, biscuits, pizza dough, and stick margarines and shortenings.  You can determine the amount of trans and saturated fats in a particular packaged food by looking at the Nutrition Facts panel.  Or, ask your restaurant server if they know what oil was used to prepare the item.

Keep in mind that trans fat can still be present in foods that claim 0.00 grams of trans fat. This is because the current regulations allow food manufacturers with less than 0.5 grams per serving to claim 0.00 grams. You can spot these “hidden” trans fats by reading ingredient lists and looking for “partially hydrogenated oils”.

The American Heart Association recommends less than 1 percent of your daily calories be devoted to trans fats, and less than 7 percent be devoted to saturated fats.

“Good Fats” are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats:

  • are shown to improve cholesterol levels
  • may help reduce risk factors of heart disease and stroke
  • may help reduce risk of diabetes
  • could promote healthy nerve activity
  • are shown to improve vitamin absorption
  • are required to maintain healthy immune system
  • promote cell development

Foods that contain good fats include a number of vegetable oils,  including canola oil, sunflower oil, high oleic canola and sunflower oils like Omega-9 Oils, corn oil, as well as fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and trout.  Other sources include some nuts and seeds such as walnuts and sunflower seeds.

The American Heart Association recommends 15-25 percent of daily calories should be devoted to monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

For more information about good fats versus bad fats, visit the Good Fats 101 blog. You also may check out our fact sheet, Dietary Fats: The Good, The Bad and How to Eat the Right Ones.